Women MPs from Arab Countries review efforts to end gender violence

Representatives from 13 Arab countries, the Tunisian Ministry for Women, Family and Childhood, and the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries Combating Violence Against Women gathered in Tunis for a two-day summit on 16 and 17 November.

The summit, supported by Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), took stock of recent progress made in Tunisia and Lebanon and adopted a Tunis Declaration with legislative recommendations to help combat violence against women in the region.

Violence against women remains prevalent in the Arab world and globally, taking various forms in both the public and private sphere; as parliaments across the region are emboldened, it is necessary to develop legislative systems that secure women’s rights in principle and in practice.

Significant progress has been made so far and this conference convened in the context of real legislative achievements in the Arab region including the recent repeal of the rape marriage article 522 of the penal code of Lebanon and article 308 in Jordan, and the passage of the pioneering Tunisian Domestic Violence bill which recognises domestic violence for the first time and places a responsibility on the state to act in situations previously considered part of the private sphere. Where, according to the National Family Office of Tunisia, 43.6 percent of women between the ages of 18-24 have been victims of violence at least once in their lifetime, this law has the potential to have significant impact.

It is in this context of legislative change that this summit convened to explore and share experiences of implementation mechanisms across the spectrum of violence against women and to affirm commitment to an integrated system of adoption, implementation, and monitoring.

The summit was held in partnership with the Tunisian Ministry of Women and was opened by the Minister, Naziha el Obaidi, who said:

“Tunisia is a country of democracy, it is a nascent democracy but it is establishing legislative systems that preserve the rights of women, children, the elderly, and paves the way for a society where mutual respect prevails. We are proud to belong to this large crescent that is a cradle for civilisations. There is a common dream in the Arab countries to speak in a common language, endorse our responsibilities to our societies; there is a burden on us to act diligently and seriously in fulfilling the responsibilities to our societies, and to our women.”

Experts from across the region, Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia, Iraq and Lebanon, presented best practice on implementation with a focus on the provisions of women’s shelters, harassment in the workplace, and the specific forms of violence perpetrated against women with disabilities or women caring for those affected by disabilities.

As well as regional expertise, Sundari Anitha from Lincoln University shared the results of her research on domestic violence in the UK and in India, exploring the concepts of continuums of violence and intersectionality, introducing language and ideologies prevalent in the international community.

Although great strides are being made in legislative terms across the region, effectiveness of implementation remains to be seen and WFD’s Regional Director Dr Dina Melhem emphasised the need to commit resources to implementation and to post legislative scrutiny. Application can be hindered by many factors, including the ambiguity of the legal text, lack of coherence with other legal texts or other national laws and lack of human resources and other resources to implement however there needs to be a clear and unified understanding of the expected outcomes of the law to measure success.

In bringing together women representatives of 13 Arab countries, the meeting facilitated continued consultation on the draft Arab Convention to Combat Violence against Women; the Convention is the first of its kind to be ratified and reviewed by national parliaments during the drafting stage and attendees were encouraged to share their feedback.

The summit agreed a Tunis Declaration:

  • Our support for the adoption of the draft Arab Convention against Violence against Women and Girls and Domestic Violence
  • We look forward to the Tunisian presidency of the Committee on Women in the League of Arab States next year to upgrade this mechanism to become, in accordance with the proposal of Tunisia, a Council of Arab Women Ministers
  • We encourage States that have not yet adopted legislation and comprehensive frameworks to eliminate violence against women and girls and domestic violence to work towards the establishment of national systems in this field that are in conformity with international standards and are consistent with the contents of the draft Arab Convention
  • We have endeavored to adopt a broader definition of all forms of violence and discrimination and to avoid the narrow concept of the victim to ensure the protection of the rights of all victims,
  • Emphasizing the importance of ensuring special protection against violence for women with disabilities and tightening the sanctions against perpetrators,
  • We call for taking the necessary measures to eliminate cases of violence and sexual harassment in the workplace and to work towards the establishment of legislation in this framework, especially in the labor laws and penalties,
  • Emphasize the role of the judiciary in general and judges in particular to combat violence and to ensure the protection of women and work to develop jurisprudence bold and supportive to protect women and girls from violence and domestic violence,
  • Our emphasis on the need to allocate shelter centers for women and children victims of violence and domestic violence and to monitor the human and material resources necessary to safeguard the dignity of women and children,
  • Our belief in the need to spread the culture of women’s human rights among all the circles concerned with protecting them from violence and domestic violence and our emphasis on the role that national human rights institutions, educational and cultural institutions, media and social media can play in raising societal awareness and changing attitudes in order to ensure respect for women’s human rights and dignity.

