Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reports Don't Just Sit on Shelves

In this week’s staff meeting, Carlos Quesada, Director of Global Rights' Racial and Ethnic Equality Program, shared some exciting news.

AMNB at the United Nations in February 2012
Last month, Carlos was with Simone Cruz, Executive Secretary of our partner Articulação de ONGs de Mulheres Negras Brasileiras [The Network of NGOs of Afro-Brazilian Women (AMNB)] when she presented a shadow report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on the destructive discrimination that Afro-Brazilian women face, in particular, in health care and in employment. 

AMNB – with Global Rights’ support and assistance – worked incredibly hard on this report. Critically important to the report are the recommendations it makes to CEDAW on the steps the Brazilian government could take to improve the situation of Afro-Brazilian women. 

So, when Carlos announced that CEDAW included our recommendations to better protect the labor rights of Afro-descendant women in their official report to the Brazilian government, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment for Global Rights and AMNB.

Why is this important?

Well, according to the 2010 Brazilian census, Afro-descendants now make up 52 percent of the Brazilian population.  The problems that women face – such as domestic violence, maternal mortality, employment, lack of education – are experienced even more acutely by Afro-Brazilian women because of discrimination based on color and gender.

Policies that specifically address discrimination against Afro-Brazilian women would positively impact 50 million women – more than a quarter of the country’s population!

Given this potential impact on so many lives and the degree of discrimination we outlined in the report, I commend CEDAW for addressing this serious issue and using our recommendations to strongly encourage the Brazilian government to take action. 

Now, we hope the Ministry of Women will follow through with their promise to create a committee comprised of civil society organizations, including AMNB, to insure that the Brazilian government adheres to CEDAW’s recommendations.

Ate Logo! (bye in Portuguese)

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Our Journey to Eliminate Racial Discrimination

Carlos Quesada, our Director of Racial and Ethnic Equality, just wrote the staff a moving email about today being the United Nation’s Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. 
Carlos talked about the incredible journey he and his Latin American partners have been on over the last decade to combat discrimination of Afro-descendants. 

Our partner the Network of Afro-Latino, Caribbean and Diaspora
Women with Former OAS Commissioner María Silvia Guillén
In the year 2000 in Santiago, Chile, Carlos attended the Conference of the Americas to prepare for the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. 

Those two conferences were pivotal in the fight against discrimination – it was there that governments clearly acknowledged that racism existed and was the cause of “suffering, disadvantage and violence, as well as other serious human rights violations.”  Governments committed themselves to take action to end racial discrimination. 

That is when Global Rights hit the ground running in Latin America working closely with local Afro-descendant partners.  We have worked in Colombia, Brazil and Peru to document and monitor human rights violations.  We have helped partners write hard-hitting reports which they have used as advocacy tools based on their human rights monitoring and documentations.  We have accompanied our partners and Afro-descendant regional networks to regional and international bodies such as the Organization of American States and the United Nations to present their reports so that pressure would be put on governments to take action to alleviate discrimination of Afro-descendants. 

Then, a decade after the conference in South Africa, the UN declared 2011 the International Year of African Descent – a huge step in raising the profile of the issue.  In March 2011, we organized a regional conference with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the OAS.  At the conference, we encouraged the IACHR to produce a report on the situation of Afro-descendants.

As a result, the IACHR released the first-ever report on Afro-descendants in Latin America titled The Situation of Persons of African Descent in the Americas.  The report makes recommendations on how States can take action to guarantee the rights of people of African descent.  Carlos and his partners are now using this report as a tool with governments to advocate for change. 

Finally, Carlos wanted to thank our partners who have worked on this issue including the National Association of Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), GELEDES,  Institute of Black Women from Brazil, the Center for the Development of Afro-Peruvian Women (CEDEMUNEP),  and the regional networks we have been working with in this struggle, the Central American Black Organization (CABO), the Network of Afro-Latino, Caribbean and Diaspora Women, the Network of Afro-Brazilian Women NGOs, Afroamerica XXI, and the Jacques Viau Network (Dominican Republic and Haiti).

Carlos said in his email that over the last decade the situation for Afro-descendants has improved, but there is a great deal of work left to be done to improve lives.  But, he knows that with such courageous partners, the next decade holds great promise. 

- Susan

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Empowering Women: Real Tools, Real Change (Part II)

Two weeks ago I wrote about the importance of Global Rights’ groundbreaking online database project in Morocco.  This week, that project was featured in Women’s eNews in the case of Amina Filali's suicide.

Global Rights Maghreb team and local partners at the
Moroccan Parliament for the Amina Filali sit-in
As you may know, Amina was a 16 year old Moroccan girl who was forced to marry her rapist in order to preserve the honor of her family. Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code allows a “kidnapper” to marry his victim if she is a minor, even though legal marriage age in Morocco is 18. Amina ended her life last week because of this outdated law.

The story in Women’s eNews highlights how our public online court decision database will provide valuable information on whether or not cases involving women are being decided and implemented fairly, and can hold judges accountable for how they apply the law.

We hope that our database will help create positive change in the Moroccan judicial system that was too late for Amina Filali.

Click here to read the full article.

