Global Justice Center and Gender Equality Network Call on the Government of Myanmar to Fulfill Its Obligations to End Discrimination against Women


[GENEVA] –  On July 7th, Myanmar’s implementation of its obligations to ensure gender equality will be reviewed by the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee). Myanmar ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1997, but this will be the first international women’s rights review of the country since the elections that brought Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) to power.

GJC President Janet Benshoof Interviewed by Señal Colombia

GJC President Janet Benshoof was interviewed for Señal Colombia's episode about Monica Roa, a Colombian activist who is currently the Vice President for Strategy at Women's Link Worldwide, where Benshoof is featured as one of Roa's mentors. 

Click here to watch the full episode. 

Gender and Genocide in the ICRtoP Blog

Read Global Justice Center Legal Director Akila Radhakrishnan’s explanation of the gender components of genocide in the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect Blog.

“It’s not enough to just recognize that acts such as sexual violence, abductions, enslavement, forced abortion, and forced impregnation—acts which are disproportionately committed against women—of protected groups can constitute genocide. Rather, the commission of such acts needs to impel action for states and international actors to fulfill their obligations to prevent, suppress and punish genocide. "

On Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, US Can’t Forget Women Overseas

Forty-three years ago today, the Supreme Court deemed abortion a constitutionally protected right for women in the United States in Roe v. Wade, taking a huge step forward for women’s equality. Since then, anti-choice lawmakers at the federal and state-level have been working concertedly to render this right meaningless by restricting access to abortion.

The Guttmacher Institute recently found that states have enacted 1,074 abortion restrictions since 1973.  One of the longest-standing restrictions is the Helms Amendments, which has been in place since December 1973 and prevents the use of U.S. foreign aid to pay for abortion services, even in the case of rape, incest or life endangerment.  

Shutting down federal funding for abortion services exacerbates one of the longest-standing barriers to abortion access: the cost. As anti-choice lawmakers have known for the past four decades, if the right to abortion can’t be eliminated, the next best thing is to make abortion access practically impossible.

The Helms Amendment impacts some of the most vulnerable women and girls in the world; those raped in war. Through the continued imposition of the Helms Amendment without exceptions, the U.S. is denying abortion access to women enslaved and raped by groups like ISIS and Boko Haram, and to girls as young as 12 raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The U.S. is laudably the world’s largest provider of development and humanitarian aid. Through this aid, the U.S. funds a variety of initiatives around the world, including health care services in conflict zones. But when girls and women present at these U.S. funded health centers for medical care, while they may have access to a wide range of services, safe abortion is not one of them. Insultingly, if these women seek out an unsafe abortion and have medical consequences, they can go to a U.S. funded health care provider for post-abortion care, but only after they have put their own life in danger. Not only is this policy illegal under international law, its consequences are dire and often deadly.

Yesterday, in a receiving line at a town hall in Iowa, Hillary Clinton was asked by an activist whether she would “help fix the Helms Amendment” as president, to which she gave a resounding yes.   There has been no stronger advocate of women’s rights and abortion rights in the current presidential campaign than Clinton. Rightly framing abortion as a class and racial issue, she’s drawn attention to the fact that making abortion unaffordable essentially renders the right to it meaningless, in particular for low-income women.  However, Ms. Clinton, as a part of the Obama Administration, had ample opportunity to act on the Helms Amendment but failed to do so.

During her tenure as Secretary of State, the Helms Amendment’s impact of women raped in war was raised with the Obama Administration multiple times, including during the 2010 Universal Periodic Review of the United States. However, despite the fact that President Obama can take steps through executive action to limit the impact of the Helms Amendment, he and his Administration have continually failed to take any action—to the detriment of countless women around the world.

Like Roe & the U.S. Constitution, a variety of international instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Geneva Conventions, the Convention against Torture, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, enshrine and protect rights to abortion for women around the world. However, as long as the U.S. remains the world’s largest donor of development and humanitarian aid, abortion restrictions on foreign assistance, such as the Helms Amendment, will continue to impede the ability of women around the world to exercise their right to abortion services.  

