Global Justice Center Blog

Women in the Legislature Take On Sexual Assault in the Military

Women are saying “enough” to rape.

This month, female senators on both sides of the aisle are taking action to end the endemic of sexual assaults in the military and its rape culture.

The Pentagon reported that in 2012 alone, around 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted, a shocking 37% increase from the 19,000 assaulted in 2010. Even more horrifying, is the small number reported. Only 10% of those were even brought to trial.

This is a stark contradiction to the supposed “Zero Tolerance Policy” of the Department of Defense on sexual assault.

Sexual assault in the military has occurred for decades. Perhaps one of the most widely publicized instances was the Tailhook scandal in 1991, during which drunken Navy pilots sexually assaulted 83 female and 7 male peers. Recent incidents have included:1. an Air Force officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs being charged with sexual battery; 2. and reports of a sergeant at West Point video-taping female cadets in the bathroom or shower without their consent. All of this has inspired a bipartisan push among female lawmakers for the DOD to take real action and to be held accountable.

Among the 7 women serving on the Armed Services Committee are: Senator Claire McCaskill, Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Deb Fisher and Senator Kelly Ayotte. They have lifted the veil on sexual assault in the military and made it an issue in the national spotlight.This is the first time that women are the driving force of the discussion–especially in such a male dominated panel such as the ASC.

The Global Justice Center applauds the efforts of women in Congress that are taking action against the culture of sexual assault that is constantly concealed by the US military. When it is more likely that a female soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan will be raped by a fellow service member than killed in the line of enemy fire, we must acknowledge that there is a serious problem that is causing emotional and physical harm to thousands of women (and men). The women bravely sacrificing for our country deserve to serve without fear of sexual assault, and action must be taken in order to ensure this.

Many women-authored bills floating around Congress are promising and progressive, but the Military Justice Improvement Act of Sen. Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY), seemed to have the most potential of passing. Instead, the ASC struck it down this week, though Gillibrand suggested that she will reintroduce it in the fall. Her bill suggests taking the power away from commanders to decide which cases to try. Instead, military prosecutors to do so, enabling women and men to report sex crimes without the fear of reprisal from their seniors and peers. The Military Justice Improvement Act also seeks to ensure that an unbiased panel would be in charge of the decision for military assault crimes.

The Global Justice Center wants to redefine democracy to a governing body which includes an equal voice for women. Currently, women make up 51% of the world’s population but only make up less than 20% of governments. The Global Justice Center advocates for women in leadership roles across all institutions. The issue of sexual assault in the military is a clear demonstration of the negative effects of excluding women from decision making bodies, both within the military justice system and the United States government.

Women Must be Included in Drafting Libya Constitution

On May 29, 2013, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) called for the active participation of women in the drafting of Libya’s constitution-drafting. The statement stresses the significant role Libyan women played in the February Revolution and the continued role they play in public life. The impact women had on the revolution is certainly true, but, we are missing a decisive point – that the participation of women in the drafting process (as well as in the political process in general) is a legal obligation under international law.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, along with CEDAW, stipulate that women should be included in the drafting of national constitutions. As applied to Libya, the Security Council resolutions, which pertain to enhanced gender roles and protections, and CEDAW, a treaty that encompasses recommendations for advancing women’s rights, are relevant in two ways. First, the laws demand women’s participation because of Libya’s post-conflict status. Security Council Resolution 1889 states that nations should ensure women’s participation during all stages of peace processes, especially post-conflict planning and peace building, by enhancing female engagement in decision making from the early stages of the recovery process. Similarly, CEDAW’s General Recommendation 23 states that women must participate in the formulation and implementation of government policy, as well as hold public office. Following the “Declaration of liberation,” Libya is currently a post-conflict state and thus falls within the scope of SCR 1889. Furthermore, the constitution-drafting process appears to be the very type of early-stage planning in which women must be involved. A constitution is a primary source of policy and law; women must be included in its drafting process.

The second way CEDAW and the Security  Council resolutions pertain to the Libyan constitution-drafting process is that they call for heightened gender perspectives in decision making processes. The special needs of women are better protected by female point of view in the lawmaking process. Thus, special measures should be taken to ensure women’s political participation. Both UNSC Resolution 1325 and CEDAW directly call for increased gender perspective; however, the latter legal entity goes one step further. In its fifth General Recommendation, CEDAW emphasizes the use of temporary special measures, such as preferential treatment or quota systems, to ensure the inclusion of a critical mass of women in governing bodies. The 23rd General Recommendation further explains that this mere removal ofde jure barriers is necessary but not sufficient, and that states must also work to address cultural barriers and stereotypes, facilitate the recruitment of female candidates, provide financial assistance and training and amend electoral procedures to ensure critical mass.

The optimal means to ensure that a gender perspective manifests in Libyan society is to entrench these values into the constitution. Such steps are legally stipulated by international law, and the appropriate means to attain gender equality, according to CEDAW, are expected to be taken without delay. To reach gender equality, CEDAW recommends temporary measures that per se favor women. A state’s social and cultural practices that are contrary to the equality goal are not accepted reasons to violate its obligations. Libya is no exception. It is the responsibility of the State to provide avenues for women to ascend to office, by reserving public office opportunities for women, as well as actively working to overcome the stigma that may preclude women from becoming candidates.

Democratic practice is also subject to international law on gender equality. In other words, a lack of female representation is not permitted merely as a failure of the population to vote for female candidates. CEDAW recommends that states use electoral instruments to ensure that at least a minimum number of women – that goes beyond mere “tokenism” and is estimated to be between 30 and 35 percent of legislative seats – in order to receive a “critical mass.”

Libya admittedly took steps towards increasing female representation by using a quota (ten percent of seats) in the first democratic election after the fall of the Gaddafi regime. However, this figure is well short of the thirty to thirty-five percent that CEDAW’s General Recommendation 23 provides is necessary for adequate representation. Furthermore, the ten percent quota utilized in Libya is ambiguous and may actually serve as a ceiling for female representation. Finally, the quota only applies to a narrow category of politicians that make up a small proportion of the government assembly.

With these concerns in mind, GJC welcomes UNMSIL’s announcement, but seeks to ensure that Libya goes further to guarantee women the political power and voice they are due according to international law. The new Libyan Constitution is an opportunity to realize gender equality and protect women’s international human rights, as enumerated by the UNSC and CEDAW. Not only do women deserve a seat at the table in drafting Libya’s constitution, as UNMSIL notes, from their participation in the February Revolution, but also as a matter of international law. All efforts must be taken to ensure women’s participation in the constitution-drafting process, and in electoral politics. Such measures will enable the country’s further democratization as it develops in the wake of the revolution.

The Gender Gap and Women's Political Power in Myanmar/Burma

The rights of women under international law, including the right to occupy positions of political power, have advanced more in the last 20 years than ever before. True political participation requires a significant number of women in all areas of governance: ceasefire and peace treaty negotiations, constitution drafting committees, political parties, executive branch appointments, and elected positions.

In Burma, the long history of militarization has reinforced and perpetuated the gender gap in power. Women are not admitted into active military service, effectively excluding them (as well as ethnic minorities) from political participation since top offices are reserved for the military. Therefore, they have also been ineligible for the employment, education, business, joint venture and travel opportunities created by military status.

Pursuant to the 2008 Constitution, the Defense Services (Tatmadaw) remain an integral and permanent part of the machinery that governs Burma and is constitutionally guaranteed complete power and autonomy. The continued military dominance guaranteed by the Constitution is the main obstacle for women in Burma hindering them from ever gaining real political power.

This timeline illustrates the absence of women’s voices from formal governing structures throughout Burmese history. It should provide an impetus for this formerly silent majority, the feminist majority, to make their voices heard and to take their turn at governing the country.

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