Thursday, September 29, 2016


Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration, States have repeatedly emphasized the universality and indivisibility of human rights. At the World Conference in Vienna they specifically recognized that women’s human rights are part of universal human rights and they have subsequently reaffirmed this, including at the Fourth World Conference on Women. As mentioned above, the Vienna Programme of Action also explicitly stressed the importance of eradicating “any conflicts which may arise between the rights of women and the harmful effects of certain traditional or customary practices, cultural prejudices and religious extremism.”

Despite these commitments by States, the question of universality has often been raised when States have tried to justify violations of women’s rights in the name of culture. The Special Rapporteur on violence against women in her report on cultural practices within the family that are violent towards women (E/CN.4/2002/83) highlights female genital mutilation, so-called honour killings of women, son preference and witch hunting

as examples of customs that have been defended under the pretext of being part of a given culture. Stereotypes and cultural norms which dictate prescriptive roles for women in society also have a negative impact on women’s enjoyment of their human rights. For instance, girls’ lack of access to education has sometimes been justified on the presumption that, as mothers and wives, they will not enter the workforce and thus do not require education.

The universality of human rights and their validity in a given local context have often been contested through relativist discourses that brand them as foreign ideas incompatible with local culture.13 However, the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights has warned against discourses that disregard the fact that culture is not static and changes over time. She also points to women’s lack of influence in decision-making processes which define the culture of any given community (A/67/287).
As mentioned earlier, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women requires States to “take appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women”. The Committee, in its general recommendation No. 19 (1992), comments on articles 2 (f), 5 and 10 (c) that attitudes and practices according to which women are subordinate to men uphold the subjugation of women in society, and thus undermine women’s human rights, gender equality and non-discrimination, mentioning the practices of family violence and abuse, forced marriage, dowry deaths, acid attacks and female circumcision. It also comments on article 12 on the right to health, stating that certain traditional practices perpetuated by culture and tradition are harmful to the health of women and children. These practices include dietary restrictions for pregnant women, preference for male children and female circumcision or genital mutilation
The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, in her report on intersections between culture and violence against women, argues that it is possible to negotiate human rights with culture, challenging discriminatory and oppressive aspects of culture while retaining its positive aspects. She concludes that “compromising women’s rights is not an option. Therefore, the challenge that confronts us today is to respect and prize our diverse cultures while developing common strategies to resist oppressive practices in the name of culture, and to promote and uphold universal human rights while rejecting encroachments grounded in ethnocentric thinking” (A/HRC/4/34, para. 71).

 The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights has also discussed the interaction of the principle of universality of human rights, recognition and implementation of cultural rights and the need to respect cultural diversity (A/HRC/14/36). The Special Rapporteur views the universal promotion and protection of human rights, including cultural rights, and respect for cultural diversity as mutually supportive. She recalls the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and Human Rights Council resolution 10/23 to affirm that respect for cultural rights or cultural diversity may not undermine the universality of human rights.
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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The obligations of States to protect and fulfil human rights


Human rights law requires State agents to respect, protect and fulfil human rights standards and rules established at the international, regional and national levels. 

Historically, this set of rules and the concomitant scrutiny have focused on actions directly attributable to State agents, based on their commission or acquiescence, such as killings, torture and arbitrary detention. The obligation of States to respect human rights, including women’s rights, referred to the obligation to refrain from doing anything that could violate those rights. Any wrong committed within the private sphere, without any direct intervention by State agents, was not considered a human rights violation. However, since the 1980s and 1990s, the women’s rights movement has increasingly criticized this interpretation of human rights as perpetuating violations of women’s human rights and stemming from male bias. 
It is now recognized that the obligations of States to protect and fulfil human rights clearly encompass the duty to protect women from violations committed by third parties, including in the private sphere, and to take positive steps to fulfil their human rights. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women covers both public and private acts. Its article 2 (e) specifically addresses the obligation of States to address discrimination against women perpetrated by any person, organization or enterprise, and its article 2 (f) concerns the modification and abolition not only of discriminatory laws and regulations, but also of customs and practices. Its article 5 (a) requires States “to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women”.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women as well as other United Nations human rights bodies and mechanisms have observed that States have obligations to address acts committed by private actors. In particular, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s general recommendation No. 19 (1992) on violence against women spells out that “States may also be responsible for private acts if they fail to act with due diligence to prevent violations of rights ….” Similarly, the Human Rights Committee confirmed, in its general comment No. 31 (2004) on the nature of the general legal obligation imposed on States parties to the Covenant, that States have both negative and positive obligations—to refrain from violating human rights and to protect as well as fulfil human rights, including by protecting rights holders against acts committed by private persons or entities. Under human rights law, the due diligence standard serves to determine whether the State has taken effective steps to comply with its human rights obligations, in particular the obligation to protec.
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Monday, September 26, 2016