Tunisia will assume the Presidency of the Arab League’s Women Committee in 2018 and will continue to be a key partner for the Coalition of Women MPs in their efforts to combat violence against women.

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“It does what it says on the tin” – Reviewing laws to advance equality

What do a 1994 TV advert for wood stain and the legislative process have in common? The importance of delivering on a promise.

Opening a Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) expert seminar to explore a gender-specific approach to scrutiny of legislation, the Scottish Parliament’s Deputy Presiding Officer, Christine Grahame said:

“There is an obligation on governments when passing legislation to allow it to be put into practice and see if it does what it says on the tin.

 

The only way to do that in my view is through post-legislative scrutiny, where we can ask: is this doing what our parliament intended?”

Christine Grahame’s question is particularly important when it comes to matters of gender equality. Globally, substantial legislation has been passed that should lead to better lives for women and girls. Sadly, many of these laws are not being implemented.

As a young institution with a strong commitment to inclusion, the Scottish Parliament provided the perfect setting for the 10 November investigation into whether a more gendered approach to post-legislative scrutiny can help bridge this growing gap between what a law commits governments to do and what actually happens. 

The seminar brought together leading experts in parliamentary procedures, policy development and gender equality from more than six countries to explore what best practice might look like in integrating gender analysis and post-legislative scrutiny – two key aspects of good governance. Together, they identified six recommendations to lawmakers in every country.

  1. Start early

Rather than waiting until a law has been passed and then trying to assess who it might have helped or hurt, gender analysis should be embedded in the policy development and legislative processes from the very beginning.

Restructuring these processes to ensure an equality lens is applied from the earliest stages is not only good practice, but saves parliamentarians from the most dreaded of fates: legislating in haste, but repenting at leisure.

Equality impact assessments (EQIAs) are used by many parliaments as an ‘early warning system’. While they’re not perfect, they do offer a useful mechanism to identify and address potential problems at the outset of the policy development cycle.

  1. Get the numbers right

Measuring equality and inequality is a developing science and it depends on high-quality data, which isn’t always there. Identifying what data needs to be collected and in what forms is an important part of getting both gender analysis and post-legislative scrutiny right.

Equally important is having people in the relevant institutions who understand how to read and use the data – not just what the figures say but what this means in terms of peoples’ ‘lived experience’. As Dr Angela O’Hagan remarked, “Just because you have a gender doesn’t mean you understand gender.” Collaboration among parliamentary committees and/or government departments can help improve the range of evidence used for gender analysis of legislation, as can pro-active collection of useful data by statistical agencies.

  1. Impact assessments should have impact

Interestingly, there were differences of opinion as to whether the findings of an EQIA obligated legislators to act, or if bad news from an EQIA was little more than a ‘heads up!’

The majority agreed that when potential inequalities are found, members of parliaments and other legislatures should be compelled to either address these or change the course of the policy or law.

  1. Outreach and inclusion should be deliberate and active

One of the reasons that legislation has historically created disadvantages for women and girls – and other groups as well – is that they are vastly under-represented in decision-making processes. Addressing this is not just about getting more women elected, but it is also about making sure women are integrated into all aspects of the policy process. This means actively ensuring that they are called as expert witnesses by legislative committees, that they are fully engaged in policy consultations, and that they have a chance to help decide what the most important issues are.

Achieving this requires parliaments and government departments to seek out women and girls of all backgrounds – pensioners, disabled young people, recent immigrants, rural women, and so on – to ensure their experiences inform decision-making processes. They should not be invited to engage only when what are perceived to be women and/or family issues on the table, but no matter the issue under consideration.

  1. Money offers profound evidence of commitment

Want to know how genuine a government’s commitment to equality is? Follow the money.

Gender budgeting is often misinterpreted to mean spending more money on policies that will help women. But it is really about measuring impact and ensuring that government is spending and raising money in ways that are fair and that advance equality. Austerity measures, for example, frequently have a vastly disproportionate impact on women’s income.

  1. Political will makes a difference

Both equality and good governance make real progress when there is strong leadership behind them. Even if this type of leadership is not present at the top, government departments, legislative committees – the executive and parliament – can find ways to collaborate to advance equality through legislation, policy and good practice. Sharing techniques to monitor and report on equality-related issues is essential for progress to be made quickly.