Today, as we reflect on the legacy of Roe, and sit on pins and needles as we anticipate the arguments and Supreme Court decision in Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, let us also reflect on the idea that the right to abortion is nothing without the protection of actual access to these services, including through public funding. And that policymakers in Washington D.C. shouldn’t be the reason that women are unable to exercise their rights around the world.


Akila Radhakrishnan is the Legal Director at the Global Justice Center. She has published articles in The Atlantic, Women Under Siege, RH Reality Check, Ms. Magazine, the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy and Reproductive Laws for the Twenty-First Century.

Myanmar's Long Road to Gender Equality: Issues for Myanmar's November 2015 UPR

Myanmar’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review (“UPR”) provides an ideal venue to question the Government of Myanmar (“Government”) regarding its failure to ensure substantive equality for women as required by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Charter, and international treaties including CEDAW. Since 2011, Myanmar’s “democratization” has neither improved women’s status nor dismantled structural barriers preventing women’s equality.

Myanmar’s failure to ensure women’s rights arises from entrenched legacies of inequality that impede genuine reform in all aspects of law. Specifically, ongoing supremacy of the military, gender inequality embedded in the Constitution and other laws, and the lack of adequate justice mechanisms including an independent judiciary serve as structural barriers to equality. No Government reforms have addressed these issues. As a result, women in Myanmar face (1) gender discrimination embedded in law; (2) barriers to access to justice; and (3) exclusion from participation in public and political life.

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New Report Exposes Critical Gaps in Burma’s National Gender Equality Plan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - October 15, 2015

[NEW YORK, NY] – Women will never enjoy equal rights in Burma without dismantling structural barriers to gender equality, such as limitations in the 2008 Constitution, an antiquated legal system, and the ongoing legacy of a male-dominated military leadership, according to a report released today by the Global Justice Center and the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School. The report, Promises Not Progress: Burma’s National Plan for Women Falls Short of Gender Equality and CEDAW, concludes that Burma’s national gender policy fails to acknowledge or address these structural barriers or to fulfill Burma’s international obligations to ensure substantive gender equality and faults the Government of Burma for failing to follow through on the promises it has made to advance women’s rights. The report is released in advance of Burma’s Universal Periodic Review in November, where the international community can support the fight for gender equality in Burma by exposing the lack of commitment and failures of the Government.

Promises Not Progress: Burma's National Plan for Women Falls Short of Gender Equality and CEDAW

Download the full report 

Executive Summary

In late 2013, the Government of Burma/Myanmar (“the Government”) issued a National Strategic Action Plan for the Advancement of Women 2013-2022 (NSPAW) based in part on its obligations under the Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Heralded as a “historic and essential step towards substantive equality between women and men,” NSPAW was released amidst a flurry of other governmental plans, strategies, promises, and actions ostensibly aimed at transforming the country into a democracy. However, conspicuously missing from these reforms, including NSPAW, were deeper systemic overhauls of the many legal, political, cultural and socio-economic barriers to the full enjoyment of human rights in Burma which must underpin any true democracy.

The issuance of NSPAW invites assessment of the state of gender equality in Burma, the prospects for NSPAW’s success in meeting its goals, and a comparison between NSPAW and Burma’s international legal obligations under CEDAW. Taking note of the need for such an assessment, as well as the opportunities presented by the forthcoming review of Burma by the CEDAW Committee in July 2016, this report by the Global Justice Center (GJC) and Leitner Center for International Law and Justice (Leitner Center) evaluates NSPAW against the reality for women on the ground in Burma and the Government’s legal obligations under CEDAW.

In short, the critical analysis in this report reveals that NSPAW’s provisions are aspirational and ambiguous, without clear guidance on implementation or benchmarks for meaningful evaluation. This report further demonstrates how NSPAW fails to meaningfully grapple with the structural barriers precluding gender equality—including the 2008 Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, decades of armed conflict and the continuing power of the military, antiquated laws and legal frameworks, and the difference between discrimination “in law” and discrimination “in effect”—all of which must be addressed in order to achieve substantive gender equality in Burma.

