How embroidery is helping women in Pakistan stand up to honor killings and inequality

Originally posted on

Khalida Brohi grew up traveling between two very different parts of Pakistan: the bustling city of Karachi, where her parents moved so that she and her sisters could go to school, and a small village in Balochistan, where her family has its roots. Brohi got a modern education, and also developed a deep reverence for her tribal traditions. Those two threads often tangled — especially when it came to the treatment of women.

As a teenager, Brohi watched as, one by one, her childhood friends entered arranged marriages, sometimes against their will. When she was 16, she received word that a close friend had been murdered by her family in an “honor killing.” She set her mind on starting a movement to stop these practices. But as it gained momentum, it also spurred a backlash.

“We were challenging centuries-old customs in these communities. They stood up, saying we were spreading un-Islamic behavior,”…

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Mind the gap! –Women’s Education

Originally posted on Women Without Borders:

AFGHgirlschoolNot long ago, a 15-year-old in Afghanistan made world headlines when she was shot in the head by the Taliban, simply because she wanted an education.

For girls in the West, it’s hard to imagine wanting to go to school that badly. Teenagers commonly choose to drop out because they’d rather work or get married. In the United States, a surprising 1 in every 4 girls do not finish high school.  

That doesn’t seem fair when I think of all the girls I’ve met in a dozen not-so-privileged countries who would give their eye teeth for a chance to learn. Take Kanchan, for instance. Her parents threw no parties on the day she was born, in India. A daughter is an expensive and unwelcome addition to impoverished  Indian families, particularly for “untouchables” or dalits. When her mother and father abandoned her, her equally destitute grandparents took her in. Kanchan…

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Could you stop staring, s’il-vous-plaît?

Just recently, I’ve been on a 4 days vacation to Paris with a girl friend (gender specification intended). Naturally, we were both armed with summery clothes, ballerinas and a good mood, unaware that our adventure will become a feminist nightmare. I mean…it’s France! Home of the ECHR, land of the Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité! We couldn’t have known that going 1000 km up north (we were departing from Spain, land of the beaches and skin showing) equals going back  in time 500 years. Here’s what happened (in order of outrage):


In our student budget hotel, there were also some low class French business men that for some reason kept staring at us on the hallways. I have been started at before and I generally have a 3-5 seconds tolerance for lingering looks but this went beyond contemplation or admiration. I felt uncomfortable and since day 1 I avoided unnecessary movements on the hotel’s perimeter. But that didn’t stop them! At midnight, we heard knocks on our door and we both jumped out of bed, terrified the door would not hold and we would either get mugged or raped. Ok, maybe we weren’t as rational as one should be but there was real fear there. We did not open the door but the ‘’knocker’’ came back next night. We ignored this person again and we checked out safely next morning.

Going out wasn’t easy either: turns out the masculine behavior in the hotel was a short-scale representation of Parisian streets. Men of all ages and races had the same attitude: staring, smiling, visually harassing. I regretted having picked out shorts and skirts and since day 2, I pledged my loyalty to my old boring black skinny jeans.  What was truly disturbing was that I felt guilty for showing too much skin and that I have been dragged into an introspective analysis of my provocative image: ‘’am I dressed inappropriately?’’, ‘’is this normal here?’’, ‘’am I wearing too much make-up?’’, ‘’I shouldn’t have straightened my hair’’. I must admit that no one touched me and I have never been in what others might call ‘’real danger’’ but deep inside I felt constantly unsafe. I remember telling my friend that I didn’t feel this way in Turkey, Dubai or Egypt where I also had packed my preconceptions about muslim men and where this would have felt normal to some extent. Just as we were chatting on the metro, a guy carrying two baguettes walked in and all I can say was that I secretly wished I were the sun in those moments.  He went on a starting marathon and after 2 stops I decided to get off the metro, not even caring about my destination just to get out of his intruding sight.  

All this and much more made me think about how lucky I was to have lived in Sweden and Spain and made me remember why feminism is still important. It doesn’t matter if there are policemen on the streets, it doesn’t matter if you can walk around physically unharmed. Being physiologically harassed will still feel exhausting and will affect your gender expectations and social adjustment. I’m pretty sure I’m not the first one saying it but HELLO, it is not ok to stare at women like that! Men in France just as men in all corners of the world, keep your eyes to yourselves! I know it might sound a bit extreme and politically incorrect but I promise I am using the same emotion equivalent to what I felt when I was being stared at.

