International Gender Rights

Reproductive Rights Groups to Challenge Criminalization of Abortion in El Salvador

The Overbrook Foundation’s longtime grantee, the Center for Reproductive Rights and its Salvadoran partner, Colectiva de Mujeres para el Desarollo Local, have filed a new case with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to challenge the absolute abortion ban in El Salvador.The case will use tragic experience of one Salvadoran woman to demonstrate how the criminalization of abortion has unjustly harmed women. In a press release on the new case, the Center for Reproductive Rights explains:

“From the moment Manuela, arrived at the hospital seeking emergency health care, slipping in and out of consciousness and hemorrhaging, doctors treated her as if she had attempted an abortion and immediately called the police. She was shackled to her hospital bed and accused of murder. Manuela was sentenced to 30 years in prison without ever having a chance to meet with her lawyer, without an opportunity to speak in her own defense, and without the right to appeal the decision. Shockingly, the judge overseeing her case said that “her maternal instinct should have prevailed” and “she should have protected her child.”

After several months in prison, it was discovered that the visible tumors Manuela had on her neck for which she sought medical care several times without being accurately diagnosed, was advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a disease that likely lead to the severe obstetric emergency she suffered. Tragically, Manuela did not receive the appropriate treatment for her disease and died in prison in 2010, leaving behind her two young children.”

After reading this devastating account, The Overbrook Foundation is pleased that these organizations will look to human rights mechanisms at the international level in an effort to pursue justice for Manuela and other women at risk as a result of this ban. The case will be the first of its kind before the IACHR challenging the imprisonment of women for suspected abortion due to an unsafe focus on abortion rather than the protection of several human rights and the provision of appropriate medical care. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has a strong record for defending gender and human rights, as well as the power to increase international pressure on states ignoring their human rights obligations through the publicity of the commission’s decisions. Hopefully, a successful case at this level will encourage El Salvador, and maybe even other countries in the region with similar policies, to recognize the danger of its strict abortion laws and to ensure they are being held accountable for their record on human rights.

For more information, please see the press release from the Center for Reproductive Rights or a related article on the RH Reality Check.

Women, War & Peace Continues to Win Awards and Keeps Public Aware of International Human Rights Concerns

Women War & Peace, the 2011 PBS series on women affected by conflict and actively leading peace movements around the world, continues to garner the attention of critics and viewers.The series has won numerous awards for its quality and content.Based on information sent to Overbrook by Thirteen, New York’s PBS station, and the series’ co-creators, here is a rundown of some of the awards that the series has already received or will receive in the next few months:

·Television Academy Honor - celebrating “excellent programming that not only entertains, but also presents a unique or significant look at the human condition.

·Two Gracie Awards (sponsored by the Alliance for Women in Media) - for Outstanding Series and for the production of Pray the Devil Back to Hell

Thanks to our contacts at Thirteen for sending us this information and to all these broadcasting organizations for recognizing the importance of this series! There is not enough high quality programming on international human rights issues reaching a broad American audience and we are proud to support this project that increases American awareness on the subject through compelling video. The Overbrook Foundation has funded the educational materials associated with this series so that these themes of conflict, leadership, movement building, peace, justice and human rights will reach classrooms as well. If you haven't already, you can view the series and its supporting materials by clicking here.

NAPAWF's Miriam Yeung and the Co-Creators of Women War & Peace Honored by The National Council for Research on Women

On March 6, The National Council for Research on Women (NCRW), a network of 120 leading U.S. research, policy and advocacy centers to improve and celebrate women's leadership across the public, for-profit and non-profit sectors, held its 2012 Making A Difference Awards. This year, Miriam Yeung, the Executive Director of National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), is to be among those celebrated at this awards ceremony for her work to advance women’s issues and promote female leadership. To remind readers, NAPAWF is the only national Asian and Pacific Islander (API) women’s multi-issue, social justice and human rights advocacy organization in the country. It works to guarantee the self-determination and dignity of API women and girls by prioritizing anti-trafficking advocacy, immigrant rights, environmental justice and reproductive justice within a human rights framework. Ms. Yeung’s leadership has been integral to many of the important projects, accomplishments and collaborations that the group has engaged in.The Overbrook Foundation congratulates Miriam on this honor as she continues her work to advocate for issues that are important to women of the API community.

In addition to Miriam Yeung, Abigail Disney, Pamela Hogan and Gini Reticker, co-creators of PBS's Women War & Peace, were honored at this event. As explained in a communication from WNET/Thirteen to our Foundation, this series demonstrates “how women are becoming primary targets and suffering unprecedented casualties in contemporary conflicts – yet they are simultaneously emerging as key partners in brokering peace and forging new international laws.” Overbrook supported this project by funding its accompanying educational materials designed to bring lessons and video on conflict and human rights concepts into schools around the country. Through this award, we continue to see the impact of and the recognition for this film and its creators who have so powerfully brought issues of women’s human rights to the broad public.

In addition to honoring these human rights and social justice activists, The Overbrook Foundation would like to wish our readers a wonderful International Women’s Day.We take this day to recognize the important contributions of our many grantees to protect and advance the human rights for women both in the United States and beyond.

New Report on Women Human Rights Defenders

In its new report, “Global Report on the Situation of Women Human Rights Defenders" the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition explores the factors that have increased the vulnerability of Women’s Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) in recent years.Women Human Rights Defenders are defined as women working to promote human rights, anyone working to advance women’s human rights and individuals advancing LGBT or other gender/sexual rights.This publication identifies and describes five contexts and global phenomena contributing to the systematic barriers to the work and safety of WHRDs and the populations they advocate for around the world.More specifically, it examines the impact of fundamentalisms, militarization and situations of conflict, globalization and neoliberalism, crises of democracy and governance, and heteronormativity.The second section of the report looks at the specific gender-based violations against WHRDs (i.e. the use of sexual and domestic violence to silence activists or attacks that target WHRDs’ families) and violations with gendered consequences for WHRDs (i.e. the gendered treatment of WHRDs in prison or the discrediting of activists with added consequence of stepping outside of proscribed gender norms). The final chapter outlines appropriate and specific “strategies [that can and should be] implemented to protect WHRDs at risk, as well as strategies to address the structural challenges” that have been described earlier in the report.

