Equity or Equality for Women?

by Shanthi Dairiam, IWRAW AP Founder & Board of Directors

Equity or equality is a current debate among women’s groups from around the world as they link up and prepare for the great UN debates and decisions that are taking place with regard to Sustainable Development Goals, the Post 2015 Development Agenda as well as the forthcoming celebration of Beijing plus 20 in 2015. Through the emails that are circulated on the subject, one can see the debates among women on the usefulness of supporting the concept of equality versus adopting the use of the concept of equity. The latter is seen as based on the principle of fairness and as addressing inequality and the realities of women’s lives; while the former is seen as merely promoting equal or same opportunities as that enjoyed by men. The conclusion is that equality may just continue to perpetuate inequality.

I would like to add to this discussion. In the debates by the women’s groups, the meaning that is given to the concept of equality is outmoded. The concept of equality that the CEDAW Convention prescribes and as used by the CEDAW Committee is substantive equality. This concept of equality goes beyond equal opportunities or what is known as formal equality.

Those who prescribe the concept of equity over equality do so because they say that equity requires that each person is given according to their needs; they believe that if you speak of equity instead of equality it will be clear that the objective is not treating women the same as men but more importantly, giving women what they need. Equality on the other hand they say, stops at giving same opportunities to women and men but does not guarantee that women will be able to access these opportunities due to pre-existing/ existing inequalities that women experience. This shows a misunderstanding of what equality means especially since the advent of the CEDAW Convention.

Under this Convention, substantive equality is the goal to be achieved in all spheres. To achieve this, the obligation of the State extends beyond a purely formal legal obligation of equal treatment of women with men. In fact under article 2 of the Convention, states have the dual obligation of incorporating the principle of equality in the law (formal equality) and ensuring as well, the practical realization of the principle of equality.  Hence a purely formal legal approach is not sufficient to achieve women’s de-facto equality with men, which is substantive equality. It is not enough to guarantee women treatment that is identical to that of men which is the provision of equal opportunities. Rather, biological as well as socially and culturally constructed differences between women and men must be taken into account and under certain circumstances, non-identical treatment of women and men will be required in order to address such differences. This includes a redistribution of resources and power between men and women favouring women.  (CEDAW Convention article 4.1 and General Recommendation 25) If this is not done then such inaction or neutral or identical treatment of women and men is discrimination against women under article 1 of CEDAW as the practical enjoyment of equality as a right would have been denied to women. Discrimination includes any treatment that has the effect of nullifying the enjoyment of human rights by women in all spheres, though such discriminatory effect was not intended. (Summary of article 1 of the CEDAW Convention).

Equality and the practical enjoyment of it by women, is a universal value, a legal standard and goal and a human right. In fact, without equality, human rights would have no meaning. It is equality that demands that human rights is for all regardless of sex, status, origin, descent, location, sexual orientation and gender identity. Equity is a not a standard or a goal. It is subjective, discretionary and arbitrary. It is fragile as a policy if used as a stand-alone concept without it being linked as a means to achieve the goal of equality.

It can also be used against women. During the debates when the Beijing Platform was drafted in 1994/1995, Muslim countries and the Holy See and its followers from Latin America strongly argued for the use of the term equity and resisted the term equality. For them, women and men could not be valued equally. They demanded the use of the term equity, as in their view, this term justified greater resources and power skewed in favour of men on the basis of their god-given and immutable responsibilities as providers and leaders.  Equity was used to give men according to their “need”. The determination of need itself is political and value driven. But the conservative forces did not get their wish during the Beijing Platform debates as the Human Rights Caucus argued heatedly and long against the term equity. The Beijing Platform adopted the term equality.  We will be retracting the hard won conceptual gains made in our understanding of equality twenty years ago if we now say the concept of equality is not useful. Equity cannot stand alone or be used interchangeably with equality.

(For an elaboration of this subject see “Equity or Equality for Women? Understanding CEDAW’s Equality Principles”. IWRAW Asia Pacific Paper Series. No.14. http://www.iwraw-ap.org/publications/doc/OPS14_Web.pdf)

Reprinted with permission from the author.

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The Missing Girls in Nigeria: There is a need for critical analysis and sustained action on this

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When news of the abduction of nearly 300 school girls in Nigeria broke over four weeks ago, we, as the CAL Secretariat were deeply concerned. We were, and we still are concerned because this gross violation of human and children’s rights is proof of the degree that hegemonic patriarchal power manifests itself and especially on female bodies. We are concerned because as feminists and human rights defenders, this act, and the slow nature in which the Nigerian government has chosen to respond to this crisis is indicative of just how little women and girls’ lives matter, to majority male governments and oppressive male militia and military bodies. We are concerned because this issue is a microcosm of a bigger problem-commodification of female bodies and devaluation of female/feminine importance. We have asked, on Social Media-What Are Women’s Lives Worth?

