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Date: Fri, 27 Aug 1999 23:58:25 -0500 (CDT)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: RIGHTS-SRI LANKA: Religious Fundamentalism Threatens Women
Article: 74051
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.4050.19990828211532@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** 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 appalling.

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 detected.

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 fora.

"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, she said.

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 observer."


Origin: New Delhi/RIGHTS-SRI LANKA/

[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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