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Democracy can help us end gender violence in the Arab world

By Wafa Bani Mustafa MP, Chair of the Coalition of Arab Women MPs to Combat Violence Against Women

Our girls and women who fall victim of violence, including domestic and sexual violence must deal not only with the life-changing consequences of abuse but also with legal systems, which, instead of providing prevention and protection to victims, help perpetrators.

For over three years, I have been working with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy as part of their support to the Coalition of Arab Women MPs to Combat Violence Against Women. The Coalition brings together legislators from thirteen countries and aims at ending the discrimination women in the region face in law with a focus on violence.

“When adopted, the Convention will be the first regional treaty to protect women from violence.”

As committed women lawmakers, we are determined to change legislation at both national and regional level. At national level, we have seen great success in Jordan, with the progress on the repeal of Article 308 of the Penal Code which meant perpetrators of rape within marriage escaped prosecution. Similar efforts were made through members of the coalition in Iraq and Lebanon. At regional level, where we can make the biggest difference, we achieved an important milestone in February, with the formal submission of the draft Convention to Combat Violence Against Women to Member States of the Arab League. When adopted, the Convention will be the first regional treaty to protect women from violence.

The landmark initiative, which benefitted from the support of WFD from the beginning, is unique in its kind and as we await approval, it is worth sharing with you its key features and the lessons we learnt to date:

International and regional treaties can advance standards.

During our preparatory phase, when WFD helped us study international charters and principles, it emerged how standards are particularly important when it comes to the protection of women and girls from violence. Existing efforts in other regions, like the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, or the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, are prime examples of how regional efforts can help consolidate women’s rights.

The Convention was initiated by parliamentarians and is gaining support from Arab Parliaments.

At international level, this represents a new approach to the process of developing treaties or conventions, which usually originate at the executive level. Parliaments are often absent from the basic stages of treaty development, which can lead to difficulties in getting legislation ratified. It is important to involve MPs from the beginning of the process of drafting and debating to avoid such difficulties. I am particularly proud that our work on the Convention is part of this new generation of bottom-up cross-national parliamentary work.

Alliances were built with male MPs.

The Coalition adopted an inclusive approach for getting the Convention considered, by working with male colleagues and leaders as well as with the Arab Inter-parliamentary Union (AIPU) to gain the broadest possible support for the initiative, by demonstrating how without progress on equality it is harder if not impossible to achieve wider progress for all. The AIPU gave the Coalition permanent observer status at the AIPU, which was a testimony to our efforts and signalled commitment to support our cause.

The Convention meets international best practice.

The Convention has been written with the intention of becoming a source of international law for combating gender-based violence. There is an important pioneering role the League of Arab States can play in this field, especially in light of international interest to develop an international convention on gender based violence.

Gender Based Violence requires a comprehensive approach.

The Convention addresses all forms of violence against women and girls, including domestic violence. Importantly, the draft includes a commitment to ensure the articles are in force during times of peace, war or insecurity.

When the Convention is adopted, it will be a very important step that will contribute greatly in laying the foundations for further development in the Arab region and achieving security and peace by guaranteeing fundamental and humanitarian rights to all women.

We are thankful for the support WFD has afforded to our efforts to bring change for women and girls in the region. Democracy can help us end violence against women.

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Human rights, the rule of law and global challenges to democracy

By Thomas Hughes, Independent Governor

Democracy worldwide is seemingly under increasing threat, with restrictions and repression on the rise. Well established democracies appear to be eroding their institutions and standards from within, whilst emergent democracies are failing to deliver accountability, broad participation and power-sharing. Leaders of faux-democracies have learnt how to rule with a ‘velvet fist’ to maintain an outwardly palatable veneer whilst suppressing internal opposition. Leaders of established democracies seem increasingly ready to jeopardise long-standing norms for short-term political gain.

If we cast our minds back only 20 years, the post-cold war period of 1990 to 1995 saw an explosion in democratisation, with over 120 nominally democratic countries by the turn of the century. Given this surge, the realisation that much of this progress has not been deep-rooted makes the regression more explainable. Although not an ‘end of history’ fatalist, I nevertheless believe the cards remain stacked in the favour of democracy in the long-term. Where democracy exists, it’s systems and institutions fail because individuals or groups manipulate and abuse them without accountability or recourse.

My reason for becoming an independent governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is that it’s work to strengthen democratic institutions and political parties is crucial for reversing this downward trend. Alongside this, I believe the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law must also be central, with a focus on three areas. Firstly, closing the human rights implementation gap between international standards and national action; secondly emboldening national civil society and media; and thirdly strengthening judiciaries and legal communities.

