UN Human Rights Council Urges Saudi Arabia to Give Women Rights
At a meeting late last week, members of the United Nations Human Rights Council urged Saudi Arabia to actively work to end pervasive human rights violations in the country, particularly those against women and children. According to Reuters, Britain, Switzerland, Canada, and Israel spoke against Saudi Arabia's current practices. Israel's delegation reportedly accused Saudi Arabia of "severe discrimination against women and minorities, corporal punishment, torture, forced labor, and the sexual exploitation of children."
Women's rights in Saudi Arabia are currently limited on a number of fronts including marriage rights, freedom to travel, property ownership, education, and work. According to Human Rights Watch, although some human rights laws have been introduced in Saudi Arabia, little implementation or enforcement of these laws has occurred.
Prior to the UN Human Rights Council review, Human Rights Watch's Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson, said that "The international community should ensure that its review of Saudi Arabia does not just produce more promises, leaving the Saudi people empty-handed….The Saudi reply to inquiries about rights violations or legal developments is typically total silence."
Defense of Marriage Act Questioned by Judge's Ruling
Last week a federal judge in the 9th Circuit Court ruled that the gay spouse of a federal employee is entitled to the same spousal health benefits that any heterosexual spouse would receive. Judge Stephen Reinhardt ruled that the denial of spousal benefits "cannot be justified simply by a distaste for or disapproval of same-sex marriage or…to discourage exercising a legal right afforded them by the state,' reported the Los Angeles Times. This ruling is in direct contradiction to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which states that the federal government may not treat same-sex relationships as marriage.
According to MSNBC, in July 2008, Tony Sears had been denied health benefits after he married Brad Levenson, a deputy federal public defender for the 9th Circuit Court. Levenson appealed to the 9th Circuit's Standing Committee on Federal Public Defenders, chaired by Judge Reinhardt.
In a separate case last month, the 9th Circuit's chief justice, Alex Kozinski, also granted same-sex benefits to the same-sex spouse of 9th Circuit lawyer Karen Golinski. Kozinski considered the Federal Employee Health Benefits Act "vague" about the use of benefits for non-family members and thus ruled that Golinski's spouse should be covered.
Both cases were considered internal employee grievances and have no legal merit outside of the court’s executive office, but the rulings seriously question the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. Sears and Levenson told the Los Angeles Times that they see this as "a step along the road to equality."
Senator Boxer to Chair Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Global Women's Issues
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) will chair the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women's Issues. This is the first time in history where women's issues will be a specific focus of a foreign relations subcommittee.
During Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing, Senator Boxer presented photographs of women who had been burned in acid attacks and injured in gender-based violence worldwide. In reaction to the pictures, Senator Clinton promised to persuade leaders and governments internationally "that we cannot have a free, prosperous, peaceful progressive world if women are treated in such a discriminatory and violent way," according to the New York Times.
In a press release Senator Boxer said, "I am very grateful to our new Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator John Kerry, for allowing me to focus part of my efforts on the worldwide status of women….This new subcommittee assignment offers a tremendous opportunity to shine the light of day on a very overlooked issue. Too often, we turn our eyes away as women are persecuted, abused and treated as second-class citizens. But even the most conservative historians have noted that when women are given the freedom to live up to their full potential, society as a whole flourishes. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Congress and with Secretary Clinton to stamp out violence against women in the world."
***From Our Friends at the Feminist Majority Foundation