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As several articles in this issue of Human Rights note, even more brutal repression of women occurs when women are subjugated citizens. Sadly, as the articles in this issue document, assaults, including rape and brutal physical injury, are widely tolerated in too many countries. Where women lack power to control their own bodies, their susceptibility to HIV/AIDS increases dramatically. AIDS is now endemic among women in many parts of the world.
On August 7, 2001, the American Bar Association (ABA) adopted a resolution opposing the global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy (the global gag rule). The global gag rule restricts foreign nongovernmental organizations (FNGOs) that receive U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) family planning funds from using their own, non-U.S. funds to provide legal abortion services, lobby their own governments for abortion law reform, or even provide accurate medical counseling or referrals regarding abortion.
The right to equality before the law has been affirmed repeatedly in international law. Yet, despite the broad recognition of this right, and the clear and unequivocal call for its implementation, discrimination against women in the most blatant legal forms continues in many countries around the world.
The practice of "gender-based" persecution, while strikingly persistent throughout history and around the world, has only recently been given a name and a place in legal discourse. Although gender-based persecution can be inflicted on both males and females, for the following discussion, I will focus on the unique challenges that women and girls face as they navigate the legal system, in search of protection from violence inflicted upon them because they are female.
Recent events have drawn the world’s attention to Afghanistan and the plight of women who during the Taliban regime lived in poverty and fear and were denied their fundamental human rights. To foster true democracy and development, women’s human rights lawyers must also play a significant role in the reconstruction process and beyond, and these lawyers must be trained to use the international women’s human rights framework to ensure that women’s rights are provided, protected, and promoted in the context of their own culture and society.
In her historic radio address to the nation on November 17, 2001, First Lady Laura Bush eloquently stated that "the fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women," noting that "the brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists."
Domestic violence went largely unrecognized by Japanese society and unaddressed by the Japanese government until the early 1990s. Through a couple of highly publicized cases of extreme violence against women, advocates finally began to capture the attention of the country.
Violence against women is a human rights abuse of epidemic proportion that exists in every country. Increasingly, violence against women is becoming a leading factor in the spread of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which invariably results in the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Progress against HIV requires that women be able to protect themselves against all forms of violence, including domestic violence, rape, and sexual abuse.
On November 17, 2001, Laura Bush delivered the first weekly presidential radio address ever given entirely by a U.S. first lady. Although it was positive to hear the first lady being so outspoken about women’s issues, I remember thinking how much more powerful her argument would be internationally if the United States had demonstrated its universal commitment to women’s human rights by joining the 169 (now 170) nations that had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
In 1999, when I assumed a seat as the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I felt a special responsibility to raise certain important issues to the highest levels of our government and governments throughout the world. As a result, I decided to establish as personal priorities, (1) ending the oppression of Afghan women by the Taliban regime, and (2) working for our country’s ratification of the treaty for the rights of women, known as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
"Women’s rights are human rights"—the theme of my remarks at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in 1995—was a revolutionary concept until the last few decades. This conference helped us find common ground to bring new dignity and respect to women and girls all over the world—and in so doing, bring new strength and stability to families as well.