Human rights, multilateralism and the closing implementation gap

A number of global and regional intergovernmental institutions play important roles in setting and monitoring state compliance with human rights. Among these is the United Nations Human Rights Council. When the Council was created a decade ago it was designed to be more relevant, credible and impartial than its predecessor. The Council has achieved important successes, but there is growing polarisation, as well as clear attempts by states to block or evade human rights scrutiny. The Vienna Declaration, unanimously adopted more than two decades ago, confirmed “the promotion and protection of all human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community.” However, there remains an implementation gap between international agreements and national actions. As such, all states need to seriously pursue implementation of international human rights commitments domestically and must clearly and consistently hold one another to account for doing so.

Emboldening national civil society and media

A robust and protected civic space forms the cornerstone of accountable and responsive democratic governance. As seen by the growing prowess of civic campaigns and the colour revolutions of the past decades, civil society is growing in strength. However, according to the Carnegie Endowment, over the past three years more than 60 countries have passed or drafted laws that curtail the activity of non-governmental and civil society organisations, whilst 96 countries have taken steps to inhibit NGOs from operating at full capacity. This is being done with a ‘viral-like’ spread of new copycat laws targeting areas like finance, registration, protest, censorship and ‘anti-propaganda’ and independent media. To counter this, the rights to information, expression, protest and participation must be rigorously defended.

Strengthening judiciaries and legal communities

Legal communities and the judiciary remain a bulwark against the misuse of power. Recent examples include the East African Court of Justice, a relatively new court based in Arusha, upholding the rights of journalists in Burundi to protect the identities of their sources, and finding the country’s criminal defamation law as inconsistent with international law. In another example, in April the High Court in Kenya ruled that Section 29 of the Information and Communication Act, used to arrest and charge a number of social media users, was unconstitutional. As such, the judiciary is a cornerstone for the defence of human rights and democracy and must be respected and defended as such.

Whilst these are challenging times, the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law are essential for the creation and defence of healthy vibrant democracies.

 

(Top: Photo credit: Studio Incendo – Citizens in Hong Kong protest against proposed electoral reforms, in what became known as the “umbrella movement”

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Advancing research on democracy between theory and practice

Graeme Ramshaw, Director of Research and Evaluation

What image comes to mind when you think of ‘research’? A white lab coat? A tall stack of books? An Excel spreadsheet full of data? The truth is that people hold a lot of preconceptions around the word ‘research’ (to say nothing of related words like ‘theory’) and the role it has to play in democracy support programming. At WFD, we’re trying to break down some of these assumptions and encourage better dialogue between researchers and practitioners. This includes recognising that research has many contributions to make in informing the work of WFD and organisations like us.

“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing”

Wernher von Braun

Practitioners never like admitting that they don’t know what they’re doing. But learning requires acknowledging mistakes. Indeed, emerging trends towards more adaptive approaches to development programming encourage a healthier relationship with failure and uncertainty. WFD is working with our partners the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and DAI Europe to contextualise these lessons to parliamentary strengthening programmes. At our recent conference “Deliberating Democratisation,” this theme of acknowledging the limitations of our existing evidence and working with academics and others to push these boundaries further came across clearly.

“Research is formalised curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose”

Zora Neale Hurston

Oftentimes, however, we have an idea about what we’re looking for when we turn to research. Whether through activities or discussion, questions arise whose answers can only be found through careful and persistent enquiry. Over the past year, WFD has been interested in understanding more about how parliaments can protect and promote human rights; what are the trade-offs in designing parliamentary and political party support programmes; and why political parties in the Middle East and North Africa struggle to gain traction with citizens in the region. The answers we’ve found so far are available on our website, but we’ve got more ‘poking and prying’ to do. In the next year, we’re looking into the relationship between open parliament, transparency, and citizen trust; how to measure and benchmark parliamentary effectiveness in the context of the SDGs; the politics of decentralisation; and much more.

“Research is to see what everybody else has seen and to think what nobody else has thought”

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Innovation is always a popular buzzword. Everyone wants to find the next best thing. But research teaches us that old ideas are critical for progress. New ideas build on old ones, filling in gaps or refining the thinking to take it to a new level.  At WFD, our cost of politics research is not inherently new. But by assembling concepts in a way that no one else has done before we have added unique value. Likewise, our upcoming research into closing civil society space with our partners at the University of Birmingham takes an old concept and looks at it from new angle, analysing the processes and incentives that inform decision-making around CSO legislation.

