The Human Rights and Governance Grants Program has launched an initiative to increase legal advocacy to promote women’s rights issues in Central Europe, the former Soviet Union, and Mongolia.
The last five years have shown significant developments in the legislative framework of rights protections for women in most countries of the region: external political pressure for harmonization with EU directives led to the passage of critical legislation throughout many countries in Central and Southeastern Europe. UN human rights treaties—the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in particular—have helped to shape policies in Southeastern Europe and Central Asia. However, the advances made remain largely rhetorical, and there is a need for local pressure to make real the commitments adopted on paper.
The Human Rights and Governance Grants Program seeks to encourage the women’s movement in the region to engage in comprehensive and systematic monitoring and strategic litigation in order to push for better enforcement of international women’s rights standards.
While legislation generally exists in most countries of the region on critical women’s rights issues such as domestic violence, it is often inadequate, and is frequently passed without the corresponding budget allocations and implementation strategies that would track data, ensure critical training for relevant officials and provide services for victims. Women’s groups offer a range of services, including psychological counseling for the victims, in lieu of the state, but rarely do they include data collection and legal aid among their activities. Only a handful of groups in the region have pursued litigation. These kinds of implementation difficulties not only characterize domestic violence legislation, but also other areas, such as anti-discrimination and trafficking.
Meanwhile, the rising popularity of religious-conservative political parties in a number of countries of the region is having a negative impact on women’s reproductive rights; certain traditional, cultural practices continue to represent serious rights violations; minority women face multiple discrimination from within and outside their community; and women’s political participation remains at an unacceptably low level.
Since 2008, the Human Rights and Governance Grants Program has supplemented its funding assistance for women’s rights NGOs with an ambitious, multipronged approach to address some of the issues outlined above. The program’s existing network of human rights grantees have considerable experience in monitoring and strategic litigation, and the program will work closely with them to encourage them to play a more active role in positioning women’s rights issues as an integral part of human rights protection.
In addition to these mainstreaming efforts, the program will sponsor direct capacity-building initiatives within the women’s rights NGO community, through facilitating organizational assistance and technical expertise from the broader human rights community to targeted women’s rights NGOs, by means of workshops, mentoring programs, and joint projects. The aim is to have a network of institutions capable of effective monitoring and strategic litigation on women’s rights issues, operational in each country of the region.
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