Homa Hoodfar Released from Tehran Prison, Iranian News Agency Reports

26 September 2016 - Concordia professor Homa Hoodfar, who has been detained in Tehran's infamous Evin prison since June 6, has been released, a spokesman for Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told an Iranian news agency.

"Homa Hoodfar, the retired professor of Canadian universities, who had been detained in Iran based on some  accusations was released this afternoon for humanitarian reasons including illness, and left Iran to Canada, through Oman," Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by Fars news agency.

Hoodfar, who is 65 and suffers from a rare neurological disease, which causes severe muscle weakness, has been hospitalized since August and could barely walk and talk, according to her family.

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Sunday, September 25, 2016


The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio+20”) brought Heads of State and Government to Brazil in 2012, to appraise progress in the implementation of agreements struck since the landmark 1992 United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. At “Rio+20”, countries renewed their political commitment to sustainable development, agreed to establish a set of sustainable development goals and established a high-level political forum on sustainable development. Importantly, the outcome document, entitled “The future we want”,also reaffirms the commitments of States to “women’s equal rights, access and opportunities for participation and leadership in the economy, society and political decision-making” and includes explicit references to accelerating the implementation of commitments in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Declaration. The outcome document also states that “gender equality and the effective participation of women are important for effective action on all aspects of sustainable development” and calls for the repeal of discriminatory laws and for ensuring women’s equal access to justice.

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Friday, September 23, 2016


In 2000, the international community agreed to eight time-bound development goals to be achieved by 2015, including a goal on gender equality and the empowerment of women, as well as one on the reduction of maternal mortality. Seven of the Goals have specific targets to measure progress. Although they have shortcomings from a human rights perspective, the Millennium Development Goals are an important political commitment which has galvanized international support for some of the world’s most daunting problems.
 With respect to women’s rights, Millennium Development Goal 3 is to promote gender equality and empower women. However, its corresponding target relates only to eliminating gender disparities in education by 2015. While girls’ access to education is imperative for achieving gender equality, this narrow target is insufficient for measuring progress on achieving gender equality and empowering women. Goal 3 also includes indicators on the share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector and in national parliaments, but these do not have benchmarks or deadlines. Critical issues such as violence against women and discriminatory laws are not addressed.

Millennium Development Goal 5 aims to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015. Unfortunately, at the 2010 High-level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on the Millennium Development Goals, it was revealed to be the most off track of all of the Goals, despite the fact that the knowledge and the tools are available to make pregnancy and childbirth a safe experience for women. In 2010, the Secretary-General launched the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, setting out key actions to improve the health of women and children worldwide. 

Integrating human rights and gender equality throughout the Millennium Development Goals and in the post-2015 development agenda are key to achieving meaningful progress.
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Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Adopted during the Fourth World Conference on Women in September 1995, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action focused on 12 areas concerning the implementation of women’s human rights and set out an agenda for women’s empowerment. It builds on the results of the previous three world conferences on women, but is considered a significant achievement in explicitly articulating women’s rights as human rights. The Platform for Action includes a series of strategic objectives to eliminate discrimination against women and achieve equality between women and men. It involves political and legal strategies on a global scale based on a human rights framework. The Platform for Action is the most comprehensive expression of States’ commitments to the human rights of women.

