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Report from Eurasian Women Leaders Conference: Enforcing Laws and Holding Governments Accountable

I have pasted portions of my report on the strategy session: Enforcing Laws and Holding Governments Accountable, that was conducted at the Vital Voices of Eurasia: A Leadership Summit for Women and Girls, October 16th.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Enforcing Laws and Holding Governments Accountable

Issue to be Addressed
How women from Eurasia can come together across sectors to enforce laws that protect women’s interests and hold governments accountable for the just enforcement of these laws; what Vital Voices can do to help facilitate this process.

Solutions Identified
-Multi-national, cross-sector collaboration has proven useful in building effective strategies for enforcing laws and holding governments accountable.
-Increasing percentages of female representation in decision-making bodies has proven useful in combating corruption and getting women’s issues addressed.
-Passing legislation that very clearly defines gender discrimination has allowed for effective protection of women’s rights.
-Involving Associations of Women Lawyers to lobby government and take on cases that will challenge legal standards has proven effective in enforcing legislation that protects women’s interests.
-Educating women of their rights so that they will be more apt to identify violations and more willing to exercise their rights has been a useful tool in bringing increased visibility to women’s issues and increased accountability of governments.
-Educating young lawyers to become gender sensitive and pro-active is an effective tool for enforcing laws and holding governments accountable.
-Reforming domestic legislation by using “European” examples or standards (this was brought up several times, for as many of these nations look to join the EU, they believe that there may be an opportunity for legislative reform based on a European model- I am not quite sure how this would work since there is no one European standard?)
-Building partnerships with international media, foreign governments and unilateral organizations to pressure corrupt governments who lack appropriate legislation and/or neglect proper enforcement of existing law has proven effective.
-Building awareness of government error and corruption through the use of mixed media campaigns (newspapers, hotlines) and technology (instant messenger, internet). One example here was how activists would use the internet to notify revolutionaries to wear orange clothing to signify their support of the Orange party.

Major Challenges of Implementing Solutions
-The democratic foundations in post-Soviet nations are weak
-Gender discrimination and stereotypes are deeply engrained in the minds of many well-established political leaders from the soviet era
-There is a lack of legislation that protects women’s interests and many of the laws that are in existence lack the specificity and severity that is needed to prosecute violations and put an end to discriminatory practices.
-Laws and regulations that are discriminatory still exist in many countries, excluding women from legal proceedings and therefore hindering female activists’ ability to enforce laws protecting women’s interests (ex. Azerbaijan, see notes)
-In many countries, laws exist but the proper infrastructure for enforcement is lacking
-Many women are not aware of their rights or are not able to access the appropriate resources to defend their rights, making it difficult to maintain momentum and demonstrate the need for government intervention
-The burden of proof required for many of the laws protecting women’s interests is too extensive to allow for the proper prosecution of many violations.
-In Belarus, although 30% of parliament is female, these women representatives have no real power to make change- participant refers to these representatives as “puppets” of the government and touches upon Kim Campbell’s keynote address
-In Belarus, there is no democratic framework to allow for law enforcement/government accountability

Best Practices for Identifying the Challenges
-One may be able to identify the challenges of enforcing legislation by reviewing the number of court cases that appeal to gender-based policy
-One may be able to evaluate government accountability for gender equality by reviewing current laws that focus on women’s interests and by monitoring the prosecution of violations

Opportunities for Building on Successes
-There are many NGOs engaged in lobbying the government to increase accountability, pass gender specific legislation, and monitor enforcement of laws. With persistence, international pressure and cross-sector partnerships, the participants believed that positive change is possible.
-In many countries laws protecting women’s interests have been passed. If women can work together to set up task forces and other monitoring structures, change will occur.
-Although there are many government officials that bring discriminatory stereotypes to the table, new generations are rising to power. Participants believe that the gendered “soviet” mentality can be combated with time, if the biased government officials are replaced with people who take stock in women’s issues.

Key Partners or stakeholders needed to implement this follow-up Project
-Government Officials
-Businesses and Foundations with access to capital that can be used to support lobbying activities

Communication Strategy- how engage decision makers and media
-International pressure
-Multi-media awareness campaigns
-Grassroots organizing through the use of internet technologies

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