So I guess I’m not saying don’t go to Paris, I’m not even saying don’t wear shorts, I’m just saying there is still A GREAT LOT we need to work on in our society so women can feel safe. During my professional life I came across thousands of statistics and gender studies and I was academically aware of the situation but having lived the fear and terror of bare skin gave me a whole other perspective and sense of immediate concern. I hope my short story stands out from the scholarly data and that men and women alike will elegantly glance at gender realities and act accordingly. 

Education Gives Girls a Voice

Originally posted on 60 million girls:

The World Bank has released a report detailing the importance of empowering women and girls and giving them the tools to become equal members of society. As Hillary Clinton puts it, focusing development through a “gender lens” leads to meaningful results in communities and across countries.

As the Millennium Development Goals come to an end in 2015 and transition into a new set of development criteria, women will be put at the forefront. Investing in girls is shown to be effective and, data show that the opportunity cost of under-utilizing the skills of half of a country’s population does not make for a effective poverty reduction strategy: it weakens everyone’s opportunities and leaves individuals and countries less well off. Of course, we also believe that giving women and girls a voice is just the right thing to do.

Education will comprise a crucial aspect of the new development agenda. As…

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Women under Islam

Originally posted on Women Without Borders:

As the UN’s Gender Inequality Index (see previous post) indicates, most of the worst gender gaps occur in Islamic countries. A new report on gender-based violence written by the US Hudson Institute for the World Watch List describes how a profound lack of equality between men and women in Muslim countries means that all women in these societies are structurally vulnerable to systematic violence and discrimination in their daily lives.[i]

 Adultery and Other Moral Issuesburqa

  • Iranian law reads: “The stoning of an adulterer, or adulteress will be carried on while each is placed in a hole and covered with soil—he up to his waist, and she up to the line above her breast.” Under Islamic law, if you can escape and run away you are allowed to go free. Obviously no woman can escape if she is buried almost to her neck!
  • Under Libya’s Qaddafi, girls and…

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Justiciability of Economical, Social and Cultural Rights: theories and challenges.

The justiciability of human rights is a concept deeply tied to the discourse of whether economical, social and cultural rights (ESC) can be enforced by judicial and quasi-judicial organs due to peculiar political elements and apparent vagueness they entail. In connection with ESC rights, justiciability- as an expression of the opportunity to bring forward a legal claim- calls into question whether domestic courts can actively participate in the development of better living standards promoted by international instruments such as ICESCR and the European Social Charter.
Unlike civil and political rights, ESC rights appear to have been designed not as individual rights but rather as existential standards to be achieved by States. The characteristics of ESC rights illustrate the difference between their normative character and that of civil and political rights, the latter being defined by a causal link between factual circumstances and legal consequences. ESC rights lack this substantial element as they are an expression of aspirations and aims rather than ‘’legal rights’’.
ESC rights are often regarded as positive, political and progressive whereas civil and political rights are often envisioned as negative, non-political and demanding immediate realization. It is thought that along with their severe political nature, ESC rights are less judiciable also due to the scarcity of domestic judicial legitimacy to intervene and challenge policy issues. Nevertheless, this generalization is unfortunate seeing that some States present an advanced level of domestic procedural protection of particular ESC rights while being retrograde about others. Furthermore,there are dichotomist scholars that argue that the distinction between ESC rights and political and civil rights derives from either the positive or negative obligations that they impose on States. This traditional segregation is defective due to the fact that modernly constructed human rights impose varying duties on States, both negative and/or positive. As the International Commission of Jurists declares “this challenge to the justiciability of ESC rights […] is based on a false distinction that overestimates the differences between civil and political rights and ESC rights.’’
A more conciliatory approach is presented in the General Comment nr. 9 of the CESCR that proposes different levels of State duties and also calls for a less rigid differentiation between ESC rights and civil and political rights.The justiciability of ESC rights is also connected to the notions of “indivisibility, interrelation and interdependence of human rights’’. If ESC rights and political and civil rights are claimed to be different sets of rules coexisting in international law under a different practical and political manifesto that should make us question the very essence of the indivisibility of human rights. The above-mentioned General Comment also states that putting ESC rights “beyond the reach of the courts would thus be arbitrary and incompatible with the principle that the two sets of human rights are indivisible and interdependent”.

A notorious example of commitment to the indivisibility of human rights via a conjunct regulation under the same treaty is the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights that equalizes the value and protection of ESC rights and civil and political rights. The notion of justiciability appears to be at prima facie more relevant to ESC rights due to the amount of the existing contradictory literature. However, political and civil rights are extremely relevant as a comparator between the levels of enforcement the two allegedly separate sets of rules involve. If the argument is that ESC rights are less justiciable because they are vague or unspecific then we can easily ask ourselves why they are less worthy of mechanisms of specification. The lack of a comprehensible meaning of ESC rights derives from the fact that States have not put that much effort into developing their content as opposed to the continuing efforts of delimitation that civil and political rights enjoy. The apathy that States show towards formulating advanced ESC frameworks is mostly due to the budgetary and pecuniary elements that their realization demands.

