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Date: Wed, 4 Oct 1995 09:46:17 -0700
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>
From: Sabina Astete <sgastete@u.washington.edu>
Subject: Court of Women - Arab Region

Date: 10:50 AM Oct 4, 1995
From: GreenNet User Support >support2@gn.apc.orgɬ
APC Conference: igc:women.violence

Justice Through The Eyes of Women, Introduction

By El Taller, 4 October 1995

The following is the introduction of the book entitles Justice Through The Eyes of Women which highlights major testimonies and the declaration reached during the Court of Women held in June 1995 in Beirut, Lebanon.

Court of Women—Testimonies on Violence against women in the Arab world (Beirut, Lebanon, 28-30 June 1995). Introduction

New Kind of Justice Seen Through Women's Eyes

With the participation of women from 14 Arab countries representing Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, the Yemen, Mauritania, Morocco, Bahrain, Kuwait and Sudan, an Arab Court of Women was held in Beirut on 28 through 30 June, 1995. An event unique in its kind in which creative symbolism and real life testimonies combine to expose and bring to trial the various forms of violence perpetrated against Arab women. The reason for choosing this symbolic kind of court lies in the very nature of the violence against women a violence long silenced, never talked about, let alone denounced under the prevailing judicial systems. So much so that the traditional process of justice has proved unable to define this type of offence, to remove it from the narrow framework of personal and domestic issues and to bring it out to the public awareness as an offence liable to prosecution and rule of law.

To bring into evidence the multifarious character of violence perpetrated against women, the program of the Court of Women included a wide range of aspects and cases and various procedural approaches. The first day of court proceedings was devoted to an analysis of the cultural roots underlying this violence on the one hand, and discussion of the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women as well as the attitude of Arab countries towards this Convention on the other hand.

On the second day, the symbolic court sat under the presidency of a panel of judges comprised of women of diverse backgrounds and expertise and proceeded in the presence of a large audience to the hearing of testimonies from the victims of violence from all over the Arab countries telling their tragic ordeals and laying bare the shameful face of their silenced agonies. On the third day, several workshops were organized to try and answer the question of how to unify Arab women's efforts to find solutions to all related legal, political and social issues; how to empower women so that they can effectively confront the violence inherent in sex segregation, a scourge which ethics, history, politics and economics are jointly set to justify and even to present as a mark of civilization while it is nothing but a primitive conduct based on sheer barbaric values.

In this booklet, published prior to the issuance of the full and complete documents of the Women's Court, we propose to provide an account of the main episodes of this all important manifestation by way of contributing to the universal feminist movement in its effort to expose, denounce and combat the violence of sex segregation considered as one of the most crying injustices on which the various structures of power rest.

Why a Court of Women?

The symbolic choice of this kind of court is also meant to provide an in-depth analysis of the nature of violence perpetrated against women all over the world in general and in the Arab region in particular.

Violence inflicted on women in such forms as rape, prostitution, excision, sex trade, crimes against honor, etc., were often considered as merely personal cases to be dealt with on an individual basis. Such crimes, however, affect half of mankind and constitute stark violations of the rights of women as human beings and of the most basic human rights at large. They are often publicly condoned and integrated in the social systems under various cultural concepts. Some of these acts of violence are not considered as crimes from a legal viewpoint, while others are brought to court but in most cases end up with laying the blame on the victim herself. The fact of looking at crimes perpetrated against women as merely personal cases, is tantamount to overlooking their political impact and even their social consequences.

In order to develop new concepts and new answers, we need to look at these problems with new eyes.... It is not possible to identify what violence against women really means through the prevailing power structures. Torture in prisons, rape used as a part of a military strategy or for ethical cleansing purposes in addition to sex terrorism and feminization of poverty, all these categories can not be reduced to a mere manifestation of personal violence against women. There is a pressing need to look at these dominant concepts from a gender viewpoint. We have to look at these things through new eyes: women's eyes.

Why has the world refused to listen? Why have writers of history neglected violence committed against women? Theirs was a silence based on violence. And this silence is precisely what made women's voices unheard and even unseen. The court of women is a series of living testimonies on crimes perpetrated against women. It is an attempt to secure a means of making this silence heard, of calling this violence by its name. For it is through naming this violence that we start the transformative process of human rights parameters. And while we listen through the court of women to the voices of the victims and survivors, we will also be listening to the voices of women who have fought violence, who have dared to challenge the doublespeak and the powers that be in a different way.

The Asian Women's Human Rights Council together with many local women's groups in the Asia Pacific region have organized for the last two years a series of public hearings on real life testimonies of violence perpetrated against women: first in Pakistan, then in Japan, then in India and fourthly, at the International Conference on Population in Egypt, once again in India and afterwards in Nepal. These public hearings will continue over the next few months. All these activities will contribute to enriching our experience and enhancing our preparations for the universal hearing due to be organized under the title of Court of Women on 2 September next during the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing where we are called to the court of women to listen to women, listen to the many voices heard and unheard. The court of women is a sacred space where women can voice their anger and frustrations, where they can speak the language of torture and say what crimes mean and seek redressal, even reparation.

It is therefore in this framework that we have organized the Arab Court of Women as an opportunity to illustrate our keen awareness of the issue of gender and of its importance in the process of development and progress... When we manage to settle the gender-related issue, we will have settled the issue of society as a whole. For woman is the mirror which truly reflects the reality not only of herself as a woman, but the reality of man, his thinking, his frame of mind, his perception of life and of the reality of the relationships between man and society which are but the nucleus of the overall inter-related social relationships, whether within the family or in public life or more broadly within society as a whole. To talk about the condition of women is to talk about the condition of men and women together.

As to the question of timing, even though the Arab Court of Women, all important as it is, came about somewhat belatedly... the complementarity effect it introduces and the effectiveness it lends to the Arab women's role is more urgently needed today than ever before, so that the participation of Arab women in the Fourth World Conference on Women will be full and undiminished, illustrating their prompt and due contribution to building the future for rising generations.

In its search to create a space in which to exercise its leverage, the Court of Women will have to provide a framework where violence against Arab women is dealt with in the context of Arab cultural specificities. For this reason, the first questions on what this court should be concerned with were the cultural foundations of this violence in the Arab world.