On the occasion of the 65th session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which took place in Geneva, Switzerland from October 24th to November 18th, 2016, the International Land Coalition supported members in Argentina, Bangladesh and Burundi in submitting alternative reports on rural and Indigenous women’s land rights in their respective countries.
An Alternative Report of Civil Society Organisations in Bangladesh to CEDAW
Their efforts to get CEDAW’s interest have paid off, and the issues raised in their shadow reports were included in the Committee’s recommendations to the three States.
The CEDAW Convention is a powerful instrument for articulating, advocating, and monitoring women’s human rights. Governments that have ratified the Convention are required to submit a periodic report every four years on progress made in removing obstacles to equality. These self-assessments frequently are incomplete and tend to minimize problems and maximize accomplishments. Recognizing this, the CEDAW Committee asks governments whether they have involved NGOs in preparing the government report and invites NGO's inputs, in the form of "shadow" or alternative reports and oral presentations with a focus on specific articles of the Convention.
We took a moment to sit down with Marta Esber from Fundación Plurales (Argentina) and Moni Rowshan Jahan from ALRD (Bangldesh) so that they could share their experiences, challenges and suggestions with other members and the land community on the potential payoffs of participating in such activities.
ILC: In your alternative reports, what would you identify as the major finding that could have most impact?
Marta (Argentina): The main result was the active participation of peasant and indigenous women during the workshops for the elaboration of the report. They have really clear in their minds what the State’s responsibilities are when it comes to the serious issues they are facing.
The persistent and severe lack of access to land and water in the rural areas of the Chaco region in Argentina and the institutional and private violence on peasant and indigenous communities are known. But the quality and quantity of information we collected to produce the alternative report makes this a more powerful tool to advocate with concerned State actors.
Moni (Bangladesh): It has always been a challenge to talk about women’s land rights in Bangladesh because it touches on major aspects such as discriminatory inheritance laws and the distribution of Khas (public) land to single women and widows. The Alternative Report was instrumental to include in the CEDAW’s recommendations a request to the government for time bound actions on these matters.
ILC: You participated in the session in Geneva, what were the main challenges and the positive elements that you identify about this participation?
Marta: The main challenge was to generate interest with CEDAW’s experts about the issues faced by peasant and indigenous women of the Chaco region. The possibility to actively participate in the lunch briefing and the oral statement – were important moments to include the issues that we raised in our alternative report. Also, learning how spaces like CEDAW work and identifying allies within it will be extremely important assets for our advocacy actions!
Moni: The whole process was a very good learning experience, particularly the lobbying activities to position women’s land rights as one of the priorities for CEDAW. While we also had the opportunity to meet other allies like FIAN, IWAGA and Amnesty International, it would have been important to have prior discussion with them to agree on a common plan so as to raise a stronger united voice.
ILC: How will the alternative report be useful in future activities?
Marta: The comprehensive information we collected makes the report a useful tool for the involved organizations to prepare other documents, to follow up and monitor what actions Argentina undertakes to address CEDAW’s recommendation, and to raise awareness of the issues faced by women from the Chaco region. We have already received many requests for the report.
Moni: Together with the CEDAW recommendations, the report will be used as an advocacy tool and to help develop content for trainings for ALRD and its 200+ partners. What we learnt from this experience can contribute to developing ILC’s future plan of action and strategy for women’s land rights. Thinking of ILC, it was a big success in promoting members and country specific issues related to women’s land rights. Working with other ILC members we would like to develop a monitoring mechanism which would also be included into the next strategy for NES Bangladesh.
ILC: Do you have any tips to share with other ILC members that want to engage in alternative reporting?
Marta: We encourage other members to take the opportunity to present alternative reports as they can have many positive effects both at the Government and non-government levels . For them to be as relevant as possible, quality and time are required as well as the active participation of different concerned actors.
Moni: The preparation process is indeed very important and it should be inclusive both in terms of issues and participation. All relevant factors, global and emerging trends, loopholes in policies and laws should all be clearly identified to demonstrate how they all negatively affect women’s land rights and therefore human rights.