Date: Fri, 27 Aug 1999 23:58:25 -0500 (CDT)
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: RIGHTS-SRI LANKA: Religious Fundamentalism Threatens Women
/** ips.english: 439.0 **/
** Topic: RIGHTS-SRI LANKA: Religious Fundamentalism Threatens Women **
** Written 9:04 PM Aug 26, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
Religious Fundamentalism Threatens Women
By Feizal Samath, IPS
21 August 1999
COLOMBO, Aug 21, (IPS) - Gains made by women in achieving
equality and freedom from fear and violence are under threat from
religious fundamentalism in many parts of Asia, says an
internationally known human rights advocate.
Dr Radhika Coomaraswamy, United Nations Special Rapporteur on
Violence against Women, believes that in many regions of the
world, women face serious obstacles set up by extremist groups.
Whether it be the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in
India or Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan, these movements
successfully camouflage themselves as cultural renaissance.
"We see this fundamentalism growing in South Asia and the
Middle East," the Sri Lankan scholar, now preparing for a visit
to Afghanistan, told IPS .
She said religious fundamentalism is among crucial issues that
would confront women in the new millennium and it was up to the
international community to work with local groups to fight against
oppression of women in whatever guise.
Coomaraswamy, Sri Lanka's best known human rights activist is
due to visit Afghanistan from Aug 29 to Sep 12 to review the
situation of women there.
She will be accompanied by Kamal Hossein, a former foreign
minister of Bangladesh and presently UN Special Rapporteur on
Afghanistan. They are traveling from Pakistan.
News reports and accounts by volunteers say that the situation
in Afghanistan, particularly with regard to women and children, is
Taliban fundamentalists who stormed and took over Kabul in
September 1996, have banned education for girls and women with
schools and universities closed to them.
Jobs outside the home are not permitted except in all-female
hospital wards. Western clothes and makeup are banned and there
are reports of women's lips being mutilated after lipstick was
High-heeled shoes that clatter and sandals are forbidden and
women may not use public toilets and baths.
Women may not speak to men other than family members, or attend
social gatherings other than weddings and funerals, where men and
women are segregated, the reports said.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women usually
visits countries on invitation by concerned governments. The
invitation from Afghanistan however has come from the former
Rabbani government, which is recognised by the U.N.
"The Rabbani government controls a small strip but I hope to
get permission from the Taliban to visit Kabul, once I get to
Pakistan. UN agencies are generally given permission to visit
Kabul," Coomaraswamy said,
Coomaraswamy and her Geneva-based coordinator are expected to
visit Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad where she plans to document
the plight of women and submit a report to the U.N.
Since her appointment in 1994, the rights specialist has
traversed the world probing and reporting on the situation of
women and raising their problems effectively at international
"Violence against women in the home and in armed conflict
seems to be universal phenomena and though it differs in different
regions in terms of intensity, we have found it everywhere," she
said listing out common problems faced by women in most countries.
A global approach was necessary to deal with these issues, she
said adding that she has advocated the use of international
standards in local law to tackle these problems.
"Governments generally recognise these problems but inaction
by the state is one of the main reasons why violence persists..
....they must implement programmes to prevent gender-related
violence," Coomaraswamy noted.
The U.N received no complaints from the Scandinavian countries
because "the situation relating to women there is good."
Coomaraswamy who is visiting India, Nepal and Bangladesh this
year to study the problems of trafficking of women is critical of
a South Asian draft convention due to be signed by regional
leaders at their annual summit in Nepal in November.
"This was disappointing from the framework of international
norms mainly because it seemed to be a law and order convention
and not even a rights convention. The definition of trafficking
was very limited and did not take into consideration the modern
forms of trafficking," she said.
The convention also did not have any specific violations
dealing with human rights abuses and it spoke of rehabilitation
and repatriation of victims without a properly planned programme,
Other UN officials say that UN Human rights commissioner Mary
Robinson has written to the South Asian Association of Regional
Cooperation (SAARC) secretariat in Katmandu saying the convention
was below international standards.
Robinson has recommended that the convention not be taken up at
the leaders' summit.
Coomaraswamy said many Nepalese and Bangladeshi girls are
either bought or kidnapped by middlemen and taken, across the
border, to the brothels of Bombay and Calcutta in India.
"Many of them are underaged children abducted against their
will and subjected to sexual slavery," she said.
"Nepal is trying to formulate extensive legislation to prevent
this but the corruption in the criminal justice system is such
that border guards can be bribed... police can be bribed, so there
is a whole culture of tolerance that has to be dealt with,"
The Sri Lankan expert, whose is the executive director of the
Colombo-based International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) has
not been allowed to probe her own country's situation. "One does
not go to one's own country since one would be not be an impartial
Origin: New Delhi/RIGHTS-SRI LANKA/
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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