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5 December 2011

OHCHR: Guaranteeing the rights of minority women

The Fourth Session of the Forum on Minority Issues was held on 29-30 November in Geneva. Under the theme “Guaranteeing the rights of minority women,” participants discussed international and regional human rights frameworks, as well as global initiatives that have an impact on the rights of minority women, such as the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. In particular, the forum focussed on the constraints that minority women continue to experience, such as in their access to quality education, and their lack of or limited participation in political, economic, social and cultural activities. However, it also addressed best practices at national level to overcome these challenges.

Participants further discussed the “draft recommendations on guaranteeing the rights of minority women.” The draft recommendations indicate, for example, that national, regional and local governments should recognize the particular challenges and barriers that minority women face and make sure that domestic legislation, programmes and policies are adjusted to the extent that they protect minority women from discriminatory practices and inequality, and give them access to justice and information. Moreover, the denial of minority women’s citizenship should be addressed, so that they can fully enjoy their rights. The collection of accurate disaggregated data by ethnicity, gender and religion is seen as another prerequisite to enhance people’s understanding of the issues affecting minority women. Government should further strengthen bilateral, regional and international cooperation in order to eliminate the trafficking of persons, especially women and children, the draft recommendations note.

The draft recommendations also discuss the different roles that various actors – national human rights institutions, civil society, the media and the UN system, including its human rights mechanisms – should play in enhancing minority women’s rights and in overcoming the barriers they face. Click here to access the draft recommendations discussed at the Forum.

On the sidelines of the Forum, two events were organized. One focussed on identifying effective practices to empower minority women, while the other addressed the issue of violence against minority women and their access to justice.

During the side-event on “Empowering Minority Women to Claim Their Rights: Identifying effective practices,” organized by OHCHR on 29 November, participants not only discussed practical and concrete ways for minority women to empower themselves and claim their rights, but also how others, including States and civil society organizations, could contribute to such empowerment. One approach used at community level by minority women is to form networks, associations, and self-help groups. By joining their forces they help each other to build their capacities to claim their rights, to take leadership roles within their communities, and to confront discrimination. However, their efforts alone are not sufficient. They will need an enabling environment that is conducive to their empowerment. States have the responsibility to change or eliminate discriminatory laws and other discriminatory provisions that block minority women from exercising their rights. In some communities, for example, women and girls still lack access to education, while the latter is critical to increase their understanding of their rights. Through projects, programmes and training, civil society organizations can support minority women to overcome some of the barriers they face.

The side-event on “Violence against minority women and their access to justice,” organized by the Minority Rights Group (MRG) and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples’ Organization (UNPO), focussed on the violence that minority women often continue to experience as a result of their status (being women and part of a minority in society), whether in the home, in society at large, or in armed conflict situations. In many cases, the lack of access to justice and protection, due to political and legal obstacles, aggravates their situation. The side-event presented experiences from the Dalit in India, the Uyghur in East Turkestan and of minority women in Iran and Uganda.

Ahead of this event, UNPO released the issue paper: Intersectional Discrimination, Multifaceted Problems: Minority Women, Violence and Peace-building. This paper, especially prepared for the fourth session of the Forum on Minority Issues, focuses “on the experiences of minority women in situations of conflict and one-sided violence, as well as their involvement (or lack thereof) in peace-building initiatives.” The paper also includes specific recommendations, such as the inclusion of minority issues in Security Council Resolution 1325 – which calls for strengthening women’s agency as peacemakers and peacebuilders, including their participation in conflict prevention and peace processes, early recovery, governance and in peace operations.

For more information on the Forum on Minority Issues, click here.

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