Subsequent reviews of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action have revealed that although significant progress has been made in some areas of women’s human rights, “discriminatory legislation as well as harmful traditional and customary practices and negative stereotyping of women and men still persist” particularly in family, civil, penal, labour and commercial laws or codes, or administrative rules and regulations.7 Both the 2005 and the 2010 reviews of the Platform concluded that de jure and de facto equality had not been achieved in any country in the world and the 2010 review recognized that even where legal reforms had taken place, they were often ineffectively enforced.
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Monday, September 19, 2016


The International Conference on Population and Development, which was held in 1994, represented a milestone for women’s rights. While the Conference was focused on population issues, the delegates meeting in Cairo agreed that population was not only about demographics but, more importantly, about people. The issues taken up in its Programme of Action5 are fundamentally related to women’s human rights, including gender equality, the family, reproductive health, birth control and family planning, women’s health, as well as immigration and education of women. Importantly, the Programme of Action is explicitly grounded in human rights and proclaims that “advancing gender equality and equity and the empowerment of women, and the elimination of all kinds of violence against women, and ensuring women’s ability to control their own fertility, are cornerstones of population and development-related programmes.” The Conference was also important for its clear statement of reproductive rights, explaining that these “rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. It also includes their right to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence, as expressed in human rights documents.” 
The Programme of Action sets specific targets for: the provision of universal education; the reduction of infant, child and maternal mortality; and ensuring universal access to reproductive health care, including family planning, assisted childbirth and prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, by 2015. Follow-up conferences have been organized to assess progress towards these goals, and inequality and lack of accountability constitute ongoing challenges to their achievement

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Saturday, September 17, 2016


In 1993, the World Conference on Human Rights was held in Vienna. It sought to review the status of the human rights machinery in place at the time. Women’s rights activists mobilized to ensure that women’s human rights were fully on the agenda of the international community under the rallying cry “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.” Particularly around the issue of violence against women, civil society activists organized tribunals to put the spotlight on violations of women’s rights, previously unaddressed because they were considered part of the private sphere, taboo or simply accepted as an inevitable part of women’s lives. The Conference was successful in adopting the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which stated that “the human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights” (para. 18) and placed particularly heavy emphasis on eliminating all forms of gender-based violence. Importantly, the Programme of Action also called for “the eradication of any conflicts which may arise between the rights of women and the harmful effects of certain traditional or customary practices, cultural prejudices and religious extremism” (para. 38).

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Women’s Rights global commitments 4/9

 Women’s rights have been at the heart of a series of international conferences that have produced significant political commitments to women’s human rights and equality. Starting in 1975, which was also International Women’s Year, Mexico City hosted the World Conference on the International Women’s Year, which resulted in the World Plan of Action and the designation of 1975–1985 as the United Nations Decade for Women. In 1980, another international conference on women was held in Copenhagen and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was opened for signature. The third World Conference on Women was held in Nairobi, with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women having begun its work in 1982. These three world conferences witnessed extraordinary activism on the part of women from around the world and laid the groundwork for the world conferences in the 1990s to address women’s rights, including the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995 (see below). In addition, the rights of women belonging to particular groups, such as older women, ethnic minority women or women with disabilities, have been also addressed in various other international policy documents such as the International Plans of Action on Ageing (Vienna, 1982 and Madrid, 2002), the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (2001) and the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons (1982).


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Tuesday, September 13, 2016


In addition to international human rights standards, regional human rights treaties, too, include crucial provisions aimed at promoting and protecting women’s human rights The African (Banjul) Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights was adopted in 1981 by the Organization of African Unity. Its article 2 prohibits discrimination on any grounds, including sex, in the enjoyment of the rights guaranteed by the Charter. Article 18 specifically mentions the obligation  of African States to “ensure the elimination of every discrimination against women and also ensure the protection of the rights of the woman and the child as stipulated in international declarations and conventions”. The Charter’s Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) was adopted in 2003.

The Charter of the Organization of American States includes a nondiscrimination provision in its chapter II, article 3 (l), and the American Convention on Human Rights in its article 1. Moreover, in 1994 the Organization adopted the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Belém do Pará Convention).

