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UN rights chief urges Tunisia, Egypt to protect women's rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] pressed [statement] Tunisia and Egypt on Tuesday to ensure that women's rights receive constitutional protection and to include women in the dialogue to shape the future of their countries. Pillay's statement came in conjunction with International Women's Day. The High Commissioner expressed concern that constitutional reforms in Egypt were being "undertaken without [women's] full participation" and that some proposed reforms were discriminatory. Pillay urged action:

In Egypt and Tunisia, women were on Twitter, on Facebook, and on the streets. Women from all walks of life were marching alongside men, pushing boundaries and breaking gender stereotypes, just as eager for change, for human rights and for democracy. ... In these moments of historic transition in Egypt and Tunisia, it is important to ensure that women's rights are not set aside as something to be dealt with after the "crucial" reforms are won. Women's rights should be at the top of the list of new priorities. ... Women ... expect their state ... to uphold their dignity and worth, and to adopt laws, policies, and strategies that translate these words into tangible results. ... Only when women participate fully in policy-making and institution-building will their perspective be truly integrated. The concept of democracy is only truly realised when political decision-making is shared by women and men, and women's full participation in institutional re-building is guaranteed. Societies in which women are excluded, formally or informally, from public life, cannot be described as truly democratic.
Pillay addressed the persistent inequality between men and women around the world and urged vigilance against retrogression, and full participation in reform. Egypt's military council has been running the country since Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was forced out [JURIST report] and has indicated a referendum will be held March 19 on constitutional reforms [Reuters report] proposed by a committee of legal experts.

Pillay has vociferously decried the use of violence against protesters in recent months as protests have spread across the Middle East and North Africa [BBC Backgrounder]. Last week, Pillay condemned the response by Middle Eastern governments [JURIST report] to peaceful protests during her opening remarks at the UN Human Rights Council [official website], urging the international community to take a strong stance against violence in Libya. In February, Pillay called on the Libyan government and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi [BBC profile] directly to stop the violence directed at protesters [JURIST report] within that nation. Also in February, Pillay said that the Libyan government's response to recent protests may amount to crimes against humanity [JURIST report].

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