GENDER PERSPECTIVE NEEDED IN DEVELOPMENT OF POLICIES TO COUNTER RACIAL DISCRIMINATION, COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN TOLD

13 March 2001
WOM/1278

GENDER PERSPECTIVE NEEDED IN DEVELOPMENT OF POLICIES TO COUNTER RACIAL DISCRIMINATION, COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN TOLD

13/03/2001
Press ReleaseWOM/1278

Commission on Status of Women

Forty-fifth Session

11th Meeting (AM)

GENDER PERSPECTIVE NEEDED IN DEVELOPMENT OF POLICIES TO COUNTER

RACIAL DISCRIMINATION, COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN TOLD

The Commission on the Status of Women this morning held an expert panel discussion on one its thematic issues:  gender and all forms of discrimination, in particular racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

The theme of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance will be the subject of a forthcoming United Nations world conference to be held in Durban, South Africa, from 31 August to 7 September.

Pragna Patel, Community Case Worker, Southall Black Sisters Legal Advice Centre, London, said it was time to stop looking at race and gender discrimination in one dimensional ways, and instead look at them as they affected marginalized groups, particularly marginalized women.  In most countries, racial discrimination and gender discrimination had always been considered as mutually exclusive phenomena.  Marginalized minorities including black women had been rendered invisible in many places.

Strategies to combat racial inequality, she continued, largely addressed and were taken to mean the experiences of black men.  When it came to women and gender, similar strategies addressed the experience of white women.  It was important to understand that even if policies were formulated to deal with or combat racial discrimination, unless there was a gender perspective integrated into them, certain forms of discrimination which were subsumed would not be addressed.  What would happen would be that those subsumed forms that were not visible in official policy would actually be reinforced.

Philomena Essed, Senior Researcher, Amsterdam Research Institute for Global Issues and Development Studies, University of Amsterdam, and Co-director of the research programme “Gender, Ethic Relations and Childhood” called for the creation of safe places where women could go to talk about discrimination they experienced by people who would understand.  Community units and non-governmental organizations could play an important role in providing those shelters.

Although governments could do the same, she continued, there was a risk that their shelters would be regarded as too official and intimidating by those who needed to use them.  Shelters, however, were only an emergency solution and could not be regarded as a solution to the problem, especially the problem of structural discrimination.  Governments needed to legislate against that.

Françoise Gaspard, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Senior Lecturer at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, underscored the responsibility of the international community in denouncing and fighting discrimination derived from racism and sexism.  That community had long recognized the need to fight discrimination based on race; it was time the same recognition was given to discrimination based on sex.

She said women often suffered because of their sex and the use of rape during war was a tragic consequence of that type of discrimination.  The struggle against sexism, racism and xenophobia began by calling them by their proper names and condemning them because they led to suffering, and very often death.

Mely G. Tan, Chairperson at the Research Institute, Atmya Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta, and Lecturer at the Graduate School, Institute of Police Sciences of the national Police Force, Jakarta, said it was imperative to enact legislation to protect women.  Racism was a conscious mindset and ideology that determined behaviour and attitudes.  Such attitudes were learned and not inherent.  To get rid of them required the establishment of an enabling environment, the introduction of legal reforms, and changing the mindset of both society and women.

The Moderator of the Panel Discussion Ibra Denguène Ka (Senegal) said he hoped that the exchanges, which would be summarized and submitted to the Commission together with the agreed conclusions, would lead to a truly high quality contribution to the forthcoming World Conference against Racism.

Statements in exercise of the rights or reply were made by the representatives of Iran and Israel.

The Commission will meet again today at 3 p.m. to consider the system-wide, medium-term plan as well as the proposed programme of work for 2002-2003.

Background

When the Commission on the Status of Women meets this morning it will continue its consideration of one its thematic issues:  Gender and all forms of discrimination, in particular racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

(For background details, see Press Release WOM/1263 dated 2 March.)