The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms prohibits discrimination on any grounds, including sex, in the enjoyment of rights contained in the Convention (art. 14). Since 1998 individuals can bring complaints to the European Court of Human Rights based on allegations of violations of the Convention. In 2011 the Council of Europe adopted a new Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention).
Regional political organizations, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, the Economic Community of West African States and the Southern African Development Community, have also adopted protocols and resolutions and issued declarations pertaining to women’s human rights.
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Sunday, September 11, 2016


After the adoption of the Universal Declaration, the Commission on Human Rights began drafting two human rights treaties, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Together with the Universal Declaration, these make up the International Bill of Human Rights. The provisions of the two Covenants, as well as other human rights treaties, are legally binding on the States that ratify or accede to them. States that ratify these treaties periodically report to bodies of experts, which issue recommendations on the steps required to meet the obligations laid out in the treaties. These treaty-monitoring bodies also provide authoritative interpretations of the treaties and, if States have agreed, they also consider individual complaints of alleged violations.

Both Covenants use the same wording to prohibit discrimination based on, inter alia, sex (art. 2), as well as to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all rights contained in them (art. 3). The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees, among other rights, the right to life, freedom from torture, freedom from slavery, the right to liberty and security of the person, rights relating to due process in criminal and legal proceedings, equality before the law, freedom of movement, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of association, rights relating to family life and children, rights relating to citizenship and political participation, and minority groups’ rights to their culture, religion and language. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights guarantees, for instance, the right to work, the right to form trade unions, rights relating to marriage, maternity and child protection, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to health, the right to education, and rights relating to culture and science. 

In 1967, United Nations Member States adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which states that discrimination against women is an offence against human dignity and calls on States to “abolish existing laws, customs, regulations and practices which are discriminatory against women, and to establish adequate legal protection for equal rights of men and women”. Less than a year later a proposal for a legally binding treaty on women’s rights was made. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979. Its preamble explains that, despite the existence of other instruments, women still do not enjoy equal rights with men.

The Convention articulates the nature and meaning of sex-based discrimination, and lays out State obligations to eliminate discrimination and achieve substantive equality. As with all human rights treaties, only States incur obligations through ratification. However, the Convention articulates State obligations to address not only discriminatory laws, but also practices and customs, and discrimination against women by private actors. With these general principles as an overarching framework, the specific obligations of States to eliminate discrimination against women in political, social, economic and cultural fields are laid out in 16 substantive articles. 

The Convention covers both civil and political rights (rights to vote, to participate in public life, to acquire, change or retain one’s nationality, equality before the law and freedom of movement) and economic, social and cultural rights (rights to education, work, health and financial credit). The Convention also pays specific attention to particular phenomena such as trafficking, to certain groups of women, for instance rural women, and to specific matters where there are special risks to women’s full enjoyment of their human rights, for example marriage and the family. 

The Convention defines discrimination in its article 1 as “… any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” 

Such discrimination encompasses any difference in treatment on the grounds of sex which: 
• Intentionally or unintentionally disadvantages women;
• Prevents society as a whole from recognizing women’s rights in both the private and the public spheres; 
• Prevents women from exercising the human rights and fundamental freedoms to which they are entitled. The Convention also specifies the different ways in which State parties are to eliminate discrimination, such as through appropriate legislation prohibiting discrimination, ensuring the legal protection of women’s rights, refraining from discriminatory actions, protecting women against discrimination by any person, organization or enterprise, and modifying or abolishing discriminatory legislation, regulations and penal provisions. The Convention foresees that achieving equality may require positive action on the part of the State to improve the status of women. To accelerate women’s actual equality in all spheres of life, States are permitted to use temporary special measures for as long as inequalities continue to exist. 