Another reality worth considering is that girls and women go missing everywhere, and all the time. There are thousands of unaccounted for incidences where girl children have gone missing and these incidences go unreported. Sometimes for years and many time unresolved. In our daily newspapers we see a majority of girls and women reported missing, with little to nothing done by authorities to investigate these issues. Many patriarchal cultural constructions accord more importance to boy children than they do to girl children. This means that some families are least likely to report missing girl children than they are to report missing boy children. The same is said for women, as compared to men. Girls and women, today, still lie at the bottom of the social totem, and this recent turn of events in Nigeria shows that there is a deeper and urgent need for our governments, our communities and society as a whole to give female bodies the same importance that male bodies are often given.

Some statistics out of America (unfortunately these are the only extensive statistics that could be found) show as follows:
• An astounding 2,300 Americans are reported missing every day, including both adults and children
• The federal government counted 840,279 missing persons cases in 2001. All but about 50,000 were juveniles, classified as anyone younger than 18. This means that in 2001, over 790, 000 children were reported missing.
• Two-thirds of the nearly 800 000 victims are ages 12 to 17, and among those eight out of 10 are [white] females, according to a Justice Department study. This means that 80% of the abducted children were girls.
• Nearly 90 percent of the abductors are men, and they sexually assault their victims in half of the cases.

Source: http://www.crimelibrary.com/criminal_mind/forensics/americas_missing/2.html

This is important because, America is putting pressure and offering military help to find the nearly 250 missing school girls in Nigeria, while they too have a crisis going on as far as missing girl children go. With the current state of affairs between Nigeria and America, especially with regard to the rights of gender non-conforming and non-heteronormative African women and men, this offer, and indeed pressure from the American government, might do more harm than good. And this situation furthermore creates military and military related tensions on a continent rife with militarism and militant oppression-from both State and rebel actors.

In a recently published article in The Guardian, Jumoke Balogun writes: ‘Simple question. Are you Nigerian? Do you have constitutional rights accorded to Nigerians to participate in their democratic process? If not, I have news for you. You can’t do anything about the girls missing in Nigeria. You can’t. Your insistence on urging American power, specifically American military power, to address this issue will ultimately hurt the people of Nigeria. It heartens me that you’ve taken up the mantle of spreading “awareness” about the 200+ girls who were abducted from their school in Chibok; it heartens me that you’ve heard the cries of mothers and fathers who go yet another day without their child. It’s nice that you care. Here’s the thing though, when you pressure western powers, particularly the American government, to get involved in African affairs and when you champion military intervention, you become part of a much larger problem. You become a complicit participant in a military expansionist agenda on the continent of Africa. This is not good. You might not know this, but the United States military loves your hashtags because it gives them legitimacy to encroach and grow their military presence in Africa. Africom (United States Africa Command), the military body that is responsible for overseeing US military operations across Africa, gained much from #KONY2012 and will now gain even more from #BringBackOurGirls.’ This is a worthwhile article-do read it when you get the time to.

As a feminist collective, it is important that we speak to this issue, but more importantly, it is essential that we shift conversations, and shape dialogues around bigger and wider issues, to prevent, or at best attempt to prevent recurrence of such atrocities. We have to hold our governments, tasked with our protection, accountable for our safety and the safety of our children whether they inhabit female or male bodies.

CAL would like to plan some action(s) that bring attention to these multiple, overlapping issues: issues of bodily autonomy, militarism, safety and security; issues of femicide, and the girl child and education; issues of accountability and governance. They all intersect and they all need a voice. This cannot be seen as a once-off, occurrence-there is a bigger picture here, and this conversation has to go on.

We welcome your thoughts on this-and any suggestions on future continued action around this are welcome.

Please send suggested actions to sheena@cal.org.za

The struggle continues. We still hope and wish for the safe return of the stolen school girls back to their homes and families. We demand that justice prevails for these girls and all the other thousands of abducted and stolen girls and women on the continent.

Reprinted with permission from http://caladvocacyblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/the-missing-girls-in-nigeria-there-is-a-need-for-critical-analysis-and-sustained-action-on-this/.

Global Day of Action on Military Spending: Invest in people not the prospect of war!

by Geeta Desai

April 14, 2014, marked the Global Day of Action on Military Spending. UN Special Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas called on all country governments to make cuts in military expenditures and increase investments in nutrition, health, environmental protection and other major sustainable development challenges, instead. The Rapporteur’s call to action could not have come at a better time because according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), global military spending levels are at an all-time high, reaching a total of $1.75 trillion in 2012.