The Commission will hold an expert panel discussion on its thematic issue.  The panelists are:  Philomena Essed, Senior Researcher, Amsterdam Research Institute for Global Issues and Development Studies, University of Amsterdam, and Co-director of the research programme “Gender, Ethic Relations and Childhood”; Mely G.Tan, Chairperson at the Research Institute, Atmya Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta, and Lecturer at the Graduate School, Institute of Police Sciences of the national Police Force, Jakarta; Françoise Gaspard, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Senior Lecturer at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris; and Pragna Patel, Community Case Worker, Southall Black Sisters Legal Advice Centre, London.

The panelists will give brief 10 minute presentations followed by questions and comments from the floor. 

Moderator IBRA DENGUENE KA (Senegal) expressed his gratitude to the bureau for having chosen him to chair the panel discussion.  He described the panelists as high-ranking experts and expressed hope that there would be productive exchanges of views on this extremely important issue.  He also hoped that the exchanges, which would then be summarized and submitted to the Commission together with the agreed conclusions, would lead to a truly high quality contribution by the Commission to the forthcoming World Conference against racism.

Panel Presentations

FRANCOISE GASPARD said the question of discrimination was a difficult one because there was the risk of concentrating on one kind of discrimination and being blind to other forms.  There was also the risk of overlooking the diversity of women, when dealing with sexism.  Women often faced situations that had nothing to do with their sex.

She defined discrimination as the action of classifying a group of people on the basis of their race, colour, sex and then proceeding to not regard them as individuals to devalue them.  When people were categorized in this way, those doing so forgot their common humanity.  Also, the domination of men over women had very deep roots and was often universal.  Sexism had long been overlooked, because women did not live apart from men and were present in every aspect of society.  However the discrimination that women suffered was due to conditioning which began at birth.

In some counties, she continued, girl fetuses were aborted and new born baby girls were killed because of their sex.  And even when they survived birth, they did not enjoy the same privileges as their male counterparts.  During the French Revolution, men irrespective of their religion were granted citizenship, but women were not.  In all groups, women were regarded as the other.

She stressed the responsibility of the international community to denounce and fight discrimination derived from racism and sexism.  The international community had long recognized the need to fight against discrimination based on race; it was time that it the same recognition was given to discrimination based on sex.  Women suffered often because of their sex and the use of rape during war was a tragic consequence of this type of discrimination.  Discrimination based on gender often led to prejudices and violence.  The struggle against sexism, racism and xenophobia began by calling them by their proper names and condemning them because they led to suffering, and very often death.  Sexism humiliated and killed; so did racism.

PHILOMENA ESSED said that the day-to-day realities of racism in the lives of women did not usually receive much attention in politics, legal systems or societal narratives.  This was unfortunate because these everyday life experiences were rich ground for demonstrating how discrimination worked. Manifestations of racial and gender discrimination had many similarities, such as being patronizing, a lack of confidence in the object of discrimination, hiring token blacks or women and favouring white men.  One of the most difficult things to deal with was denial.  Women of colour were often accused of being over-sensitive when they objected to being discriminated against.

She called for the creation of safe places where these women could go to talk about discrimination as experienced by them to people who would understand. Community units and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) could play an important role in providing these shelters.  Although governments could do the same, there was a risk that their shelters would be regarded as too official and intimidating by those who needed to use them.  However, shelters were only an emergency solution and could not be regarded as a solution to the problem, especially the problem of structural discrimination.  Governments needed to legislate against this.

Continuous public campaigns about covert discrimination, she continued, could also be useful in exposing and ending the problem.  There was a need to pay more than lip-service to fight a systemic problem.  Racism was not restricted to the extreme, open and violent forms.  Most forms of racism were everyday practices, more covert and difficult to prove and therefore easier to deny.  She called for the simplification of the procedures that women could use to claim the right to protection against all forms of discrimination.  She further suggested that human rights education with particular emphasis on women’s rights, could be developed in school systems, in the workplace and in communities.  Women who suffered from racism often remained silent because they were not sure about their rights.  In light of the need for data, she proposed a massive collection of testimonies of discrimination at the local, national and international level.  This could be used as a basis for recognizing how different forms of discrimination converged.

