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International Women's Day 2006: Women in Many Countries Still Face Basic Challenges to Human Rights
Today, International Women's Day, is an opportune time to recognize the progress that has been made around the world in the sphere of women's rights. In far too many places around the world, however, women remain victims of serious human rights abuses, Freedom House said today.
"Women confront a particular set of challenges in achieving their full human rights. While we applaud the important advances that have been made, those who care about human rights anywhere need to remain focused on the obstacles that women still face around the world," said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House.
Problems women face include discrimination in family laws and in the workplace, gender-based violence that often occurs in family settings, exclusion from political life, and government authorities that are unresponsive to women's issues. "Improving women's access to justice should be a priority for all governments. Freedom House is committed to supporting the non-governmental advocates working for change within their societies," Windsor added.
As part of its global evaluation of a range of democratic and human rights, Freedom House regularly evaluates the state of women's rights in countries around the world. In regions as diverse as Latin America, South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, gender inequality is compounded by unresponsive governments, patriarchal traditions, and high levels of illiteracy among women. These factors contribute to environments where women are sometimes unaware of their rights and have inadequate recourse to judicial remedies.
In 2005, Freedom House published Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Citizenship and Justice, a survey that examined the rights of women in that region. The survey found that women face a systematic gender gap, aided in large measure by discriminatory laws and the routine lack of enforcement of existing laws guaranteeing equality. While women in the region have made substantial gains in education, none of the countries in the broader Middle East meet internationally recognized standards for the protection of women's rights.
In Latin America, despite the impressive gains in freedom in the last decades, women continue to confront serious, often institutionalized human rights abuse. In Guatemala and Mexico, for instance, women frequently face high levels of physical and psychological abuse. Indigenous women and female migrant workers, in particular, suffer discrimination and violence, often at the hands of state police. While many governments have taken important legislative steps toward solving the problem of violence against women, including the appointment of special prosecutors and government offices designed to take into consideration the issues and obstacles faced when investigating crimes against women, much more needs to be done, especially in areas of prevention and the prosecution of perpetrators.
"Violence against women in Latin America is not an isolated problem only found in places like Ciudad Juarez; it continues to be endemic problem around the globe," Windsor noted. Freedom House urges governments to eliminate all discriminatory language against women in legal codes, and further strengthen the specific statutes that prevent violence, including classifying domestic violence as a criminal act.
Since 2002, Freedom House has worked to support human rights defenders in Mexico, including helping them to increase their impact on issues related to violence against women and discrimination against indigenous populations, through training and regional exchanges with Guatemala and other countries. In the Middle East, Freedom House is working with women's rights groups in Jordan to increase their ability to effectuate change in laws and attitudes concerning violence against women. Freedom House is launching a new program helping women activists develop advocacy strategies for reforming personal status laws for women in the Gulf states.
Freedom House, an independent non-governmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has monitored political rights and civil liberties around the world since 1972, and press freedom since 1980. Freedom House's reports are available online at www.freedomhouse.org. Freedom House's survey on women's rights in the Middle East and North Africa is available online here.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.