The Convention thus reaches beyond the narrow concept of formal equality and aims for equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. Temporary special measures are both lawful and necessary to achieve these goals. In principle, these measures should be removed once equal status has been achieved. Importantly, the Convention adds new, substantive provisions to the other instruments which also deal with equality and non-discrimination. Article 5 establishes that in addition to recognizing women’s legal equality and promoting their de facto equality, States should also strive to eliminate the social, cultural and traditional patterns that perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes and to create an overall framework in society that promotes the realization of women’s full rights. 

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (art. 2) and the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (art. 7) also prohibit discrimination based on sex. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (art. 6) recognizes the multiple discrimination that women with disabilities are subjected to, and requires State parties to address this by taking “all appropriate measures to ensure the full development, advancement and empowerment of women” in the enjoyment of their human rights. In its general recommendation No. 25 (2000) on gender-related dimensions of racial discrimination, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which oversees compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, also recognized the gender dimensions of racial discrimination and said it would “endeavour in its work to take into account gender factors or issues which may be interlinked with racial discrimination.” The Committee against Torture, which monitors the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, also regularly addresses issues of violence against women and girls
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Friday, September 9, 2016

Protection of the human rights of women under international law 1/9

Since the founding of the United Nations, equality between men and women has been among the most fundamental guarantees of human rights. Adopted in 1945, the Charter of the United Nations sets out as one of its goals “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, [and] in the equal rights of men and women”. Furthermore, Article 1 of the Charter stipulates that one of the purposes of the United Nations is to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms “without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion”. This prohibition of discrimination based on sex is repeated in its Articles 13 (mandate of the General Assembly) and 55 (promotion of universal human rights). 

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. It, too, proclaimed the equal entitlements of women and men to the rights contained in it, “without distinction of any kind, such as ... sex, ….” In drafting the Declaration, there was considerable discussion about the use of the term “all men” rather than a gender-neutral term.1 The Declaration was eventually adopted using the terms “all human beings” and “everyone” in order to leave no doubt that the Universal Declaration was intended for everyone, men and women alike.
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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Informal Workers

Historically, around the world, the “employment relationship” has represented the cornerstone—the central legal concept—around which labour law and collective bargaining agreements have sought to recognize and protect the rights of workers. Whatever its precise definition in different national contexts, it has represented “a universal notion which creates a link between a person, called the ‘employee’ (frequently referred to as ‘the worker’) with another person, called the ‘employer’ to whom she or he provides labour or services under certain conditions in return for remuneration” (ILO 2003a: 2). 

The concept of employment relationship has always excluded those workers who are self-employed. Increasingly, some categories of wage workers have found themselves to be, in effect, without legal recognition or protection because their employment relationship is either:
 • disguised: The employment relationship is deliberately disguised by giving it the appearance of a relationship of a different legal nature. For example, the lead firm in a subcontracting chain may claim that it has a “sales-purchase”—or commercial—relationship with those who produce goods for it, rather than a subcontracted employment relationship.

 • ambiguous: The employment relationship is objectively ambiguous so there is doubt about whether or not an employment relationship really exists. This is the case, for instance, with street vendors who depend on a single supplier for goods or sell goods on commission for a distributor. 

• not clearly defined: The employment relationship clearly exists but it is not clear who the employer is, what rights the worker has, and who is responsible for securing these rights. For example, in value chain production, it is not clear who the real employer is: the lead firm, the supply firm, or the subcontractor. Similarly, in the case of temporary work, it is not clear who the real employer is: the agency that supplies temporary workers or the firms that hire them on a temporary basis (Ibid.).

Under each of these employment relationships, workers tend not to be protected under labour law or covered by collective bargaining agreements: in brief, they are informally employed. It is important to note that, in many such cases, the employer seeks to disguise the employment relationship or avoid definition of who is responsible; and that the employer in question may well represent a formal firm, not an informal enterprise. Beginning in the 1980s, as noted earlier, formal firms in developed countries began to favour flexible labour relationships. 

This form of labour market segmentation took place in the interest of flexible specialized production, not in response to rising wage rates or labour costs (Piore and Sabel 1984). Also increasingly since the 1980s, many formal firms in developed countries have decided to subcontract production out to unprotected workers in developing or transition countries, where labour costs are already low and where there is no real threat of rising wages due to legislation or unionized labour.