MELY G.TAN, Chairperson at the Research Institute, Atmya Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta, and Lecturer at the Graduate School, Institute of Police Sciences of the national Police Force, Jakarta, said most countries/societies today were pluralistic.  Globalization was not a recent phenomenon –- its earliest form was the movement of people across continents.  Yet diversity among people caused conflicts.  The end result of differences in ethnicity and religion was refugees and internally displaced persons.  The nature of conflicts had changed from inter-State to intra-State as well, and casualties had shifted from the arena of combatants to that of civilians.  In addition, one’s gender defined one’s experiences during war time.

She went on to say that during a conflict, for example, certain forms of racial discrimination could be directed to women because of their gender.  Highlighting the issue of violence against women in war time, she drew attention to the ordeals they faced in detention centres, as prisoner of war and in refugee camps.  In addition, there was also the practice of trafficking in women and girls.  It seemed that the trend was for armed conflicts to continue and by extension, for discrimination against women to continue as well.  Women would thus remain as victims of violence, particularly the sexual kind.  Because of the various factors of instability, the trend for women to leave home and become migrant workers would also continue.  That meant that they would continue to be in high-risk situations right across the societal spectrum -- from the board room to armed conflict.

In crisis situations, she continued, countries that were pluralistic and impoverished experienced tensions between different groups that were often manifested in violent social unrest.  That was provoked by stereotyping, prejudice and ethnic targeting by majority groups.  The policies and actions of the authorities also reinforced mutual mistrust.  As a consequence, when latent tensions turned into major conflicts, women were highly exposed to many acts of terror and became victims of sexual violence, including rape.  Many times, the response of the authorities was usually a systematic denial.  Their main argument was that victims had not come forward to file complaints.  By taking that approach, they ignored the fact that the gang rape of a woman was such a violation of her integrity that she would rather commit suicide than reveal her ordeal to others.

She said it was imperative to enact legislation to protect women.  Another intersection of gender and race involved international migrant workers.  Many women pursued employment in countries that were socially and culturally different from their own.  Many domestic workers, because of low levels of education and social status, became victims of discrimination and violence by employers.  They were exploited and mistreated by the host countries. Governments of those host countries should provide the means and instruments to protect those migrant women workers.  Racism was a conscious mindset and ideology that determined behaviour and attitudes.  Such attitudes were learned and not inherent.  To get rid of them, it was necessary to establish an enabling environment and legal reforms, and to change the mindset of both society and women.

She said there was also a need to understand the root causes of racism and racial discrimination with a focus on the gender aspects of those ills. 

PRAGNA PATEL, Community Case Worker, Southall Black Sisters Legal Advice Centre, London, said it was time to stop looking at race and gender discrimination in one dimensional ways.  They should be seen through the interplay of racial and gender discrimination as they affected marginalized groups and, particularly, marginalized women.  While NGOs had played an important role in setting up battered women’s shelters for minority women or other specific projects for those women, the problem was that the vast experiences, knowledge and individual testimonies of marginalized women had not filtered into action at either national or international levels in terms of the discrimination they faced.

She said that in most countries, racial discrimination and gender discrimination had always been considered as mutually exclusive phenomena.  Marginalized minority women had fallen between two stools.  Those minority women, including black women, had been rendered invisible in places like the United Kingdom, for example.  Strategies to combat racial inequality largely addressed the experiences of black men.  Similarly, when it came to women and gender, similar strategies addressed the experience of white women.

She said it was important to understand that, even if policies were formulated to deal with or combat racial discrimination, unless there was a gender perspective integrated into them, certain forms of discrimination which were subsumed would not be addressed.  What would happen would be that those subsumed forms that were not visible in official policy would actually be reinforced.  Progressive policies sometimes had the effect of reinforcing other forms of discrimination at one and the same time, she added.