In this intro piece, I’ve tried to show there is no single definition of research; everyone can find one that fits best. The articles that follow give further depth to some of the topics WFD has explored this year through its research and its events. I hope they inspire you to take risks, be curious, and find your own questions and your own answers. Happy researching!

Highlights: WFD research programme

Seeing democracy as an ecosystem By Anthony Smith, CMG

Shaping an innovative approach to adaptive programming in democracy assistance By Sarah Leigh Hunt Consultant in Governance at DAI Europe and Graeme Ramshaw Director of Research and Evaluation 

Are we measuring what really matters? By Susan Dodsworth, Research Fellow 

Closing civil society space in East Africa By Charlotte Egan, Africa Programme Officer

Access to politics: Cost as a barrier By Angie Melano, Research Assistant 

 

Photo: From top left: West Africa Cost of Politics conference, Deliberating Democratisation event and Closing Civil Society Space conference
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Improving capacity of journalists to report on CEDAW

(Above: Cutting season is about to start in Sebei, Eastern Uganda. An article on the topic was celebrated at WFD refresher workshop on implementation of CEDAW)

“By talking about these issues, it feeds the community with knowledge” says Joyce Chemitai, Bureau Chief at Daily Monitor Publications in Uganda. “I realised we were not doing anything on gender related issues, so [the WFD sponsored training] triggered me to get into gender reporting.”

From land rights to domestic violence, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) should ensure women are protected against a range of issues that impact on their lives. Journalism in Uganda tackles many different topics, but coverage of violations of CEDAW is lacking. Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s work supporting the Ugandan Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA) training of journalists is laying the ground work for changes to traditional attitudes regarding women. Journalism can be instrumental in increasing recognition of existing international and domestic legislation in place to protect women from discrimination. Our work encouraging journalists to report on issues related to gender has contributed to increased levels of awareness within communities about the challenges women face.

“Traditionally in our communities we think many of the wrongs that happen are good, it has happened because it should happen, like violence against women” Joyce said. But through her writing about gender based violence Joyce is contributing to changing that perception.

One of the major challenges journalists face is accessing information for their reports. “I have done a few pieces and even currently I am doing a project on men” Joyce explained. “I realised out of my interactions with the communities that many men neglected their families. The women are the ones carrying everything at home. If you go to the police, to NGOs who take complaints on women’s issues the major complaint is negligence. Men go drink, they come back and beat up the women” she continued.

Through the support provided by WFD, Joyce was educated about CEDAW, how it can protect women and how to monitor when the convention is violated – techniques that Joyce is putting into practice to get the information she needs for her current piece. “I am in touch with the police to compile for me [the figures], so I ask them to give me a report of CEDAW related cases, of child abuse, of violence against women” she said, as well as contacting the federation of female lawyers and NGOs like ActionAid to get statistics on domestic abuse and female genital mutilation. Monitoring violations and reporting on them increases knowledge within the community and holds law enforcement to account, although not without challenges.  “Sometimes even police are compromised, you go to them and you want information, but they tell you “No, we are still investigating, this is not happening”.”

(Above: Joyce, far right, participates in WFD refresher workshop on implementation of CEDAW alongside district councillors )

That’s why cooperation is key. By supporting several journalists in the Sebei region of Uganda increased coordination and sharing of information was facilitated through the programme. Joyce noted the value of continued coordination with journalists from the training and she tries to encourage ones who did not participate to spread knowledge on issues related to CEDAW like gender based violence or female genital mutilation. “When there is an issue [to report on] I always call someone and I am like “Why don’t you take this up? There is this issue that is happening” Joyce said.

“Now the local radios here also call the police or local government officers who are directly responsible for a case” Joyce explained “when you talk about it on media the community will realise it is a bad thing.” It’s not just Joyce and fellow journalists who have benefitted from WFD’s support. Increased reporting on CEDAW and women’s rights is helping to transform damaging traditional attitudes in rural Uganda that impact negatively on women and girls. “There is a feedback session that helps community members to also get involved in case there are any problems, so they can help to report it, they can help to take that person to hospital. It builds confidence among the victims, or just community members who now understand” Joyce said.

And the more members of the community who understand the damaging impact discrimination against women and girls has on the individuals involved, the community they come from and Uganda as a whole, the more likely that CEDAW and the accompanying domestic legislation will stand a chance of being implemented effectively and women’s interests truly represented.

Joyce’s story demonstrates how important values are in a democratic system. Freedom of expression through an actively engaged press that is not afraid to report on controversial topics can play a fundamental role holding the government and parliament to account. Asking questions about traditional norms and reporting on abhorrent cases of gender based violence ensures this important issue stays on the political agenda.

