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The hidden victims of multiple-discrimination: UN Expert on minority issues calls for ‘gender lens’ to focus on minority women

9 March 2006

The UN Independent Expert on minority issues, Gay McDougall, has stated that new and urgent attention must be given to the rights of women facing multiple forms of discrimination, exclusion and violence. Amongst the most disadvantaged and vulnerable are women from minority communities, she suggests, who face problems compounded by their uniquely disadvantaged positions in society. Such women face discrimination both because they belong to certain minority communities, and also because they are women.

In a statement (available at marking International Women’s Day, Gay McDougall called for all actors at the community, national and international levels, to rise to the challenge of improving the security, opportunities and life chances of such women. The Independent Expert has called for action to protect and promote the rights of those women whose lives have become defined by discrimination, exploitation and violence, and whose voices have been silenced by patriarchal ideologies and the fear of speaking out. The effects of poverty and conflict, she stated, that deeply impact on minorities, create conditions in which minority women are further disempowered.

Stressing the need for research and analysis to expose the reality of situations facing minority women, Ms. McDougall comments that: ‘In order for policies and programs to be effective, the gender lens must be adjusted to reveal the dynamics of colour, ethnicity and religion.’

Using examples including Roma women, Afro-descendents and women affected by caste discrimination, Gay McDougall, described them as the ‘hidden victims’ of discrimination who ‘are often the most disadvantaged from birth until death’. Women from minority groups, ‘often fight the patriarchy within their communities along with the patriarchy and racism of the larger community’. She stated that action which challenges harmful cultural, religious or traditional practices is vital, yet should not be seen as an attack on the cultural or religious identity or heritage of minority communities.

‘The protection and promotion of the rights of women in disadvantaged communities provides a means to realize the full potential that exists within those communities as a whole, in the abilities and efforts of both their men, and their women equal in rights and in dignity.’

Ms. McDougall, a human rights lawyer and previously UN Special Rapporteur on the issue of systematic rape and sexual slavery practices in armed conflict, calls for action which reaches into communities themselves as well as addressing discrimination manifested in larger society. Confirming that she would pay particular attention to the needs of minority women within her mandate, the Independent Expert urged States to take greater steps in the field of legislation and access to justice for women.

‘National legislation, sensitively conceived, actively promoted, and vigorously applied, can pave the way for social progress, and for real change to the lives of disadvantaged women. Community based awareness raising and practical initiatives also have a role to play in the empowerment of women to achieve their potential and to enable them to claim their rights with confidence.’

Ms. McDougall highlighted the role of education as key to improving the situation of minority women. ‘Crucially, girls and women from minority communities must have full and equal access to quality education. Education must also extend beyond the classroom, to reach deeply into the fabric of society with a strong and pervasive message of human rights, equality and understanding, which enriches all lives.’

Notes for editors

For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].