46/95 AI INDEX: ACT 77/WU 05/95 EMBARGOED: 7 MARCH 1995 WOMEN AT RISK

46/95
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 
international reality.

      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 
women.

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 
their experience.

      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 
code.

      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.

ENDS\



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