As this report shows, at its best NSPAW is an inadequate and amorphous effort to improve women’s experience in Burma without disruption to long-embedded power structures that insulate the country’s male-dominated elite. At its worst, NSPAW is a deceptive document that pays lip service to Burma’s CEDAW and other human rights obligations while actually entrenching gender inequality. Either way, NSPAW suffers from critical shortcomings related to its conceptualization, substantive content, and implementation. Specifically, this report identifies three ways that NSPAW falls short: (1) flawed conceptual foundation, in particular due to its incorporation of and reliance on existing systematic barriers to equality including the 2008 Constitution; (2) lack of practical, action-oriented provisions, as evidenced by the fact that two years after the issuance of NSPAW, no implementation plans have been developed or produced; and (3) absence of accountability through monitoring and evaluation.

Ultimately, NSPAW poses the threat of complacence—both on the part of the Government regarding the treatment of women and girls, as well as on the part of the international community in failing to critically evaluate the Government’s claims of progress. NSPAW is one plan of many in a pattern of cursory improvements to a deeply flawed system. It is GJC and the Leitner Center’s hope that this report, and in particular its recommendations, is a useful tool for all actors working in Burma, including the Government and civil society, to meaningfully address and challenge gender inequality in the country, including through the forthcoming CEDAW review.

Importantly, this report is not intended to be a comprehensive appraisal of women’s rights in Burma and instead examines certain salient substantive areas raised by the interaction of NSPAW, CEDAW and the current state of affairs. Similarly, the report only generally touches on the intense interconnectedness of the issues (e.g. decades on conflict implicate instability in women’s education and professional opportunities, which affect women’s opportunities to participate in political processes, which complicates the ability to earnestly address health, violence, and cultural issues only affecting women). However, we hope the report’s analytical framework can serve as a template for the meaningful consideration of the status of women in Burma through the lens of CEDAW. 

The report is organized by substantive issue area, with reference to the articles of CEDAW addressing that issue (e.g. Adoption of a Legal Definition of Discrimination (Articles 1, 2); Women and Education (Article 10); Eliminating Negative Practices, Stereotypes, and Media Portrayals (Articles 5, 15 and General Recommendation 21). Each substantive section of the report is broken up into four smaller sections covering: (1) Burma’s legal obligations under CEDAW; (2) the current situation on the ground in Burma; (3) analysis of NSPAW in light of CEDAW and the current situation; and (4) recommendations for the Government to bring itself into full compliance with CEDAW and to meet its commitment to gender equality.

European Parliament’s Resolution Increases Pressure on U.S.

On June 9, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that would grant abortion access to women and girls who are victim of war rape. This resolution has come at a key time, as recently one-third of the 293 girls who were rescued from Boko Haram in Nigeria were found to be pregnant.

However, due to the U.S.’s Helms Amendment, no U.S. aid can be given to organizations that provide abortion services. These girls are often forced to give birth in dangerous conditions and care for the child of their rapist. The European Parliament is the most recent body to come out against the U.S.’s brutal and outdated abortion ban.

This resolution, detailed in the equalities report “The EU Strategy for Equality between Women and Men Post 2015,” is the fifth resolution on abortion and war rape that has been adopted in the last three years. At the U.S.’s UPR in May, five countries challenged the U.S.’s abortion ban and demanded justification for its continued implementation.

This resolution shows mounting pressure on the U.S. and President Obama to overturn the Helms Amendment. As stated by GJC President Janet Benshoof, “Obama must choose now if his legacy will include turning a blind eye to the plight of women and girls raped in war.”

Read GJC’s Press Release here.

GJC Meets with European Women's Lobby in Brussels

EWL met with Global Justice Center in Brussels to discuss access to full medical care for female war rape victims.

The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) is the largest umbrella organisation of women’s associations in the European Union (EU), working to promote women’s rights and equality between women and men.

Click here to read their article about the meeting.