In producing countries, there is often further segmentation between the core semi-permanent workforce and a peripheral temporary workforce, which is mobilized during peak seasons and demobilized during slack seasons (what has been called a “permanent temporary workforce”). In summary, to be more flexible and specialized, to be more competitive, or simply to reduce labour costs, many formal firms hire workers under informal employment relationships. In most such cases, it is the formal firm, not the informal worker, that chooses or “volunteers” to operate informally and enjoys the “benefits” of informality.
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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Migrant workers and debt bondage

28. Debt bondage in the context of labour migration and trafficking is a trend that can be seen across a number of countries and sectors. Migrant workers often become trapped in situations of bondage by borrowing money at exorbitant interest rates to pay recruitment fees or by taking an advance payment from intermediaries to secure work in the country of destination. Once migrants arrive in the country of destination they are often forced to work in harsh conditions to pay back debt they have accrued. Furthermore, workers are commonly subjected to threats and physical abuse, and in some cases face severe restrictions to their freedom of movement. The vast majority of people trafficked to countries in North America, Europe and the Middle East and to other developed countries are migrant workers who are trafficked into a variety of jobs including domestic work, agricultural work, prostitution and factory work and are often controlled through debt bondage and other mechanisms.

29. In the Middle East, migrant workers represent a significant portion of the labour force in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, particularly in the private sector. The individual sponsorship system, known as the kafalah system, which ties the employment and residency of a worker to a specific employer, is considered to be an arrangement that creates dependency of the worker on the employer and encourages abuses, including debt bondage. The fees charged by recruitment agencies for travel arrangements, labour contracts and other services trap migrant workers into bondage in their home countries. Consequently, migrant workers are often indebted upon arrival in the country of destination. Furthermore, practices such as the confiscation of passports, the non-payment, underpayment or delayed payment of wages, and contract substitution are considered to contribute to debt bondage. Those who are most susceptible to debt bondage in these countries are Asians who work as migrant labourers and domestic servants. 

30. Exploitation of migrant workers via debt bondage has also reportedly been seen in South-East Asia. In Thailand, migrant workers, primarily from neighbouring countries including Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Myanmar, are reported to have been subjected to deceptive recruitment practices that can lead to cases of debt bondage.4 Workers are often lured to work on fishing boats free of charge and once theystart working are charged for the costs of recruitment and the travel expenses, with high  interest rates.

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Sunday, September 4, 2016


Three central changes are taking place on the continent that have particular relevance for fast-tracking the end of AIDS among young women and girls.

Africa has a fast-growing economy
.Sub-Saharan Africa is among the world’s fastest-growing economic zones. In 2015 the gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to increase by 4.5%, and by 2020 the continent’s share of global GDP is predicted to rise to 4% compared with 1.4% in 2015 (22, 23). This economic growth can be a key engine for reducing poverty, particularly if fertility declines and yields a demographic dividend. This can be supported by generation of decent paid work and gender-responsive social protection and social services. The creation of decent work to ensure that women and their families have a route out of poverty is particularly important, as women are overrepresented in the informal labour market, including unpaid care work and low-paid employment.
The consequences of preventing women from participating in and contributing to the formal economy are far-reaching and adverse, and yet 61% of sub-Saharan African economies and 93% of economies in the Middle East and North Africa have restrictions on the jobs women can do (24).
Yet, when women participate in the economy, poverty decreases and GDP grows. An increase of only 1% in girls’ secondary education attendance adds 0.3% to a country’s GDP (25), a clear illustration of an early and smart investment that pays off. The health benefits of women’s and girls’ participation in a nation’s economy are huge, not only in terms of their own economic empowerment and health choices but also in terms of improving the health of their children and communities

