2nd Quarterly, 2007 No.144

Human Rights Day Symposium

Towards the Elimination of Discrimination Based on Work and Descent From the Viewpoint of Women

A symposium to commemorate the 59th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was held on December 10, 2007 by the Osaka Liaison Conference for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the BLHRRI is a member. The theme of the symposium was the "Elimination of Discrimination Based on Work and Descent - from the Viewpoint of Women." Speakers included Professor Yozo Yokota, the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Burnad Fatima from India, Ms. Sachiko Shiotani from Japan and Ms. Penda MBOW from Senegal. A summary follows.

UN Initiatives for Discrimination based on Work and Descent

Yozo Yokota(Professor Faculty of Law at Chuo University)

Discussion of the problem of discrimination based on work and descent began through the efforts of IMADR (the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism), which is in UN consultative status, and other international NGOs. IMADR was formed by the BLL (Buraku Liberation League) along with other human rights NGOs for the purpose of using BLL's rich historical experience in combating Buraku discrimination in Japan to eliminate racism and discrimination around the world. Buraku discrimination is unique to Japan, but similar types of discrimination exist in other parts of the world such as South Asia and West Africa. Buraku discrimination shares work and descent related aspects with discrimination in these regions. The UN began to discuss the two issues under the combined name of "discrimination based on work and descent."

When the UN started to implement initiatives to resolve the problem around 2000, opposition was raised from the governments of India, Nepal and Bangladesh. After I was appointed as Special Rapporteur in 2002, the Embassy of India asked me not to accept the appointment. Caste-based discrimination is a very serious human rights problem in India. However, it does not occur only in India, but also in other South Asian countries, some parts of the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Japan. I have worked for the elimination of discrimination based on work and descent as a Special Rapporteur in recognition that it is a worldwide issue, and have written draft principles and guidelines.

The Japanese government supported the UN initiatives to work on this issue, and persuaded the Indian government into adopting a supportive position. It should be appreciated that the Japanese government has made visible human rights efforts in the international community.

The Special Rapporteurs submitted their final report to the Human Rights Council in November 2007. The report included a draft set of principles and guidelines for the elimination of discrimination based on work and descent. In the report, we clearly state that discrimination is a problem caused by people who adopt discriminatory actions and attitudes. Based on this definition, our report specifies that discrimination based on work and descent constitutes a grave human rights abuse, violating the human rights specified in the international human rights instruments. Furthermore, it states that amongst those subjected to discrimination based on work and descent, vulnerable groups including women, children and people with disabilities face multiple discrimination. Based on these principles, the report presents draft guidelines for the solution of the problem. For concerned national and local governments, it recommends the creation of laws and policies, the modification of discriminatory legislation, and the taking of affirmative actions for the elimination of discrimination. The report places particular importance on the provision of equal opportunities for education and educational and awareness raising activities through mediums such as the mass-media.

We hope you will pay attention not only to local human rights problems, but also to international problems and maintain your efforts to being about their resolution.

Struggles of and Challenges Facing Dalit Women

Burnad Fatima(President, Tamil Nadu Women's Forum)

Discrimination Faced by Dalit Women:

Dalit women are subject to multiple discrimination both as Dalit woman and as exploited cheap laborers. Women are always placed in subordinate positions and face an increased risk of experiencing sexual violence, rape and murder. According to the teaching of Hindu scriptures, women have been deprived of their rights to education and property. With Sanskritization to make Hinduism a dominant model, Brahminical values and practices were imposed on Dalits, too, who have adopted lifestyles based on the idea of untouchablity. One typical example of the exploitation of Dalit women rests with the practice of "Mathamma," which originates from the practice of Devadasi under Brahminism. Dalit parents devote their young daughters to local temples, which enshrine the female god Mathamma in prayer for recovery from illness. These girls are considered to have married the goddess and are therefore not allowed to marry men. They are subjected to sexual abuse by upper caste men and are treated as public property. They are also forced to live as a Mathamma throughout their lives, and prohibited from having personal property or social status. Under Hinduism, women have to follow men in their various life stages: girls have to follow their fathers, wives have to follow their husbands, and widows have to follow their sons. Patriarchy forces women to follow men throughout their entire lives. Under the caste system's notions of purity and impurity, Dalit women are considered to be impure while upper caste men sexually exploit them.

Economic Globalization and Dalit Women:

Dalit women have been historically placed at the bottom of society. They have no resources, land or access to livelihood. Globalization accelerates the worsening conditions of Dalit women by driving them out of the farmland on which they used to work. Thousands of hectares of land are being appropriated and sold to business corporations for the construction of economic special zones. The Indian government works together with large corporations to promote economic globalization, which in turn forces Dalit women into very difficult conditions. Under the floriculture export boom, some Dalit women have lost their jobs, while others have only been able to find work in flower fields and experience illness from the effects of pesticides. Also, with the illegal expansion of aquaculture, Dalit women are driven out of the farmland and river basins in which they used to work. Aquaculture also contaminates the environment with chemically contaminated waste.

Towards the Elimination of Discrimination:

In consideration of these circumstances, we have organized Dalit women for awareness raising and empowerment. With the support of the IMADR and BLHRRI, we provide Mathamma women with literacy classes and leadership training. We also build day-care centers for preschool Dalit children with the help of Japanese NGOs. Discrimination against Dalit women must be eliminated. Human dignity has to be placed above all other things. Please join us in working towards the solution of problems faced by Dalit women.

Buraku Women: Status and Challenges in the Fields of Education, Employment and Lifestyle

Sachiko Shiotani(Vice-Chairperson, BLL Osaka)

The Buraku liberation movement began with the foundation of the National Levelers Association in 1922. From the beginning of the movement through to the present day Buraku women have always been deeply involved in the movement for the improvement of Buraku status in the social, educational and political environments.