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Lobbying for change: WFD’s support to human rights CSOs in Macedonia

(Above: WFD’s opening public event held in Skopje, Macedonia)

“By deconstructing the myth that marriages under 18 years old are part of the Roma tradition, we want to ensure the realisation of children’s rights and encourage institutions to follow the trend, as well as provide legal protection to the families in risk,” says Nesime Salioska, the Executive Director at ROMA S.O.S, one of the 12 civil society organisations Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) is working with in Macedonia.

From patients with rare diseases to the issue of child marriage amongst the Roma community, WFD’s programme in Macedonia is set to support a wide range of civil society organisations tackling different human rights issues. WFD will support the CSOs by building their capacity to engage with decision-makers in Macedonia, encouraging a dialogue on human rights based on research and evidence.

Conducting research – how to engage decision-makers

The programme, which brings together 12 civil society organisations in Macedonia, delivered its first training explaining the best way for the CSOs to conduct effective research and present it to parliament through a policy paper.

“We now have the knowledge, skills and support provided by the mentors to conduct this research, discover the challenges and best practices, and prioritise accordingly,” says Anja Bosilkova, Vice President from Wilson Macedonia, a support group for patients suffering from the rare disease. Her organisation is advocating for the government to introduce changes to existing legislation on health care, insurance, medicines and medical devices.

“Then we will be able to propose adequate solutions to the most pressing issues first, such as having proper diagnostic procedures available for early diagnosis.” Anja says that WFD’s first training in May 2016 helped her approach the challenge in an effective way. She explains: “As patients, we know our problems, but in order to find out the major issues for most of the patients, and translate it into policy paper, we need support to go through this process.”

Nesime Salioska believes her CSO has benefited because the training’s focus on evidence and research “could change negative perceptions and attitudes toward this issue in Roma communities”. She adds: “We gained capacity and knowledge which will enable us to bring evidence and raise the interest of different stakeholders to join our efforts.” This enables her and her colleagues to explain, using evidence, why Roma communities should be protected through legislation.

(Above: Anja Bosilkova-Antovska, representing Wilson Macedonia at the WFD opening public event)

Elena Nakova is a lawyer who volunteers at Free Software Macedonia, another CSO benefiting from WFD’s support. Its campaign aims to improve the privacy of citizens’ personal data following the abuses of voter list information during the political crisis. She said she felt the training was helpful in outlining the stages a CSO should work through when presenting information to parliament. “The training held at the School of Journalism and Public Relations helped us define certain aspects, such as the stakeholders and the need to make interviews with them in addition to the desk research in order to obtain valid information,” she said.

Legislative change – protecting citizens’ human rights

But, how does improving the ability of CSOs to conduct research help improve citizens’ human rights in Macedonia? Legislative change is the ultimate goal of WFD’s support.

For Elena Nakova of Free Software Macedonia that means they “want to see real change and work hard so that Macedonian citizens obtain better protection of their personal data.” She continues: “The problems that occurred during the political crisis and the handling of the voter list drew our attention and we knew that an urgent reform to the Law on personal identification numbers is needed. We were already familiar with the Croatian model and we made draft provisions that should be included in the new Law.” This is a significant change which, if achieved, would protect Macedonian’s citizen’s privacy and personal data.

(Above: Elena Nakova, representing Free Software Macedonia)

Anja from Wilson Macedonia is also focused on changing the law because she believes “long-term solutions are a necessity for a proper, institutionalised approach to the treatment of rare diseases in Macedonia. Recognising rare disease patients as a separate group with specific health needs and introducing the necessary legislative changes in health protection will make a real difference to the lives of this marginalized group. This is what we aim to do,” she said.

The importance of legislative change also applies to ROMA S.O.S. “The issue is related to children who are not mature enough to make decisions independently, so the state is the one that through legal regulations and acts of the institutions should protect them within the frames of established norms for the rights of the children and their best interests,” Nesime Salioska says.

ROMA SOS hope to overcome this issue “by undertaking mainstream activities that contribute to the improvement of Roma’s comprehensive integration in the context of human rights and to the concept of equality for citizens, no matter the status or belonging to which group”.

By providing training around the key principles of evidence, advocacy and access, WFD is set to support Macedonian CSOs to deliver change to citizens’ lives through their improved lobbying of parliament. It’s not just these three CSOs which will benefit, either: this programme supports 12 CSOs covering a range of issues from discrimination in higher education to sanctions against hate speech.

