Thematic Program: Women's Rights

by Andrea Holley


For those who want to address human rights issues for women in their communities and globally, the following films are suggested:

Behind the Labels (2001, 45 min.)
Globalization and the exploitation of women's labor in U.S. Saipan.

Calling the Ghosts (1996, 33 min., closed captioned)
Rape and torture as acts of war; Muslin and Croat women speak before UN tribunal.

State of Denial (2003, 86 min., closed captioned)
The failure of the South African government to address the AIDS crisis and the organizers who do address it.

Life and Debt (2001, 86 min., closed captioned)
How globalization and IMF policies impoverish the third world, revealed through the case study of Jamaica.

Women's Rights Discussion Program

The films that relate to women's rights reveal that violations of the rights of women belong to the domains of economic, social, and cultural rights, and civil and political rights, as well as the realms of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international justice. Because women are subject to specific kinds of violations throughout these domains, the United Nations and its member parties created a specific convention on the rights of women: the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW.)

Behind the Labels: Garment Workers on U.S. Saipan -
In Behind the Labels, we learn that the majority of individuals employed in off-shore garment manufacturing facilities are women. The low wages and long hours disproportionately affect women and impact not only their dignity and quality of life, but also that of their families. As the primary caregiver in most households, a woman who chooses to work outside the home sacrifices the ability to spend time with her children. Children often become the caregivers for the family. A chain of events occurs that paradoxically results in the family having less access to education, health care and work opportunities over the long term.

Article 11 of CEDAW addresses labor issues for women. It mandates protections for health, safety, social security and equality among men and women. It elaborates special provisions for maternity needs and calls for social services that ensure equality in the work place for women who choose to have families. States who are signatories to CEDAW are obliged to respect these rights; corporations are not.

Calling the Ghosts: a Story About Rape, War and Women - Courtesy of Women Make Movies
In Calling the Ghosts, we find an extreme violation of women's human rights – sexual violence and the use of rape as a weapon of war. The right to bodily integrity and to be free from bodily harm is one of the most basic human rights understood in all societies. To murder or rape someone is an unequivocal violation of human rights. To specifically target women in this way is in violation of several human rights documents and violates the basic principles of IHL, which forbids targeting civilians.

Justice and the Generals - General Eugenio Vides Casanova, General Jose Guillermo Garcia, and their lawyer Kurt Klaus entering court in 2000. Photo: La Prensa Graffica.
Justice and the Generals tells a story of women caught in a conflict every bit as dangerous as war, though not defined as such. American nuns working in El Salvador were raped and murdered by government operatives. Targeted for their social work and its political implications, the fact that they were women made them vulnerable to certain kinds of attacks and retribution.

In the realm of international justice, crimes of this nature are now being prosecuted as a distinct type of crime and are classified as a crime against humanity. Rape and sexual violence are considered to be as serious an offense as war crimes and genocide. If systematic targeting of a minority group is one of the major principles of genocide, then systematic targeting of women also constitutes a crime of the most extreme magnitude.

State of Denial - After Chipho has gone on treatment, she has gained weight and is back at school.
State of Denial looks at several cases of HIV+ individuals living in South Africa today, many of whom are women. The sexual rights of women and their ability to negotiate sexual relations is a major underlying factor in the spread of HIV/AIDS. The rights to health and education discussed in Articles 10 and 12 of CEDAW directly relate to the crisis in South Africa. In many cases, a woman's ability to negotiate both prevention and treatment of AIDS is dependent upon her access to education and her ability to obtain health care in her community.

Life and Debt
When we turn to Life and Debt, we see a similar set of intersecting issues pertaining to access to social services. Access is based on ability to pay. In this film we see women (and men) forced to choose jobs and livelihoods that do not give them or their families access to basic necessities. In contrast to Behind the Labels, the infrastructure that determines their range of choices is examined. We see how global financial institutions set parameters for many under developed economies today. Despite their mandate to improve the situation in these countries, their policies often worsen conditions. And when things deteriorate in a society, it is always those with the least power who suffer the most. CEDAW and the Convention on the Rights of the Child exist to counteract these forces.



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