A worth mentioning practical ideology illustrates that ESC rights are adjacent to civil and political rights. An example of a combined enforcement of the two categories of rights is the Olga Tellis case where the Supreme Court of India interpreted the right to life as encompassing a ‘’right to livelihood’’ and stated that an eviction from dwellings would amount to a violation of the right to life. Another instance would be the Ituango Massacres v. Colombia case where the Inter-American Court of Human Rights decided that forced evictions can tamper with the right to private and family life.
In terms of supranational justiciability, the ECtHR case law acknowledges the economical and social dimensions of the civil rights in the Convention but also points out that the realization of these rights is dependent on the ‘’financial reigning in the State in question’’. Furthermore, the same idea appears to be the standpoint of the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) as declared in International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) v France (para.27). Regarding the progressive realization of rights, although article 2(1) of the ICESCR calls for the application of this principle to ESC rights that does not mean that certain rights can’t enjoy an immediate realization. The CESCR holds that while some rights should be progressively realized in terms of a timeline and distribution of resources that is left to the appreciation of the States, others like the prohibition of discrimination can be immediately justiciable in the sense of Principle 8 of the Limburg Principles. In some instances, the right to housing has been enshrined to include a negative obligation for States to refrain from evictions without due procedural justifications and guarantees. For example, The Supreme Court of Bangladesh in the Ain o Salish Kendra case established that the government must give notice and comply with procedural and substantive rules when carrying out evictions thus proving that ESC rights can be immediately realized. This separation is fundamental to prove that certain rights can be subjected to ‘’progressive realization and at the same time justiciable’’and to refute the conception that the unitary content of ESC rights depends on political strategies.

As proven above, domestic justiciability is fundamental for a proper realization of ESC rights. Nevertheless, international justiciability should allow individuals to ask supranational bodies to decide upon a possible violation of their rights when domestic organs or legislature supply a defective remedy. As of May 5th 2013, the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR came into force. This was the moment of inception of the possibility of individual complaints to be examined by the CESCR. The criteria by which the Committee gains access to the cases – found in articles 1 to 4 – are related to the exhaustion of domestic remedies and the observance of a specific timeline. The first criterion can be waved in case of prolonged domestic procedures. Furthermore, the complaint must be based on a ‘’clear disadvantage’’, otherwise it can be rejected by the Committee. This provision seems to be inspired by Article 12 of Protocol No. 14 to the ECHR with the clarification that in the case of the CESCR, this rule of admissibility is discretionary. Even if the OP has only 12 State parties, it represents a lucid and long expected advancement of international justiciability of ESC rights.
As for the European system, an individual complaint is yet impossible to lodge with the ECSR that only admits collective complaints formulated by trade unions, NGOs and organizations. The level of European justiciability seems to be reduced compared to the one available for civil rights, considering that in the case of an ESC right an individual has to bypass his access to remedies through an admissible association. A strengthening mechanism that would make ESC rights less dependent and complementary to civil rights is needed, along with the general necessity in international law to specify the content of these rights and restrict the margin of appreciation of States in their implementation.

The African Charter: uncommon human rights.

Since 1986 when the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Charter) came into force, attention and criticism was drawn towards this new-born regional protection mechanism of human rights. Some rushed into questioning the prospects of implementing the Charter; others labeled its provisions as ineffective and bias while some observed the positive contributions it makes to the general human rights discourse.  In an attempt to address some of the Charter’s uncommon features, I will examine both the positive and negative sides of the selected aspects and outline the value of these peculiarities in relation to the global human rights system.
The Charter includes civil and political rights along with economical, social and cultural rights (ESC). The organization in one document of what is perceived to be two separate sets of rules denotes a positive feature of the Charter applauded by many. The Charter also includes individual duties but the main focus of this argument will be ESC rights. Although ESC rights in the Charter have been criticized for being vague and literally insufficient and the Commission mostly deals with violations of civil and political rights, this should not weight against the strong value of a systematic inclusion of these rights in the Charter. The ESC rights expressively protected by the Charter (articles 14 to 17) are the right to property, the right to work, the right to health and education. In SERAC v. Nigeria the Commission decided that a right to shelter or housing can be derived from the mutual meaning of articles 14, 16 and 18 and states that” the right to property, and the protection accorded to the family forbids the wanton destruction of shelter’’. In the same case, the Commission decided that the right to food is related and adjacent to human dignity and it is vital for the possible realization of the right to life, health and education thus, being implicitly protected by the Charter.