WFD’s ambition is for these CSOs to be standard-bearers for a new way of engaging with parliament; successful results for these initiatives will encourage others to adopt the same practices. That can only make Macedonia’s democracy stronger. Doing so will help the effectiveness of the parliament in its efforts to achieve better policy on human rights issues. It will also improve representation of the marginalised groups of citizens set to benefit – both important ingredients in making Macedonia’s governance more inclusive and effective.

(Below: Daniela Cvetanoska , representing ROMA S.O.S, also participated in the WFD training)
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WFD congratulates Georgian Parliament’s Human Rights Committee

Westminster Foundation for Democracy has offered its congratulations to the Georgian Parliament’s Human Rights Committee after MPs adopted recommended rules of procedure without amendment.

Mrs Eka Beselia, Chair of the HRC, received praise from George Kunnath, WFD’s Regional Director for Europe, following the passage of the relevant legislation earlier in June.

The changes mean the Parliament of Georgia will in future conduct hearings on a range of issues covering:

– recommendations produced by UN human rights committee relating to Georgia;

– judgements made by the European Court of Human Rights; and

– recommendations provided as part of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review process.

“This is a major step which strengthens the Parliament of Georgia’s ability to scrutinise the Government’s implementation of its Human Rights Action Plan,” George Kunnath said.

 

WFD, in partnership with the University of Oxford, has developed an assessment tool for human rights committees to improve their effectiveness and help them comply with international standards and best practice.

Its outcomes in Macedonia, Serbia, Tunisia, Uganda and Ukraine, as well as Georgia, were summed up in a paper presented in the UK Parliament on July 6th.

Mrs Beselia, who spoke at the launch event, told the Westminster audience that the “institutional absence” of the scrutiny of human rights had been replaced by her committee’s work being viewed “as a normal and ordinary process”.

The successful reforms follow six months of engagement between MPs on the Committee and civil society organisations in Georgia.

More: ‘You can’t ignore human rights’

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From Georgia to Westminster: The reform of human rights committees

(Above, Left-right: Nicole Piché (Coordinator All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights), Eka Beselia (Chair of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee in Georgia),  Anthony Smith (CEO, WFD), Les Allamby (Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission))

“Parliaments share a responsibility to protect and realise human rights,” notes WFD’s new research paper sizing up parliamentary performance on this critical issue. As Georgia’s positive experience shows, effective oversight of human rights can make a big difference.

The findings of the report were the subject of the fourth meeting of the Westminster Community of Practice in the Houses of Parliament this week.

Ms Eka Beselia, Chair of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee in Georgia, kicked off the discussion by explaining how WFD’s programme supporting the Committee to engage with civil society had benefited from the assessment.

She spoke of the absence of “institutional experience” within the Georgian Parliament to tackle human rights abuses when she started in her role as Chair in 2012. But now, she said, people see the work of the committee “as a normal and ordinary process”.

The paper, ‘Strengthening Parliamentary Capacity for the Protection and Realisation of Human Rights’, presented the findings of assessments into the effectiveness of parliamentary human rights committees in Macedonia, Serbia, Tunisia, Uganda and Ukraine, as well as Georgia.

The research is based on the outcomes of an ‘assessment tool’ developed by WFD, in partnership with the Parliaments, Rule of Law and Human Rights project at the University of Oxford.

Reform was “very difficult”, Ms Beselia added, “but if you want to change reality, it is possible.” The Georgian Parliament’s acceptance of the recommendations from the Georgian Human Rights Committee based on the WFD assessment tool demonstrates this.

However, this success does not detract from the difficulty of seeking initial reform on a sensitive and decisive subject. This was something which Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and Nicole Piché, the coordinator and legal adviser for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights in Westminster, both had experience of.

Les recalled the “long and slow, but nonetheless important, journey with bumps in the road” that Northern Ireland embarked on following the end of conflict there. He spoke passionately about engaging parliaments on human rights work. Rather than dictating views on human rights, he urged the importance of starting “where people are, and gently persuade them over to international standards.”

This approach was supported by Nicole, who outlined how the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights participates in “frank but respectful exchanges” with representatives from countries with poor human rights records. Giving “credit where credit is due” is essential, Nicole believes, especially when considering the “long road, with obstacles that can be frustrating, unpopular and time-consuming” that developing countries have to embark on.

Both praised Eka Beselia and her colleagues for their work on the Georgian Human Rights Committee, agreeing that political will was vital when seeking any reform to the parliamentary response to protecting human rights.

