Tag Archive | "women’s rights"


A comparison of maternity rights across the world

On October 6, 2015, Washington D.C. councilmembers introduced the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015, which guarantees 16-week of paid family leave for any employed D.C resident.  The legislative process could take months, but if passed, the law would allow both full-time and part-time D.C. employees to take time off to tend to a newborn, care for a sick relative or recover from serious illness. The standard that would be set by the nation’s capital is truly revolutionary compared to the existing laws and policies across the country. Currently, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, Massachusetts  are the only states that offer taxpayer-funded medical and family leave allowing eligible employees to take up to six weeks of partially paid time-off.

In fact, the United States is the only industrialized country that does not have any federally mandated paid leave for its citizens. It is also one of four countries, along with Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Papua New Guinea, with no paid maternity leave laws. Maternity leave policy in the United States is directed by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which was issued in 1993. The Act offers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a calendar year to care for a newborn, adopted child, sick relative, or recover from serious health condition. But even the entitlement to a 12 weeks’ time off is subject to a host of restrictions and qualifying conditions: the provisions apply only if the person works for an employer with 50 or more full-time employees, have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year. Because taking unpaid time off can be financially burdensome, in many households, especially in low-income families, mothers often have to make a painful decision to stay at work or take much shorter leave after a birth of a child.

Maternity policies may vary around the world but they all (except for the United States andPapua New Guinea) recognize many benefits of offering paid parental leave and provide minimum level of support to new mothers. According to International Labor Organization, maternity leave policies in the vast majority of countries guarantee at least 14 weeks of time off at a “rate of at least two-thirds of previous earnings, paid by social insurance or public funds

For instance, in Demark, the government adopted the Maternity Leave Act that guarantees parents a total of 52 weeks of paid leave including pregnancy leave for up to four weeks off before the child arrives. Sweden went a step further: parents in this country are entitled to 15 months of paid leave that can be shared between mothers and fathers; parents also receive 80 percent of their regular wages and are allowed to work only six hours per day until their child turns eight. Under German law, both mothers and fathers are well protected from loss of employment until their child turns three. Besides, a mother can take 14 weeks off for maternity leave at 100 percent pay.

Mothers in Italy are offered 5 months of leave paid at 80 percent of salary. Women employees also have a flexibility to divide their time off by taking one month off before birth and four months after the birth of a child.

Under Canada Labor Code female employees can take between 17 (if they worked for a company for at least six months) and 52 consecutive weeks of paid leave. Maternity leave in Russia and many other CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) member countries consists of 70 calendar days prior to a birth and 70 days thereafter; it is paid at the rate of 100 percent of the average monthly salary. In Iran new mothers are entitled to 90 days of maternity leave and receive two-thirds of their regular wages.

All these countries have long recognized the need to provide a support for working families in the form of paid leave. Parental leave benefits the families, businesses, government and society in general. It gives parents opportunity to establish a strong bond with an infant during the first months of life, and allow a healthy childhood development.  Paid leave also strengthen employee loyalty and increases the likelihood that employees will return to their employers after having children, and continue advancement in their career. As a result, companies that offer paid parental leave would be able to save money on turnover costs and retain talented employees.fnwodbcowebecowieh

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FGM - Photo

When Law is not Enough: How to Eradicate Female Genital Mutilation


Girls in Egypt 2015 (photo by Christina Mourad – UNFPA)

The practice of female genital mutilation (“FGM”) has many psychological, emotional, and physical effects.  The international community recognizes the practice FGM as a human rights violation.  There has been a global effort to eradicate the practice by both firmly categorizing FGM as a human rights violation and by making the practice illegal in countries where it is practiced.  Despite these efforts, and despite the increasing awareness of the risks linked to FGM, millions of young girls are still affected today.  This is because condemnation by the international community and even successful efforts within countries to make FGM illegal have done very little to change the social and cultural realities surrounding the practice.  Until that happens, FGM will continue to effect women across the globe.

Currently, countries such as Somalia, where the rate of FGM is 98 percent, are considering passing legislation that will make FGM illegal.  Making the practice illegal is an important step, however, simply changing the law will not, on its own, eradicate FGM.  In Egypt, for example, although the practice has been illegal since 2008, the rate of FGM for married women is still at 92 percent.  Furthermore, despite the fact that a doctor was recently convicted of manslaughter for performing FGM (his patient died), many doctors are still willing to perform the procedure.  Even countries where FGM has not historically been woven into the fabric of society are struggling with eliminating the practice.  For instance, in the United States, where FGM has been illegal since 1996, “the number of women at risk for female genital mutilation has practically doubled in the last decade.”