She said an important area and one that deserved the centre of attention at upcoming World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related Intolerance (Durban, South Africa, 31 August to 7 September) was the way in which immigration and asylum laws impacted marginalized women.  Many countries had immigration policies that compromised women’s autonomy.  When a wife came to a new country to be with her husband, she found, for example, that she could not escape the scourge of domestic violence because of her temporarily irregular immigration status.  The choice for many such women was either violence or deportation.

She said official policies must incorporate racial dimensions that recognized how immigration laws affected marginalized women.  Those laws should not reinforce gender or patriarchal rules within marginalized communities. Moreover, immigration rules must not be abused by the perpetrators of violence against and abuse of women.

She said even anti-racist policies could be seriously flawed if they did not have a gender perspective.  In many western societies there was an emergence of multicultural policies.  The interplay between majority and minority, underpinned by liberal notions of tolerance and diversity, was the accepted norm.  While that was important, the problem arose with the issue of marginalized women.  The same multicultural approach reinforced the existing power relations in marginalized communities. 

In the spirit of tolerance and understanding, she went on to say, minority communities were recognized as having static and fixed cultures and were not dynamic.  The multicultural approach was undemocratic because it relied on the community leaders of minority and majority communities.  Minority leaders, for example, entered relationships and traded autonomies such as women’s rights in return for control over a community.  In addition, the State was often reluctant to interfere in the affairs of a minority community.  While women were subjected to abuse, violence, arranged marriages and female genital mutilation, the State in trying to be culturally sensitive, permitted such abuses to continue.

Panelists’ Responses to Questions and Remarks

Responding to questions, Ms. GASPARD recalled that the Commission had played an important role in establishing equal rights internationally between men and women.  The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women had also been important in that regard.  There was an institutional relationship between Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the other treaty monitoring bodies.  The reports of the Committee on racial discrimination had been useful to CEDAW because States did not mention issues which related to racism.  But in future, CEDAW intended to ask and insist that governments give information about the situation concerning racial discrimination in their countries.

Addressing the role of the internet in the dissemination of racism literature, Ms. ESSED said the debate about the use of the Internet for this purpose was an old one and tied to the law of free speech.  She did not wish to spend time on it.  On how to control the Internet, she said she agreed with a friend who had said that as long as people were putting their hate on the Internet and not killing people in the street, there was little to worry about. France had been among those countries who wanted to take action against the exposure of its citizens to hate literature on the Internet.  It would be useful to learn from the experiences of France.  However, the Internet could also be used to share useful information.

Colonialism had led to certain forms of sexual abuse and harassment, she said.  The more forceful governments were in protecting people from discrimination, the easier it would be for people to come out and speak about discrimination they had suffered.  People were often silent because they were not taken seriously.

Concerning the specific burden endured by marginalized and minority women in the United Kingdom, Ms. PATEL said the criminal justice system had become a site for multiple discrimination that had had devastating consequences for those women.  Either they were over-policed or under-policed.  For example, often when a woman complained to the police about domestic violence, she became the subject of close scrutiny, and her immigration status was investigated instead of the crime that had been reported.  Under-policing meant that complaints were not taken seriously, and therefore were not properly investigated.  There were also language difficulties which were compounded by the criminal justice system’s refusal to provide proper interpreters.  Interpreters were often the abusers or children within the family.  These women also had the additional burden of not wishing to expose their minority communities to racist policing practices by reporting crimes committed against them.  Women censored themselves by keeping silent.

Addressing the issue of the root causes of discrimination, Ms. TAN said that it was important to understand them in order to find ways of eliminating them.  There was a need to look at the problem from different angles.  There was also a need to focus on the structural environment relating to government policies and social and cultural values of the societies.  The relationship between ethnic groups, both large and small, should be examined and the role of the State in aggravating or diminishing the sensitivities between racial and ethnic groups should also be considered.

