Combating laws that negatively affect women’s everyday lives

The May 1998 riots and mass sexual assaults in Indonesia marked a turning point in the life of Kamala Chandrakirana. Those events, which led to the fall of Indonesian President Suharto after 32 years in office, became the catalyst for Chandrakirana “to concentrate on the causes of violence against women” she said.

A women works at a textile factory © EPAChandrakirana is one of five women who have been tasked by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 to eliminate laws that discriminate against women. A hugely challenging task.

Throughout her career, Chandrakirana has been a strong advocate for women’s rights. She founded several non-governmental organizations working on women’s rights and, for six years, she led the National Commission on Violence against Women in Indonesia, a unique independent national commission for the elimination of all forms of violence against women in that country.

She is now a member of the new Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice. The group, which was established by the UN Human Rights Council, is a milestone on the long road towards women’s equality with men. The other members of the working group are Emma Aouij (Tunisia), Mercedes Barquet (Mexico), Frances Raday (Israel/United Kingdom) and Eleonora Zielinska (Poland).

“There is a wide range of laws that discriminate against women,” Chandrakirana said. “These laws affect women’s economic and family lives, their health, safety and their ability to participate in political dialogues and public life.”

Over the years, progress has been made towards integrating women’s rights into laws and adopting equality laws. Yet, a lot remains to be done. Discrimination against women persists in both public and private spheres in time of peace and of conflict. It transcends national, cultural and religious boundaries and is often fuelled by cultural stereotyping and power imbalances which are mirrored in laws, policies and practice. Examples of discrimination include pay inequality between men and women performing the same job, the impossibility for women to pass on their nationality to children and women’s unequal access to divorce, just to mention a few.

Despite the progress already made, many women do not fully enjoy human rights.

Fighting discrimination against women dominates the lives and professional dedication of the five members of the working group. Together, they will seek to accelerate efforts to combat discriminatory laws and their impact on women’s lives.

The working group, chaired this year by Chandrakirana, met for the first time at the beginning of June in Geneva. “The problems are very complex,” explained Chandrakirana. To begin, the group will compile relevant existing information.

“The biggest task at the moment” she emphasized “is to map out what kind of information is available out there and what is relevant to our work.” “We need to ensure that we have a good global overview of the work that has already been done so that our role becomes complementary to that of the existing human rights mechanisms.”

Every day, Chandrakirana’s mission to promote and protect women’s rights is inspired by all the women who struggle to improve their lives. And she added that “it is the power that resonates in women who fight for their rights that I will always remember.”

20 June 2011