The continued pervasiveness of FGM, even in countries where it is explicitly illegal, is due to the fact that it is deeply woven into the fabric of society in many cultures around the world.  Whether or not a girl goes through FGM is directly linked to her marriage prospects and to her acceptance into society.  So for a family to forge the procedure or for a girl to refuse the procedure can have lasting and devastating effects. One girl in Sierra Leone was pulled out of school for two years for bringing shame on her family for refusing.

Legal action and international condemnation usually ignore these important cultural issues.  The “knee-jerk” reaction in Western cultures is to completely demonize FGM and ignore sincerely held cultural beliefs.  However, it turns out that one culture judging and attacking another does absolutely nothing to change the minds and practices of the judged culture.  FGM is no exception.

The reality of the situation is that education and uniting the community are the keys to eradicating FGM.  This approach must take into account the traditions and ancient cultural roots of FGM so as to not alienate communities.  This is because the entire community needs to come together for this goal to be achieved.  Especially since it is the adults who are ensuring and, in some cases, forcing children to go through the process.  Without collective and coordinated action in the community, social pressures will continue to allow FGM to flourish.

Simply making something illegal without also changing cultural attitudes underling a practice will do little to eradicate the practice.  Neither will condemning the practice outright and without any attempt to understand the underlying reasoning for the practice to continue.  The increased international attention to the harms caused by FGM, and the attempts by some countries to eradicate the practice through passing legislation, are important.  However, for the sake of the millions of girls still at risk of the procedure, more needs to be done.  It is only by addressing the cultural issues realistically and sensitively that FGM can be reduced and hopefully eradicated globally.

Allison Derschang is a 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College Law and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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At the Breaking Point: Religious discrimination in Myanmar


Theravada Buddhist civic leaders in Myanmar.

On July 7, 2015, Myanmar’s parliament passed the Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Bill (“Marriage Bill”).  The measure is one of four (one of which has passed and two of which are still pending) that are aimed at protecting race and religion in the country, known as the Protection of Race and Religion Laws.  The Marriage Bill will make it difficult for Buddhist women to marry outside their faith.  There is a fear that if the bill is signed into law, religiously motivated violence will erupt in the country.  And given Myanmar’s past, such fears are not baseless.

The Marriage Bill requires Buddhist women who intend to marry outside their faith to register with the government.  If there are objections to the marriage, the couple can be stopped from marrying.  Some see the measure as a step to repress women.  Especially since President Thein Sein signed into law the Population Control Health Care Bill (“Healthcare Bill”) in May.  Now, some mothers (i.e. poor mothers) are required to wait 36 months between each pregnancy.  According to US Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, this legislation could be used to “undermine reproductive rights, women’s rights, and religious freedom.”

But it is the religious freedom aspect that is causing human rights organizations most cause for concern.  This is because the Marriage Bill (as well as the Health Care Bill) is specifically targeted at regulating Rohingya Muslims, the religious minority in the country.  The Marriage Bill is aimed at limiting marriages between Buddhist women and Rohingya Muslim men.  Both laws were drafted due to pressure exerted by extremist Buddhist monks in the country that hold a lot of political sway.  In fact, the passage of the Marriage Bill (and the other three Protection of Race and Religion Laws) is just a continuation of a long line of discriminatory acts by the Myanmar government against the Rohingya.

The systematic discrimination against the Rohingya in Myanmar began in the early 1990s.  Since then, Rohingya have been denied citizenship, despite the fact that their ancestors have lived within the current Myanmar borders for generations.  The animosity against the Rohingya has been motivated by extremist Buddhist beliefs.  Buddhism is the majority religion in the country.  In 2012, this animosity exploded into violence.  Since then, almost 140,000 Rohingya have been herded into a makeshift, costal camp that they are not allowed to leave.  The conditions in the camp are prompting many residents to flee the country, creating a refugee crisis in the region.  The rest of the Rohingya residents of the country are similarly severely restricted when it comes to travel.  All Rohingya in the country, no matter their location, face severe discrimination.

In light of the historical, and all too recent religious tensions in Myanmar, the passage of the Marriage Bill has human rights organizations concerned.  Some have heralded the law as dangerous and as hate speech against an oppressed minority.  If the bill is signed into law, violence is predicted to erupt.  Others hope that the passage of the Marriage Bill will galvanize the international community to take action before the discrimination against Muslims in Myanmar reaches, or surpasses, the levels seen in 2012.