- Susan

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Monday, March 12, 2012

“Karibu au Burundi. Karibu. Cinq-cents francs. Merci.”

On a quick dash out of the Global Rights office in Burundi on my third work-packed day here in Bujambura, I stopped to buy a bunch of small, extremely sweet bananas from a woman sitting on the curb. She has no shoes, but the most genuinely welcoming smile. We both speak in a foreign language, I realize, and she may be using the few international words she knows (some kiSwahili, some French with a very distinct rhythm).

Burundian man carries bananas
This is Megan Chapman, Global Rights’ Access to Justice Legal Fellow, here in Burundi to help launch two in-country partnerships with local lawyers undertaking strategic litigation in the national judicial system. As I stay up late at night to struggle through voluminous tomes of the consolidated laws and codes of Burundi, daytime interactions like this one are an essential touchstone. The laws I am reading are written in a language many Burundians do not speak, let alone read. Counting the number of bananas in the basket and multiplying by the price I just paid, this woman likely earns no more than $2 per day, meaning court and legal fees are most definitely out of reach.

So, how do the many human rights guarantees in Burundi’s Constitution and the mechanisms outlined in its complex body of laws and codes translate into justice for people like this banana vendor?

These are the law-reality gaps that Global Rights’ country offices in places like Burundi confront every day. Our strategic litigation project, for example, aims to work with local partners to make creative and strategic use of the promises contained in Burundi’s Constitution, laws, procedures, and international human rights obligations to help victims of human rights abuses seek justice and reparations. The strategic goal is to illustrate and confront real barriers to access to justice through the country’s formal system: grave crimes that are never investigated or prosecuted; cases that disappear into a black hole after years of waiting and prodding and waiting some more; judgments that are never enforced.

We are lucky to work with many strong and dedicated activists within Global Rights’ offices and through our partnerships who have a deep understanding of local challenges and a vision for gradual change: teammates like Thierry Kambere, a Congolese jurist who has worked with Global Rights for six years and is about to return from Burundi to Congo to continue his access to justice work there; and local partners like Campagne pour les Droits de l'Homme (CADRHO), with whom I met today, which under the auspices of our strategic litigation project will be carrying forward a six-year-old struggle for justice and reparations for the family members of 34 people killed by the military in Muyinga province in 2006.

Global Rights’ Director of Programs, Mary Wyckoff, has analogized our access to justice work as building a bridge from two ends in hopes that someday the two ends meet in the middle. My banana vendor friend would most likely benefit from community based paralegal services such as those Global Rights’ partners provide in Uganda, Nigeria, and Morocco that focus on building awareness, conflict resolution, and access where formal institutions may be scarce. Our strategic litigation project starts on the other side of the bridge, striving to make state justice institutions more accountable to those seeking access. The theory is thus one that balances immediate solutions and long-term change.

As for tomorrow, maybe I’ll try out my first word in Kirundi when buying bananas: urakoze (thank you). 

- Megan

Posted by Megan Chapman

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Empowering Women: Real Tools, Real Change

It’s always exciting when we can put tools into the hands of women that will create real change. For the women of Morocco that tool is our Online Court Decision Database.  We are thrilled to feature it today on International Women’s Day

Women at our previous Online Court Decision Database
 training learn how to collect court decisions 
For almost two years, we have been working with hundreds of local NGOs and lawyers from across Morocco to develop an online database to track court decisions pertaining to women’s rights. 

This incredibly powerful tool will be used to analyze court decisions and provide concrete examples of the best human rights–legal arguments and judicial decisions on behalf of women and their rights.  The easily-accessible arguments and decisions will provide a rich resource for lawyers and judges to use to help in cases affecting women.

This tool will provide the only publicly accessible, online database of women’s rights court decisions in the country and the first of its kind in the Arabic-speaking world. 

Next week, our Maghreb team is excited to bring together 20 local lawyers and NGO members to begin the training process on how to collect, monitor and document domestic court decisions on women's rights issues.

What’s really neat about this training is that it will unite mainly male lawyers with younger grassroots level women’s associations, contributing to a greater engagement in women’s rights issues by the lawyers, and enhancing young women activists’ legal knowledge and access to the court systems (usually quite inaccessible). This exchange is rare in Morocco and we are proud to be paving the way in this essential collaboration for women’s rights!

Be sure to visit our Facebook page next week to see photos of the training in action! 

With its partners, Global Rights is creating an amazing tool that will benefit current and future generations of women as they advocate for their rights. We are fostering an environment where women are inspired to create change.  We want to thank our local women’s organizations for making this a reality!
  • Association Tawaza pour le Plaidoyer de la Femme (Tetouan)
  • Association Amal pour la Femme et le Développement (El Hajeb)
  • Association El Amane pour le développement de la femme (Marrakech)
  • Association Tafoukt Souss pour le développement de la femme (Agadir)
  • Association des jeunes Avocats (Khemisset)
  • Tafiil Moubadarat (Taza)
  • Comité des jeunes avocats (Beni Mellal)
  • Comité des jeunes avocats (Ouarzazate)
  • Comité des jeunes avocats (Errachidia)
- Susan
Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth