A Look at Women’s Rights in India through CEDAW
At the beginning of July, the government of India was reviewed by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to examine the national situation of women’s rights. WILPF India and the Human Rights Programme actively took part in the session to make sure our concerns on Women, Peace and Security were included in the talks!
What is CEDAW and Why is it Relevant?
The CEDAW Committee is a UN body composed by independent experts in charge of reviewing a country’s implementation of the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, an international human rights treaty containing state’s responsibilities towards women’s human rights. It is important for national advocacy because once a State signs and ratifies it it becomes national law. During the session, NGOs meet with CEDAW Committee members to provide information and advocate for women’s rights in their area of expertise.
On 2nd July, the government of India was faced with the reality of countless women’s rights violations in all aspects of life, rooted in the gender inequality that poisons Indian society.
As a result of our advocacy efforts, the CEDAW Committee issued recommendations in the following areas:
Violence by Security Forces in the Northeast of the Country
Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) the governor of a state can declare an area as disturbed, giving the armed forces extraordinary powers, such as firing a weapon against any person, even causing death, if the officer in question believes they have committed a cognisable offence. This results in army personnel committing grave human rights violations since they are given the opportunity to do so. Extrajudicial killings, mass rapes, sexual assault and other forms of harassment, enforced disappearances and torture are but just a few. According to the government, India has strong security issues which make it necessary to have the presence of armed forces in certain areas. As the President of WILPF India, Manda Parikh, pointed out repeatedly during our advocacy meetings, security must not be understood as more army.
In light of this impunity, the CEDAW Committee recommended the state to repeal or at least amend the AFSPA in order to bring crimes against women under normal criminal law (not military law) and enable the speedy prosecution of these crimes with a view to implementing a strict code of conduct respectful of women’s rights for every military operation.
Weapons and Militarisation
As mentioned, more army does not equate to more security, rather it brings forth a militaristic culture of violence which permeates through society and exacerbates gender inequality and patriarchal attitudes. We have constantly pointed out how civilian possession and use of firearms not only directly causes gender-based violence, but it also affects all other women’s rights by creating an atmosphere of insecurity which prevents them from engaging in society.
As such, CEDAW Committee members expressed deep concern over the limited regulation of arms trade and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and their impact on the security of women.
Women’s participation and UNSCR 1325
As we all know, a gender approach to conflict does not only mean ensuring safety for women, but it is also a question of guaranteeing they actively take part in peace negotiations. This is essential in order for women to be strong leaders in post-conflict, that is why the CEDAW Committee urged the government to ensure women’s participation in conflict resolution through the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and General Recommendation 30.
The government declared that wherever possible, women were consulted in peace negotiations. We do not see how some situations are more possible than others, as women constitute half of the population and therefore thy should ALWAYS be included in discussions.
Status of Women in Gujarat
Gujarat was an ever-present issue during the session. The people of Gujarat are still suffering the consequences of the communal riots of 2002, where women were subjected to rape and other forms of abuse. Nowadays, both Hindu and Muslim women are still not granted access to justice to claim accountability for crimes against them, with many being afraid of negative consequences if they speak out. Recommendations went in the sense of strengthening the gender approach in police and judiciary.
As a justification for the lack of legal action against perpetrators, the government of India expressed the necessity to take measures against women who file false complaints in order to discourage women from giving false testimonies. But when has there been proof of false testimonies? And how can all women’s chances of achieving justice be denied for the possibility of a minimum part of false complaints?
WILPF India and the Human Rights Programme managed to successfully advocate for the inclusion of widespread impunity, militarisation and for a gendered approach to conflict in the final CEDAW report.
When faced with the question of why the agreed budget for women has not been allocated, India replied that they did not require that extent of funds. In light of the discussions of the day though it is clear that there need to be more than funds for Indian women to be finally respected.
The government now has to take responsibility for its actions and show real commitment to Women, Peace and Security. WILPF for sure will make sure that happens. Perseverance is something we do not lack.
Have a look at the Concluding Observations of the Committee.