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Sexual violence epidemic exposes flaws in gender and minority protection

3 August 2004

Sexual violence of nearly epidemic proportions and multiple forms of discrimination against minority and indigenous women could be better prevented, but are inadequately understood and confronted by existing rights mechanisms and legal instruments. In a new report1, launched today during the session of the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has called for urgent action by states and human rights and gender rights actors to address the causes and consequences of serious and ongoing discrimination against minority and indigenous women.

During armed conflicts or domestic riots, women are regularly targeted because of their ethnicity and the chosen form, rape and sexual violence, occurs because they are women. MRG’s report, highlights shocking incidents of multiple discrimination and resulting violence, which demand stronger protective mechanisms. During communal violence in Gujarat, India, and during the Rwandan genocide, women were stripped and humiliated, raped, gang raped and brutally killed or burned alive. Institutionalized ethnic or religious discrimination has even led police to direct women into the paths of armed mobs. According the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda: ‘Sexual violence was a step in the process of destruction of the Tutsi group – destruction of the spirit, of the will to live, and of life itself’. Yet lessons have not been learned and Kofi Annan has drawn attention to the ‘almost epidemic proportions’ of sexual and gender-based violence against women in DRC and Darfur, while also stating that minorities are genocide`s most frequent victims.

According to MRG, key gender issues and indicators are neglected by human and minority rights analysis, while minority rights are facing similar neglect by those working for gender equality and women’s rights. The monitoring bodies of international legal standards and the policies and programmes of organizations aimed at combating discrimination must adopt a more holistic approach which ‘mainstreams’ both gender and minority rights issues. The result will be a greater capacity to address the reality of multiple discrimination and violence, and develop effective solutions and preventative strategies, states MRG. The report shows that the problem is a global one facing women of many minority and indigenous communities.

Minority Rights Group International gender specialist, Katrina Payne, stated: ‘Minority and indigenous women face some of the most egregious forms of discrimination, marginalization and violence, including trafficking, forced sterilization, caste discrimination and rape. Yet many such situations continue almost unchallenged leaving women to suffer extreme and combined violations, which go far beyond the limits of gender based discrimination alone, and beyond the limits of current anti-discrimination measures aimed at protecting them. Intersecting and cumulative forms of discrimination often remain ignored by largely ‘male-centric’ rights analysis.’

Minority Rights Group International is calling upon states to ratify international standards as a first step, but also for such standards to be strengthened and enhanced to take into account its findings. MRG has suggested that CEDAW adopt an authoritative General Comment on minority and indigenous women. Additional mechanisms including the possible appointment of a gender specialist to focus on intersectional discrimination are also recommended by MRG, and that both CERD and CEDAW mainstream gender and minority and indigenous issues in their work.

Notes for editors

  1. Gender, Minorities and Indigenous Peoples‘ by Fareda Banda and Christine Chinkin is published on 4 August 2004.

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].