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Double Odds: Women overcoming Multiple Discrimination

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay in her remarks opening the side-event welcomed the progress that has been made in overcoming discrimination noting that for many women and girls the positive change is reflected in the reality of everyday life.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights organised a side event at the Durban Conference on Women overcoming multiple discrimination. © UN photo/ Patrick Bertschmann“However, there exists also another, more grim, reality. The majority of the world's poor are still women, Pillay said, “women still do not get equal pay for equal work; women in all countries and cultures experience violence. And women's struggle to obtain justice is often obstructed by discriminatory obstacles – in law as well as in practice.”

“It is therefore not surprising that the intersection of discrimination based on race and gender has widespread and devastating effects”, she said.

The concept for “Double Odds: Women Overcoming Multiple Discrimination” arose from the 2001 Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) which emphasized multiple forms of discrimination.

In drawing attention to this multi-faceted discrimination, the DDPA noted that it's the most vulnerable who are at greatest risk and that as a result these people are more likely to suffer economic hardship, exclusion and violence.

Women suffer disproportionately from discriminatory labour practices and are frequently forced into underground or informal sectors. Members of racially discriminated groups do not enjoy equal access to health, education or justice and such access is further limited for women.

Pillay reiterated that in the DDPA, “States recognized that racism and intolerance affect and compromise human rights in a differentiated manner for women and girls.”

The participants in the special event also heard from a number of other women human rights experts who've achieved global prominence in their fields.

Professor Yakin Ertürk has been the UN's Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences since 2003.

Professor Ertürk today said there has been progress in lessening discrimination but it was time to envisage a different strategy, to re visit the concept of equal opportunity and search for a new “gender contract” where we redefine our identities as men and women, and this would also include the issue of sexual orientation.

The debate now needs to be “about engagement”, she said.

Other panel members included Hina Jilani, a lawyer and human rights defender and former Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders who fought discriminatory laws in Pakistan for over 20 years

Jilani reminded the audience that there are “ingrained biases” in all societies, even in the ones that believe they are better equipped to fight against discrimination, regardless of the development of that state or society. These biases make women human rights defenders particularly at risk of harm.

The third panellist was Professor Patricia Sellers, a former Legal Officer, Legal Advisor for Gender and Acting Senior Trial Attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Referring directly to her personal experience, Sellers said the fact that you cannot commit genocide against women is an acute dilemma for an international lawyer. Women have to “fit in” other groups.

All panellists agreed that gender is far too often an “add-on” in international documents and they would not like to see gender merely “mainstreamed” in the Durban outcome document.

They agreed that gender issues need to be properly integrated and implemented so they can be placed at the core of the agenda.

April 2009