Quite frankly, it blows my mind to think that most countries would have that kind of money to spend on the acquisition and deployment of weapons, given the competing responsibilities and demands within their country borders. Curious to know which countries placed such a premium on military spending, I decided to look it up. This is what I found: the United States spends the most (no surprise, there) with China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and France, in that order, rounding up the top five spenders. In terms of military spending as a percentage of GDP, Saudi Arabia spends the highest (9.3%), Russia is second (4.1%), the US is third (3.8%) and France and China are fourth and fifth, spending 2.25% and 2.0% of their respective GDP. As a percent of the world’s total military spending, the US is responsible for 33% of the expenditures, by far the largest slice of the pie.

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I expected the United States to be at the top of this list and I’m not exactly surprised that Russia is in the top five given that neither country has as yet outgrown its “Cold War” mentality. Additionally, the terror attacks against the US and consequent military engagements abroad, continue to shape its military budget. If the foreign policy pundits are to be believed, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see China on the list given their contention that China is positioning itself to dominate the world. But, what explains the presence of France and Saudi Arabia on this list? According to a recent report, President Francois Hollande’s government has reviewed the recent conflicts in Mali and Libya and feels that its level of defense spending maintains the country’s ability to react to a terrorist attack. Saudi military spending has doubled in the last ten years, according to SIPRI and Carina Solmirano, a senior researcher at SIPRI, said: “It seems that for the Gulf region, internal or domestic problems or the likelihood of problems like the Arab Spring, might have led to countries reinforcing military spending by giving security forces more resources, as a way to make them more loyal to the government.”

Okay, I’ll admit that in the world in which we live, there are genuine security needs that require investments in weapons, military personnel and in the general maintenance of vigilance and preparedness for action. But when is enough, enough? And, who decides when enough is enough?

So, I think that there are two things to consider here.

First, in each of the countries listed above, there are critical numbers of people whose basic human needs are unmet: In the US, 47 million Americans live in poverty; in Russia 18 million live in poverty with the gulf between the rich and the poor getting wider each year; in France, one in six people or over 11 million people live in poverty and social exclusion; in China, a staggering 99 million people fall below the government’s established poverty line and in Saudi Arabia, a quarter of the native Saudi population lives in abject poverty. For these people, investments in militarization are irrelevant; investments in health, education, housing, food and other daily infrastructure supports make the difference between life, ill-health and death. Admittedly, military spending is a small part of the national budgets of these countries, but the dollar amounts are ridiculously large and all five country governments should reassess the actual level of military need as opposed to the desire to overreach with the intention of stockpiling.

Second, it is commonly understood that weapons that are stockpiled usually find their way into the wrong hands and are the greatest contributing factor for conflicts in several dozen countries. As a matter of fact, April 2, 2014, marked the first anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. The Treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly for the first time set global standards for the transfer of weapons and efforts to prevent their diversion. It regulates all conventional arms within the categories of battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers and small arms and light weapons. Among other provisions, the treaty – which will enter into force once it receives 50 ratifications – also includes a prohibition on the transfer of arms which could be used in the commission of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Of the five countries that lead in military spending only France has ratified the UN Arms Trade Treaty.

The UN has urged country governments to prepare national budgets that will implement the will of the people, based on representative opinion polling. We need to tell our elected officials that we want our taxes put towards the promotion of peace and sustainable development, not towards the purchase and stockpiling of weapons.

Geeta Desai is a member of the International Federation of University Women and has served as its representative to the UN. Currently, she is Advocacy Convener for Women Graduates-USA and writes a blog on the status of women. Additionally, as an Organizational Development consultant, she continues to provide capacity building support for international nonprofits.

Reprinted with permission from http://www.wg-usa.org/advocacyblog/2014/04/global-day-of-action-on-military-spending-invest-in-people-not-the-prospect-of-war/.

Happy International Women’s Day!

On March 8th, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) joins the world in celebrating International Women’s Day. As we work together and reaffirm our commitment to reaching gender equality, we recognize the many obstacles that continue to face the world’s women. From poverty to gender-based violence, to struggles for democracy and human rights, women must play a central role in addressing the structures and systems that create inequality and be an integral part of the solutions. Gender equality can only be achieved when human rights are realized for all.

We also recognize that this day falls on the eve of the 58th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58). At CSW58, we join our partners in calling for the full realization of women’s rights in discussions on the economy, ending gender-based violence, peace, security, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and global development processes. If you are in New York from March 10th to the 21st, we invite you to take part in CSW58. Please take a look at our sponsored and co-sponsored events at http://cwgl.rutgers.edu/program-areas-151/coalition-building/csw58.

On behalf of the staff, we thank you for your ongoing support and wish you a happy International Women’s Day!

In solidarity,

The CWGL team