Of tremendous importance is also the fact that in Free Legal Assistance Group, Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, Union Interafricaine des Droits de l’Homme, Les Témoins de Jehovah vs Zaire the Commission referred to violations of ESC rights as ‘’serious and massive’’, terms that usually apply to civil and political rights violations.  This clearly points towards the fact that the Commission considers both sets of rules as equally important and the Charter is committed to the advancement and enforcement of ESC rights.

Thus, the inclusion of ESC rights in the Charter points towards a strengthening of the indivisibility of human rights. The historical dissociation between civil and political rights and ESC rights and their adoption in different instruments as the ICCPR and the ICESCR or ECHR and European Social Charter has affected the notion of indivisibility. ESC rights have been regarded as less domestically justiciable and as imposing progressive and not immediate duties. The protection of civil and political rights by human rights treaty bodies via individual complaints has been incomparably stronger than that of ESC rights. The common and equal protection of ESC rights and civil and political rights by the African Charter and the possibility of individuals to directly allege violations (as opposed for example to the collective complaint system of the European Committee of Social Rights) send a significant message to the global human rights system. All that combined with a wide locus standi requirement to file complaints with the Commission provide a model for an interdependent and immediate realization of human rights as indivisible rights as expressed in the Vienna Declaration.

A second exclusive feature of the Charter that I would like to point out is the absence of a derogation clause. Unlike the ICCPR (article 4), ECHR (article 15) and ACHR (article 27), the African Charter does not provide member States with the possibility of suspending human rights in exceptional circumstances. This was reaffirmed by the Commission in Media Rights Agenda and Others v. Nigeria that expresses: “limitations on the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Charter cannot be justified by emergencies or special circumstances.” A small part of the doctrine understands that the absence of a clause does not amount to an express prohibition but the majority concludes that the Commission stands against derogations. This particular feature can be observed from two angles: from a positive angle, given the immense requirements to legitimately declare a state of emergency and derogate (inter alia qualifications of severity, temporariness, notification, proportionality) the prohibition of derogation seems to take off the table all these subjective criteria and simplify the entire human rights system. On the negative side, the contradiction between the ICCPR and African Charter may render fragmentation consequences. There is no express conflict of norms but a difference in the mentality of the two instruments might create an ideological tension and uncertainty of practice. Interestingly enough, the ICESCR does not contain a derogation clause, proving thus the bond between the Charter and ESC rights. Although it might not be an entirely positive feature, the absence of a derogation clause reflects a stronger commitment to human rights, disregarding force majeure and the external status quo. If we were to reflect upon the spirit and philosophy of human rights we would most likely realize that ‘’the incorporation of derogation clauses in human rights treaties does not advance the realization of human rights’’.

The last unique feature I would like to mention is article 20(2) of the Charter, also known as the “right to resist”. It has no analogue provision in international law and inter alia it refers to resisting oppression, occupation or simply an abuse of power. It is a secondary right in the sense that it derives from the right to self-determination and can be triggered by systematic violations of human rights, coup d’état or economic domination that would affect self-determination.  Its legitimacy and compliance with international law are highly disputed: some understand that such a right can be implicitly understood to exist in the ICCPR and UDHR preamble; others see in the silentio legis and express prohibition to resist while some rely on customary law to uphold the legitimacy of this provision. UN General Assembly Res. 2625  also states that peoples have the right to receive assistance in their actions of resistance. Article 20(2) extends the right to resist not only to colonized peoples but peoples facing any type of oppression and allows for the use of “any means’’ of resistance as long as they are recognized by the “international community”. The negative implications of the provisions are clearly related to the legal uncertainty that these terms entail, as it is not clear what type of oppression should be resisted nor which norms of international law should be observed when exercising this right. Given the fact that the application of this provision is most likely triggered by a conflictive situation (either foreign intervention or internal self-determination) the lack of preciseness may be understood to authorize an illegitimate use of force. A positive connotation of the provision is that if interpreted and developed diligently, the provision can reform the understanding we have of the right to self-determination. Considering recent events such as Catalonia’s pursue of independence and the crisis in Ukraine, a possible inclusion of economical self-determination along with a broad-spectrum elucidation of the notion might complete the concept and make it contemporary applicable, participating thus in the inception of a neoteric human rights regime.