Ms Beselia explained how the political will in Georgia changed after the 2012 elections. The systematic problems with key institutions like the judiciary, police and penitentiary in Georgia led to “society wanting to change human rights standards.” Nicole Piché added that “entrenched vested interests are hard to change” without political will and the support of citizens.

Engaging citizens in the work parliaments do on human rights can be challenging. However, Les Allamby suggested that placing an emphasis on economic and social rights, can help put civil and political rights on the agenda. He emphasised the need to find out “what resonates with people’s lives, and start there.”

And this applies in Northern Ireland as much as it does in Georgia or Uganda, demonstrating what WFD has to offer transitioning and developing countries the most. “The UK,” as Anthony Smith concluded, “has a real diversity and richness of experience working on human rights which is good to share and learn from.”

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Five reasons why WFD is #ProudOfAid

At the Westminster Foundation for Democracy we are funded from the 0.7% aid budget that the UK government enshrined in legislation last year, a topic that will be discussed in Parliament this week.

At WFD, we are proud of aid. And there are many reasons why the UK public should feel proud of this commitment too.

WFD’s vision, the universal establishment of legitimate and effective multi-party democracy, in the long-term, is part of the solution to sustained economic and social development. That is why we invest in parliaments, parties and civil society, as they are the institutions that must work together to deliver change to vital public services like health and education. So here are five reasons why good governance is a good use of British taxpayers’ money.

1. Good governance matters.

Especially with the advent of Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goal – which calls for inclusive and effective governance – good governance has been cemented in the international agenda. At WFD we understand the benefits offered by good governance and democracy (a word controversially missing from SDG16). Effective parliaments which contain competing political parties that engage with civil society have a fundamental responsibility for ensuring that services often provided by aid are actually delivered: health, sanitation, education. Increasing the accountability of a country’s institutions and the willingness of its parliamentarians to represent the interest of citizens is at the heart of WFD’s approach, and can be demonstrated through our focus on financial oversight and our work with parliamentary committees.

2. We are building sustainable change…

By working to strengthen institutions within parliaments that will continue to operate beyond the end of our programmes, your money goes further. In Jordan, WFD established a Research Centre which will be fully independent by the end of 2018. Providing evidence to parliamentarians that improves their ability to make decisions informed by evidence on issues important to citizens – like health, sanitation and education – is a crucial part in any democracy. Likewise, in Ukraine, the establishment of the Financial Economic Analysis Office, which provides parliamentarians with evidence on public spending, will continue to operate in the Verkona Rada after the WFD programme ends.

3. At a relatively low cost…

Our work is about bringing people together to learn about the British experience of democracy. We have learnt you do not have to spend huge sums of money to make a difference to people’s lives. We utilise the goodwill of staff from across all UK institutions to share best practice with their counterparts overseas who have not been exposed to the same systems and methodologies. Our new programme in Sierra Leone, for example, is benefiting from the Isle of Man Parliament’s offer to clear the backlog of the Sierra Leone Parliament’s Hansard. The Head of the Scottish Parliament’s Budget Office has mentored his Serbian counterpart after WFD helped establish a similar office in the Serbian parliament this year. This type of support is priceless, and it really matters: solid records of parliamentary debate and parliamentarians who are scrutinising spending are essential for public accountability in countries transitioning to democracy.

4. … in cooperation with local partners…

WFD have an in-country presence for all our parliamentary and integrated programmes. This helps us understand the local context and develop lasting partnerships with grassroots organisations. In Uganda, for example our Country Representative, Dorine, understands the issues that matter to women and girls in her community. And she uses this insight to develop successful partnerships with CSOs tackling violence against women and girls in Uganda. The Women’s Parliament WFD hosted last year brought together grassroots CSOs to discuss the issues that impact women’s and girls’ lives in Uganda. Our new programme in Macedonia is working with local CSOs to improve their advocacy and lobbying skills, which can put on the parliamentary agenda issues that are important to citizens such as the benefits available to families with children with disabilities.

5. … to advance the British national interest.

Building strong democratic culture overseas has many benefits directly for the UK, and the rest of the world too. Democracies protect human rights at many levels: an active civil society defends the most vulnerable, competitive political parties ensure that discriminatory legislation does not make it on the agenda, and parliamentary committees are able to effectively call to account government policy that does. Effective democracies represent all elements of society and bring them together, in a peaceful way, to solve problems through debate, not violence. Aid spent fostering democratic values has the added benefit of encouraging peace and a respect for universal human rights.

We’re proud of the work we do. We’re proud of good governance. Above all else, we’re #ProudofAid.

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