President Sein, has until July 28, 2015 to sign the bill into law.  As of today, he has not done so.  Myanmar, and the international community, can only wait with baited breath, hoping that the bill is not signed into law.  And if it is, hopefully the international community will exert much needed pressure on the Myanmar government to suppress any religiously motivated violence stemming from its passage.

Allison Derschang is a 2L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and is a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Gender-Based Asylum Claims: Why the United States Approves So few


Somali woman and child

Under current asylum law, gender is not a protected ground for asylum. The United States, as well as many other countries around the world, first committed to the international community to protect the rights of refugees when it signed the Refugee Convention in 1951, the controlling international convention in refugee law.  A refugee, according to the Refugee Convention Article 1(A)(2) is an individual “who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence and is unable or unwilling to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on his or her race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.”

Any individual bringing a claim for gender-based asylum must do so under “membership in a particular social group.”  However, merely stating that the individual’s “gender” constitutes as a social group is not enough. The social group cannot be based on the persecution the individual faced, and has to be specific, immutable, and socially visible. There is a fear that if an immigration judge allows a social group that is too broad, it will set precedent for a flood of women to come and claim asylum in the United States.  Women, therefore, have had to describe their social group in convoluted and intricate ways, in order to be as specific as possible to be acceptable to immigration judge.  As one scholar notes, “applicants often define groups in ‘overly complicated and unnecessarily detailed’ ways, including characteristics such as marital status, age, education level, the absence of male protection, opposition to abuse, transgression of social/cultural norms, and past experiences of harm.” These social group formulations are very narrow, sometimes illogical, and almost comical in length.

Claims are especially difficult to bring when the persecution occurs within the private sphere—this means, the government of the country did not conduct the persecution, but instead, the members of the government refused to protect the individual from the violence.  When the persecution occurs within the private sphere, the persecution must be on account of that social group; the persecutor either has or will inflict harm or suffering “in order to punish him [or her] for possessing a belief or characteristic [the] persecutor[seeks] to overcome.”  The asylum seeker must show that the persecutor wanted to persecute her on account of her social group by providing evidence that the persecution occurred, which is often difficult within the private sphere, because there is often no witnesses or evidence.  Women around the world suffer violence, such as female genital mutilation, honor killings,  or domestic violence,  at the hands of their fellow community members because it is “culturally acceptable;” however, when they flee to the United States to avoid this violence, they face many obstacles in getting their asylum applications approved.

Kitty Robinson is a 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.


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Women throughout India say that their gender makes them vulnerable to attacks. (New York Times)

Critical Analysis: Gang Rape Brings India’s Sexual Assault and Rape Laws Under Scrutiny


Women throughout India say that their gender makes them vulnerable to attacks. (New York Times)

Women throughout India say that their gender makes them vulnerable to attacks. (New York Times)

On Sunday, December 16, 2012, in New Delhi, six men gang raped and brutally beat a 23-year old female university student resulting in her death. These events re-ignited an ongoing debate concerning India’s sexual assault and rape laws. The Indian government indicated that in 2011 they received more than 220,000 reports of violent crimes against women. However, government officials suspect that the actual number may be much higher. Women hope that this unfortunate incident will bring stiffer penalties to deter future rapes and assaults.

New Delhi authorities charged five of the six suspects with murder and several others offenses. They are investigating whether the sixth suspect is under the age of 18 and, therefore, a juvenile under New Delhi law. Although the crimes committed are punishable by death, India has been slow to execute prisoners. Currently India has hundreds of prisoners on death row. Groups such as Amnesty International, a non-governmental human rights organization, insist that the death penalty is not the solution. They face an uphill battle as citizens are outraged at the treatment of Indian women and demand an immediate overhaul of laws regarding rape and assault.

Numerous international lawmakers consider India’s laws governing rape to be narrowly defined and rooted in tradition. In many cases, it makes the possibility of conviction unlikely. The law lacks clear and concise sentencing guidelines and provides for a judge’s discretionary judgment in sentencing. Lawmakers have expressed frustration with evidentiary matters during court proceedings. The lack of sufficient evidence has a tendency to transform the trial into a battle of the genders where the men often win. Given the issues outlined, it is not surprising that the lawyer of three of the suspects charged urged them to plead not guilty.