Ms. GASPARD, responding to a question on the intersection of sexism and racism, said it would be useful to have initiatives on the issue published.  Such initiatives, which attacked both sexism and racism, were shown as short films in French cinemas prior to feature presentations.

Ms. TAN responding to questions raised on women in politics said it was interesting that during crises, using Indonesia as an example, there was even more participation by women in the political arena and civil society.       It seemed that during crises women came forward and became active on the political scene.  It was also noticeable that women were very good with survival strategies and being resourceful in coping with economic problems.

Ms. ESSED, addressing a point raised on collecting testimonies, said that the telephone was definitely one way to do that as had been suggested.  Its limitation, however, was that one had to wait for people to come forward and not everyone used the phone.  Therefore data collection could not rely on that method alone.  Trained people needed to go into field and communities, conduct interviews and reach out to make sure that the massive amounts of data were collected.  She therefore urged a collaborative approach in collecting testimonies.  Policy documents also needed to be analysed to see how they could be made more inclusive.

Ms. PATEL, replying to a question on what measures could be put in place to prevent human rights from sliding into cultural relativism or to ensure that religious or cultural practices did not undermine women’s human rights, said it was necessary to rethink the multicultural model and strengthen it so that policy makers would start to listen to the voiceless. 

Testimonies must not be just a collection of statements –- they also had to be translated into policies that mattered, she said.  Her central critique of the multicultural approach was that while voices had been raised, they were not the ones that were heard.  Those listened to were those in the communities who had power and patriarchal interests.  The NGOs involved with marginalized groups also had to be part of the policy-making procedures.

In highlighting good practices related to multiculturalism, Ms. PATEL said some women had been critical of multiculturalism but it was difficult to pursue this criticism because it was seen going against a progressive practice.  She believed that the way forward was for multiculturalism to be strengthened and rethought with regard to its effect on democracy.  The present model relied on community leaders who were mainly men and did not represent the interests of all sections of marginalized communities.  There was therefore a need to bypass those community leaders, who were unelected, and to go directly to the women whose lives were affected.  On the issue of religion being used to fight discrimination, she said there was a need to be careful because religion was circumscribed and had patriarchal underpinnings.  It should be understood in the way it had been used to undermine women's human rights.

Addressing the issue of CEDAW’s attention to discrimination that affected little and adolescent girls, Ms. GASPARD said there were plans to set up a panel to deal with this.  On the question of whether there were links between racism and sexism, she revealed that studies had shown that women seemed to be less racist than men and were inclined to promote dialogue with other cultures.  This was not a question of feminine nature but one of women’s culture and experiences that differed from that of men.

Ms. TAN said a lot of emphasis needed to be placed on education because the whole mind set of discrimination was not an inherent trait in human beings. Children should therefore be educated on pluralism and the culture of peace.  The material taught in schools should be closely scrutinized.  It was also imperative for women to be active in mainstreaming politics.

      Right of Reply

In exercising her right to reply to a statement made earlier by the representation at the Asian regional conference on racism held from 19 to

21 February in Iran, FROUZANDEH VADIATI (Iran) said the statement was untrue.  In addition, the Zionist regime’s legitimacy was under question.  It was a regime which perpetrated racism towards Palestinians everyday, resulting in the deaths of innocent Palestinian women and children.  She said her country had placed no limitations on the participation of NGOs and other groups in the conference and had issued visas to more than 250 NGOs regardless of their religion and ideology.  She asked that her intervention be put on record.

In response, BRENDA KATTEN (Israel) said the name of her country had not been mentioned, but it was called Israel.  The Iranian representative’s intervention had reminded her of the darkest days of the United Nations when Israel had often been villified.  She insisted that Jewish NGOs had indeed been banned from participating in the conference, as were two States which she did not name.  Had she been the Iranian representative, she would not have talked about tolerance in this form.

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For information media. Not an official record.