46/95 AI INDEX: ACT 77/WU 05/95 EMBARGOED: 7 MARCH 1995 WOMEN AT RISK
AI INDEX: ACT 77/WU 05/95
EMBARGOED: 7 MARCH 1995
WOMEN AT RISK
No country in the world treats its women as well as men.
Despite moves to introduce equality for women on the legal and
political front, discrimination on grounds of gender remains an
Discriminated against as women, they are as likely as men,
if not more so, to become victims of human rights violations.
Such discrimination is often reflected in national law -- and if
the law regards a woman as a second-class citizen, where is the
incentive or the opportunity for society as a whole to respect
women's human rights?
Women in custody in many countries risk rape and other
sexual torture or ill-treatment not meted out to men. Women are
sometimes sentenced more harshly than men convicted of the same
offenses. And some judicial systems provide cruel, inhuman and
degrading punishments for crimes for which most offenders are
At risk in custody
In many countries the social stigma attached to rape and
sexual abuse amounts to a rapists' charter of impunity. Rape by
the security forces is a particularly oppressive form of torture
as many women are too afraid and ashamed to speak out about
In India, hundreds of cases of police rape have been
reported in recent years, but convictions of police officers for
raping women in their custody are rare.
In one 1990 case, five police officers were suspended for
allegedly raping Kankuil Santra over and over again in a police
station. They tried to avoid responsibility by saying she was
mentally ill and a "bad" woman -- when charges were finally
brought they were dismissed for "lack of evidence".
At risk in law
Women were the main target of a June 1993 crackdown on
"vice and social corruption" in Iran, during which hundreds of
women were arrested for not following the strict dress laws.
Most were released shortly after arrest, but a number were
sentenced to be flogged -- 74 lashes for infringing the dress
In Pakistan, women are most frequently convicted of the
offence of Zina - extramarital sexual relations - which carries
penalties of public flogging, imprisonment, or stoning to death.
In one case, a couple was accused by the woman's first
husband of adultery and unlawful marriage. When they were found
guilty the woman, Nasreen, was sentenced to five years in prison
before being stoned to death and her husband, Ghulam Jaffer, was
sentenced to public flogging. The judgment was later suspended
pending a hearing by a full bench of the Shari'a Court, and the
couple was released.
At risk in society
The majority of women who fall victim to human rights
violations come from the poorest and most vulnerable groups in
society, such as the homeless, indigenous women, and women from
minority or disadvantaged groups.
In Myanmar (Burma), hundreds of women have been abducted
and forced to work for Myanmar's army in recent years as porters
or unpaid labourers. The dreadful conditions that porters work
under -- long hours, little food, and hard labour -- lead to
illness and death in many cases. In addition to the poor
conditions and beating, women are also at risk of rape by troops.
One 16-year-old Muslim woman from Hlaingbwe township
described her treatment:
At night we were made to sleep separately from the male
porters, in with the soldiers .. they would come and pull
girls out from the group and make the girls sleep with
them.. all of them were very rough with us girls, treated us
not like humans...
Guilty by association -- relatives as victims
Women are often detained, tortured, held hostage and
sometimes even killed because their relatives or people they
know are connected to political opposition groups, or are wanted
by the authorities.
As the security forces crack down on the illegal Islamist
Movement al-Nahda in Tunisia, women have been randomly punished
by the authorities because of their relationship to men in jail
or wanted by the authorities. In detention, they have been
tortured, beaten, sexually abused and threatened with rape in
custody to force them to give information on where their
husbands or other male relatives are.
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