Several Overbrook grantees, the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights, Front Line Defenders, Peace Brigades Internationaland the Center for Reproductive Rights, have contributed to this document through the provision of recommendations and some of the 43 case studies that make up much of the report.A central goal of the report is to use feminist methodology to document the experiences of WHRDs and the challenges that face them through an analysis driven by the stories of many targeted activists.At the same time, this publication seeks to emphasize the critical need for more documentation of these violations and the difficulties procuring these stories of Women Human Rights Defenders due to the fear of reprisals.

The Overbrook Foundation is proud to be involved with organizations taking a deeper consideration of the particular vulnerabilities of WHRDs and the responses required to support them effectively. Not only do they consider the recommended immediate responses to specific violations, but also they also critically assess of systemic underlying causes that must be dismantled. By demonstrating that the challenges and violations truly cut across cultures, types of activism, contexts and region, this report exposes the structural and oppressive nature of these threats to WHRDs.

At the intersection of Overbrook’s support of organizations’ defending human rights defenders and of those protecting reproductive and LGBT rights, this report functions as an advocacy tool and a capacity tool for many of our grantees by outlining “the need for more systematic and collective approaches to surface the specific experiences of WHRDs and ensure appropriate responses to them.”At the report’s launch last week, one grantee, the Center for Reproductive Rights, articulated how valuable these stories, recommendations and frames will be for them once adapted to CRR’s particular cases and advocacy efforts.We are pleased that so many of our grantees have recognized the importance of including this gender lens and plan to continue integrating it into their approach to defending human rights defenders in both the international and the domestic arenas.

For those interested in these issues, please explore the coalition’s website and publications, and the links to our grantees’ websites found in this blog post.In addition to this particularly comprehensive report, the coalition and some of Overbrook’s grantees have also recently published “Ten Insights to Strengthen Responses for Women Human Rights Defenders at Risk”, a shorter report outlining specific recommendations to the International community for short- and long-term responses to risks faced by WHRDs.

Honduras Upholds Ban on Emergency Contraception

After its Supreme Court ruled to uphold an absolute ban on emergency contraception, Honduras will have the strictest ban on emergency contraception in the world. The law will criminalize the sale, use and distribution of the emergency contraception (“the morning after pill”). The penalties could be as extreme as the punishments for abortion in Honduras, three to six years in prison for those seeking abortion and three to ten years imprisonment for those performing them. In a country where it is extremely difficult for many to procure birth control for regular use and where those seeking and providing abortions face harsh penalties, this decision to deny reproductive rights to women is particularly devastating.

Since the law was passed by the Honduran Congress in 2009, the Center for Reproductive Rights (an Overbrook Grantee) has fought this legal ban in Honduran courts in partnership with other local and international women’s rights groups. This decision leads us to reaffirm The Overbrook Foundation's commitment to advancing reproductive rights and gender rights in Latin America. It also reminds us of the importance of the Center for Reproductive Rights and other organizations as they continue to fight an uphill battle to advance human rights for all women and to overturn policies that harm women’s health and lives.

To learn more about this law and the negative consequences of its implementation, please read the press release from the Center for Reproductive Rights. A blog post on RH Reality Check also builds on this press release to contextualize this decision by explaining how important these services are in Honduras, which has a high poverty rate and the highest adolescent birthrate in Central America.

Women's Human Rights in the New York Times

Last week, The New York Times published a front-page story on the state of women's rights in Afghanistan, specifically focusing on the experience of one woman who was imprisoned for engaging in premarital sex when she was raped and was then released under the condition that she marries her rapist. Responding to this article in “Advancing Women’s Rights”, June Zeitlin, director of the CEDAW [the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women] Education Project at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, writes:

To the Editor:

As you note in “For Afghan Woman, Justice Runs Into Unforgiving Wall of Custom” (front page, Dec. 2), Afghan government decisions on women’s rights are more critical now than ever as American forces prepare to leave Afghanistan.

One way the United States could really advance the “unfinished business of advancing women’s rights” in that country is by ratifying the international women’s rights treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Women’s rights opponents in Afghanistan and elsewhere now can question our commitment by pointing out that we are one of only six countries in the world (with Iran, Somalia, Sudan and the Pacific islands Palau and Tonga) that have failed to ratify the treaty. Ratification would show that we are ready to walk our talk for women in Afghanistan and worldwide.

(This article was found on page A28 of The New York Times on December 6, 2011)

The Overbrook Foundation is pleased to see this major publication providing coverage of our grantee’s issue areas and the issue of the United State’s refusal to ratify CEDAW. June Zeitlin has appropriately argued that the US decision to ratify this treaty could have a significant impact on human rights for women both in the United States and around the world. In only a few short paragraphs, Zeitlin identifies the United States’ hypocrisy around providing leadership on women’s human rights issues. Moreover, she explains the important link between our stance on women’s rights and these abuses in Afghanistan, a connection that is easily overlooked when reading an article about injustice in extremely different cultural contexts. The Overbrook Foundation hopes that Zeitlin’s message was received and shared by New York Times Readers because a US ratification of CEDAW, an important step for gender rights and human rights, can only be achieved with significant support among the US citizens and politicians.