Achievements of the Mothers' Struggle:

Buraku women worked especially hard for the construction of nursery schools to enable us to enjoy the same humane privileges as other people. In the 1960's only those children who did not have a full time caregiver were accepted by nursery schools. Since Buraku mothers stayed home and did jobs on the side to contribute to their family incomes, their children did not meet the nursery schools' condition for acceptance. To improve this situation, the realization of the right to childcare was included in the agenda of the Buraku liberation movement. Public nursery schools were constructed in Buraku communities as a result of the efforts of Buraku women, who also later achieved the extension of nursery service hours and the acceptance of children with certain illnesses. These initiatives and achievements changed the lifestyles of Buraku children, mothers, and eventually families.

Achievements of Women Workers:

With the active involvement of Women in the liberation movement, the movement began to work for literacy among Buraku women and men. Through gaining reading and writing skills, women were able to enter vocational study that assisted them in securing employment. With the expansion of employment opportunities, women became involved in the labor movement in which they learned about the minimum wage and other systems that protected workers. These initiatives led to activities by Buraku women that eliminated gender inequality in public welfare. Currently, welfare is paid in equal amounts to both men and women, but during the 1970's, the amount paid to women aged above 15 was less than that paid to men aged above 15 due to the belief that men required more food than women. Buraku women identified this as a discriminatory practice and started lobbying government officers at the then-named Ministry of Health and Welfare. As a result of repeated conferences the payments were finally equalized in 1985. Since welfare amounts are an indicator of wages, the difference in payments between men and women would have had a negative impact on the achievement of equal pay for equal work.

Along the same lines, Buraku women worked to ensure health insurance coverage for childbirth expenses, make jobs available to women that were traditionally limited to men, make child-care work that was traditionally limited to women available for men, and improve workplace environments. Through these joint efforts between Buraku women and women involved in the labor and other democratic movements, a network was developed and led to new joint initiatives for the ratification of the International Covenant on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women by the government in the late 1970's.

The Liberation of Women as a Challenge for the Buraku Liberation Movement:

Reform within the BLL is also a very important challenge. The involvement of Buraku women has been key to the success of many campaigns. However, women still remain in the shadows in decision-making. Women are mobilized as assistants in duties such as making lunch boxes when major events take place. Unfortunately, the problems of sexual harassment, power harassment and domestic violence within the organization are as yet unresolved. The Women's Division of the BLL has called for the elimination of these problems and organizational reform. It is important to include the agenda of women's liberation at the same level as Buraku liberation in the movement's agenda.

Male chauvinism is still prevalent among Buraku men, and Buraku women still suffer from multiple discrimination. In particular, problems related to academic ability, employment and the pension scheme have a severe impact on Buraku women. We will call the liberation movement's attention to these problems as urgent issues.

Solidarity with Other Minority Women:

The present conditions of the Buraku problem and Buraku women are daunting. We face gender-free bashing, discriminatory messages on the Internet, the discovery of Buraku Lists in digital format, and backward movement in the revision of our peaceful Constitution. Faced with these circumstances, we have a long road ahead before we can reach our goal, i.e. the liberation of Buraku women from multiple discriminations. This is why it is very important for us to work together with women from other minority communities to petition the national government to implement the national action plan for women, conduct a national survey into the actual conditions faced by minority women, enact local legislation for the promotion of gender equality, and appoint representatives of minority women to administrative councils that work for gender equality.

These are not only challenges for women, but also for men. We invite all men to walk hand in hand with us toward the elimination of discrimination.

The Caste System in Senegal - History and Gender Dimension

Penda MBOW(Professor of Islamic History, Dakar University)

The slave and caste systems have long existed in Senegal. Today I will focus on the caste system. The caste system exists not only in Senegal, but in all West Africa. Under the system, people are divided into two groups: those who belong to caste groups and those who do not. Those who do not belong to caste groups are further divided into two groups: aristocrats and others. I believe the caste system is a device to exclude caste people from the power. Features that define castes include ideas relating to purity and impurity, the strict endogamy within caste groups, and certain types of work. Another interesting feature is that those who belong to caste groups never become slaves.

Effects of the Caste System on Women:

What effects has the caste system had on women? The most remarkable can be found in marriage. Mixed caste and non-caste couples face many problems including divorce and social isolation. In Senegalese society, marriage is not a personal matter between two people, but is an important family matter. If a caste woman had a baby with a man from a non-caste community, the man would refuse to allow the child to carry his family name. These children are despised and called "one-leg people." With strong opposition to inter marriages between caste and non-caste people, some caste women never marry.

Polygamy is still practiced among caste people. People who do not complete higher education cannot escape from the caste community. Highly educated caste women cannot find husbands under the polygamy system and therefore remain single. Highly educated caste men leave the country to marry non-Senegalese to escape from the caste system.

Caste women with poor education are subjected to various forms of exploitation. The most serious is the lack of respect given to caste women who do not complete higher education. Non-caste people are very comfortable with the fact that they were not born in a caste group. They usually exhibit their superiority over caste people and are likely to exploit caste women with money.

Under these circumstances, it is important to develop citizenship and change society. The encouragement of inter marriage between caste and non-caste people plays an important role in this effort. In Senegal, the fight against the caste system is one of the most immediate and important challenges in the field of human rights. The liberation of each individual is also an indispensable condition for development. We must adopt new ideas in order to oppose prejudice, arbitrary judgment and overly strict teaching. The oldest system in Senegal is the caste system. Discrimination based on work and descent has undoubtedly had a negative impact on social progress. It is high time to change the attitudes of people toward some occupations, change our society and appreciate our own competencies.

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