SIM research, teaching, impact and work in women's rights and gender equality ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ 
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  SIM Newsletter Special Edition
International Women's Day 2023
Happy International Women's Day! In commemoration, this special edition of the SIM newsletter aims to showcase the work of SIM colleagues on women's rights and gender equality. It also features reflection and interview pieces on the theme.
A Conversation with the European Equality Law Network
Franka van Hoof and Birte Böök
Over the past 20 years, Utrecht University has successfully managed the gender equality strand of the European Equality Law Network, which counts as among the biggest projects managed at Utrecht Law School. The current coordination team consists of Linda Senden and SIM members Alexandra Timmer, Birte Böök and Franka van Hoof and senior experts Susanne Burri and Frans Pennings. This year is a special year for the gender equality strand of the network, as it will mark its 40th anniversary. The Network consists of legal experts from 36 European states (28 EU member states, 4 EU-accession countries, the UK and 3 EEA states) who gather independent, expert information on legislation, case law and national developments to support the European Commission in fulfilling its role as guardian of the treaties, responding to new challenges and setting agendas for law- and policy-making in the field of gender equality and non-discrimination. Over the past years, the European Commission has increasingly relied on the Network, e.g. basing several legislative proposals and infringement proceedings on our reports. Examples of our most recent reports which were of significant importance to the European Commission include amongst others The transposition of the Work-Life Balance Directive in EU Member States: A long way ahead and the Criminalisation of gender-based violence against women in European States, including ICT-facilitated violence.The SIM Newsletter had a chance to interview two of the members, Franka and Birte.

When asked about their first involvement in the Network, Franka highlights the challenge she faced as a mother. At the time, Franka struggled to get back into the labour market after a leave from work to take care of her daughter who had special care needs. This barrier is common for women, who often take caregiving roles. Thus, for Franka, who had already worked for several years in managing international human rights and equal treatment research projects, it was also a personal motivation to work on issues of gender equality specifically.

Birte, on the other hand, was working for a consultancy in Brussels after her PhD. She was looking for a way to have a more direct impact on law and policy making. At the same time, she appreciated the independence of academic work. Through a friend, she found out about a postdoc position within the network. The position gave her the opportunity to make a direct impact as well as being able to engage in academic research.

Both Franka and Birte agree that having a direct impact through the European Commission's work is essential and that the network's work has a significant impact through various means, including a lot of discussion with national experts. The impact they are able to make in the network is more immediate, and they appreciate being able to see the changes on the ground.

Nevertheless, the work also has its own challenges. Birte and Franka discuss the challenges of working within the project framework and needing approval from the Commission. There are sometimes limitations on what they can include in their reports or discuss due to political considerations and the need to maintain diplomacy. While this is not overly restrictive, it can be a professional challenge, and remains a continuous balancing act in their work.

Furthermore, Birte and Franka discuss the remaining barriers to gender equality in Europe. Enforcement is identified as a big issue even when policies and provisions are in place. They also mention that the scope of EU law can be limiting and finding out what falls under its scope can be challenging. Healthcare, reproductive care, work-life balance, and equal pay remain to be obstacles to gender equality. They also mention the proposal for the Gender-Based Violence Directive and the report on women's representation in politics, which highlight the issues of quotas, maternity leave, and violence against women. Overall, there are many still barriers to gender equality in Europe in all areas of life.