Africa’s population is young and growing rapidly
Africa’s population is diverse and has an increasingly youthful population. Sourcing the power and potential of the region’s young people will provide enormous opportunity for growth.
Over 30% of the African population is aged 10–24 years. In 15 sub-Saharan African countries, half the population is under the age of 18 years (10). In some countries, fertility is barely declining while the number of women of childbearing age is rising significantly .
Africa made good progress in expanding facility-based deliveries from 40% coverage in 1990 to 53% in 2014, but the number of pregnant women needing antenatal care and delivery facilities doubled between 1990 and 2014, from 9 million to 18 million.Prevention of mother-to-child transmission services will need to increase significantly as the population of women of reproductive age is projected to increase by 65% by 2030, with the potential to outstrip services for young women and adolescent girls to prevent transmission of HIV to their children. If current population growth trends continue, then by 2030 almost one in four adolescent girls will live in sub-Saharan Africa, where the total number of adolescent mothers aged under 18 years is projected to rise from 10.1 million in 2010 to 16.4 million in 2030 (9). Africa’s young population presents challenges in terms of access to sexual and reproductive health and HIV information commodities and services; yet, this burgeoning youth population is also the region’s greatest asset. Reaching and engaging young women and adolescent girls, and empowering them to make their own health choices in safe and equitable environments, has the power to change the trajectory of the HIV epidemic

. Africa is urbanizing fast
Most African countries are undergoing rapid urbanization, calling for innovative solutions that adapt to these changes. Africa is projected to be 56% more urban by 2050. In terms of service outreach, 52% of people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa will be living in urban areas by 2020 – and 62% of urban people living with HIV will be living in slums (26). Increasing urbanization should improve proximity and access to services, but this is not always the case. Informal settlements or slums often do not have public services or have poor-quality private services. This context, combined with other aspects of urban poverty, such as exposure to violence, increases the HIV risk for young women and adolescent girls. The intersection of violence, insecurity and transactional sex means young women living in slums are 23% more likely than other urban young women to be living with HIV. They are also 3.4 times more likely than young men of the same age to be living with HIV. Urban poverty and location appear to have a bigger impact on the vulnerability to HIV of young women compared with men and older women (26). This rapidly changing environment calls for an AIDS response that accommodates change, including the integration of services for sexualand reproductive health and rights, gender-based violence and HIV, to address vulnerabilities and the specific needs of girls and young women in increasingly urbanized and crowded settings. In line with this, in 2014, UNAIDS launched the Fast-Track Cities initiative with world mayors to commit to fast-tracking the response in urban areas, demonstrating high level political commitment to address the HIV specific needs, that are arising out of a rapidly changing environment.
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Friday, September 2, 2016


The 2011 UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS pledged to eliminate gender inequalities and genderbased abuse and violence, and to increase the capacity of women and adolescent girls to protect themselves from the risk of HIV infection, but the scale-up of evidence-informed and resourced interventions has not been fast enough. Although the inclusion of gender equality in national HIV responses is a recognized game changer, a survey of 104 countries found that only 57% had an HIV strategy that included a specific budget for women in 2014 (27). Moreover, the underlying structural gender inequality drivers that exacerbate young women’s and girls’ physiological vulnerability to HIV are often ignored. Global commitment is needed for the five recommendations outlined below.

1. Women’s agency, participation and leadership
2. Strategies to reduce intimate partner violence and reduce vulnerability to HIV
3. Scaling up social protection and cash transfers to reduce poverty and girls’ vulnerability to HIV
4. Strategies to keep girls in school and comprehensive sexuality education
5. Scaling up and integrating HIV with sexual and reproductive health services

Fast-tracking the end of the AIDS epidemic by 2030 requires strong political leadership and commitment to stop new infections and deaths among young women and adolescent girls and eliminate mother to child transmission of HIV. This requires building on, and extending Africa’s commitments on sexual and reproductive health and rights, expanding ministerial commitments on comprehensive sexuality education and stopping early marriage, adolescent pregnancy and expanding treatment service coverage. The technical and programmatic solutions are within our reach. An effective and sustainable HIV response must call for scaling up poverty reduction and social protection programmes that keep girls in school and reduce vulnerability to HIV; community programs that engage men and boys and eliminate intimate partner and advance gender equality; ensuring that young women and girls can access good-quality youth friendly, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services that respond to their specific needs.

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