In representing the accused, Manohar Lal Sharma stated, “[w]e are only hearing what the police are saying. This is manipulated evidence. It’s all on the basis of hearsay and presumption.” This accusation of manipulating the evidence outraged many of India’s citizens because a companion of the victim witnessed the entire attack and suffered injuries while pleading with the six individuals to stop. Further,a DNA test confirmed that the victim’s blood matched the blood found on the clothing of the accused. In response to the DNA findings, two defendants offered to testify against the others in exchange for a lighter sentence.

The out-pour of support from around the world serves as a glimmer of hope for women in India. Although they know that the process is gradual, they are optimistic that the future will bring change. The government formed a panel of legal experts charged with the task of reviewing suggested amendments to India’s rape and assault laws. The suggestions include sentencing guidelines, harsher prison sentences, and chemical castration. Either way, India needs a definitive definition of rape and sexual assault. Hopefully these preventative changes come in time because even after this horrific incident, another Indian woman was gang raped by seven men.   

Tausha Riley is a 2L at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.


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Sources: CNN, New York Times, Arab Times

News Post: What Does the Right to Vote Mean for Saudi Women?

Sources: CNN, New York Times, Arab Times

Sources: CNN, New York Times, Arab Times

On Sunday, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia granted women the right to vote and the right to run in municipal elections.  This decision came on the heels of a number of royal decrees and civilization projects aimed at modernizing Saudi Arabia.  Many throughout the world commend this momentous declaration for women’s rights, however acknowledging, despite these changes, that women’s rights remain very limited in Saudi Arabia.  The question remains, what real change will these rights bear on women’s status in Saudi Arabian society?

According to the White House, this is, “an important step forward in expanding the rights of women in Saudi Arabia.”  The White House welcomed the announcement and noted it recognizes the significant contributions women make in Saudi Arabian society.  Yet, the King’s announcement was the result of the ever-increasing pressure, largely from the growing number of Saudi women activists, to grant women the right to vote.  In the past year, the activists have become much more active and adamant in increasing women’s rights.  The activists have written formal requests to the government to demanding the right to vote and to run for election, as well as attempted to gain entry into voting centers this past April for the chance to vote in the latest elections.  In June the activists also took to the streets in cars, defying the ban on female drivers, in efforts to obtain the right for women to drive and travel freely throughout the nation.   Many activists hail Sunday’s announcement as “great news,” but do so with the continued demand that further barriers be removed so that women can function without requiring a male guardian.

Ahmed Al-Jarallah sees the announcement as nothing short of completing the democratic process in Saudi Arabia.  He says that King Abdullah’s declaration is just the beginning because the King “does not want to marginalize the role of women in the Saudi society according to religious constraint.” Thus, he sees that there are more changes to come, and feels the royal decree will allow women to carry out their activities without a male guardian.  This expansive view of Sunday’s decree is, however, in the minority.

While the King’s declaration provided reason for jubilation, many political activists caution to temper the expectations of upcoming change.  “Some women wondered aloud how they would be able to campaign for office when they were not even allowed to drive. And there is a long history of royal decrees stalling, as weak enactment collides with the bulwark of traditions ordained by the Wahhabi sect of Islam and its fierce resistance to change.” Many question how quickly change will occur, and how many women will actually be able to participate since the religious traditionalism that dominates the country still allows, if not encourages, men to limit women’s participation in the legal realm.

Further, “Some analysts described the King’s choice as the path of least resistance.” By giving women this right, he may be able to ignore demands for an elected Shura.  Granting women the right to vote was also less controversial than giving women the right to drive.  Moreover, under the current system, often controlled by religious edicts, it is required that a male guardian accompany females when a female wants to travel or take part in daily commercial activities, if allowed to participate at all.  The problem in many instances is not with Saudi Arabian law, but with the vigor of traditional beliefs.  Thus, Fawazaih Bakr, an Education Professor in Riyadh said, “We are now looking for even more,” because this “is not something that will change the life of most women.”

There is no doubt that King Abdullah’s decree was a step in the right direction for women’s rights and their struggle for equality in Saudi Arabia.  Yet, there are serious reservations about whether this declaration was intended only as a symbolic step in hopes of avoiding the greater push for overwhelming change, or if this is the first step of many to come for veritable changes to women’s rights.  Activists are happy to see this step forward for women’s rights, but they will not stop here in their fight for equality.  Although unlikely that any monumental change will come fast, or without much resistance from traditional Saudi Arabia, Sunday’s decree does bring new hope for a future of equality for men and women within Saudi Arabia.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law