To close the interview, the researchers gave their message to women researchers, particularly in their early careers. According to Franka, the race for gender equality still has not been won. “There's still so much to be done! Every time I receive these flash reports from experts, it's a small two-page report where they report on a development or an issue that they would like to flag. And I often find myself shocked by the things I read. For example, our Polish expert sent us several reports on disturbing developments in her country. A new law was introduced in Poland last year allowing pharmacists, based on religious beliefs, to refuse to supply their customers with certain health care items. An important consequence of this law, and maybe even the aim, is to allow pharmacists to stop selling condoms, birth control pills or any other type of birth control. which has huge consequences for women.
  There seems to be a backlash in certain parts of Europe, so it's important to stay awake and aware. The fact that the pay gap in the Netherlands is still 16% is just the tip of the iceberg. It's symbolic of how many things are still unequal. There is still so much work to be done."  
  While for Birte, perseverance is the key. She also highlights the different ways young researchers can contribute to gender equality work. “I agree with Franka. I think that's a really good message, especially for younger women who want to get into this work. If you're interested in it, there are different avenues you can take, like the academic side, consultancy, or activism. There are many different routes into working in that subject area. And sometimes, it's worthwhile going down one route, and that can lead you down another later. If your heart is set on something in particular but you can't reach it right away, then try a different route and get there another way.  
  If you're passionate about it, persevere. Working in a field that you're passionate about is worth so much because, like Franka said, you sit at your desk and think, ‘I really want to do this because I see how important it is and how much there is to be done.’ So, there's a lot to do.”  
  For further information on the network and its publications please visit our website  
Róisín Burke on Women, Peace and Security
Water security is a critical issue in many regions of the world, particularly in areas of conflict. In her NWO project, SIM colleague Róisín Burke will explore this topic further by studying the participation of women in water security dialogue in the South Caucasus region (including Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia). This is particularly pertinent in light of ongoing tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and given shared river basins in the broader region. Increasing pressures on access to water throughout Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan due to increasing climate change pressures, pollution and ongoing conflict means that water is likely to remain a conflict driver in the region in years to come. Destruction, lack of maintenance and lack of security around certain water infrastructure, in addition to the aforementioned factors has left many communities with difficulties in accessing safe and reliable water sources. Tensions regarding transboundary water flows, and access to dams, reservoirs and hydropower are common.

Róisín highlights the need to address these issues through better management of transboundary water flows in the region, and emphasized the importance of women's participation in peacebuilding and environmental peacebuilding to achieve this goal. Women are often the primary caretakers of water resources in many communities, and their participation in water management can lead to more sustainable and equitable outcomes. Moreover, women's involvement in peacebuilding processes can help to address the underlying drivers of conflict, including issues related to resource management. “I am curious to see what linkages are being made between women's participation in dialogue around water security in the region and how that's being linked to security issues and normalization of relations between States. Coupled with this, there's been a lot of dialogue over just over the last couple of years around environmental peacebuilding.”

Róisín’s work in Women, Peace and Security can be traced back all the way to her Master’s thesis and further in her PhD. Her previous work focused mainly on the need for gender-sensitive policies and practices in peace operations to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse and address conduct and discipline issues in UN peace operations. Róisín stresses the importance of young women accessing spaces for decision-making processes related to peace and security issues to achieve longer-term sustainable peace and security.
  I think that young women in particular, and this is set out also in the youth peace and security resolution, have such an important role in building their capacity to make their voices heard to achieve longer term sustainable peace and security, whether it's in the South Caucuses or elsewhere in the world."  
  Róisín also talks about the challenges she faced as a younger researcher, particularly as a female in the male-dominated fields of peace operations, conflict, and military law. She highlights the difficulties of being taken seriously – as she experienced some comments made about her age, and assumptions made about her based on her gender. She also touches on the challenges of being a mother in academia, including a lack of access to childcare in the Netherlands, particularly given long waiting lists. She notes that women tend to take on more caregiving roles, making it difficult to progress in academia.

In conclusion, the participation of women in water security and peacebuilding efforts is critical to addressing the underlying drivers of conflict and achieving sustainable and equitable outcomes. Róisín's research highlights the need for gender-sensitive policies and practices in peace operations and the importance of involving women in environmental peacebuilding efforts to manage transboundary water flows in conflict-affected regions such as the South Caucasus. Additionally, her personal experiences as a researcher underscore the need for greater representation of women in decision-making processes related to peace and security issues.
Women and Diversity: Between Encouragement and Resistance
by Lorena Sosa

In the last 30 years, we have witnessed in academia and public institutions a growing awareness of the diversity and plurality of women and the impossibility of tackling gender inequality without considering other inequalities such as race, ethnicity, socio-economic class, nationality, age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity (Sosa, 2017). Also, the scope and understandings of gender-based violence have greatly expanded in the last two decades by recognizing the diversity among women and slowly broadening its circle of protection beyond ‘women and girls’. Intersectionality has become critical to any efforts to address such diversity. In my research, I have proposed an intersectional approach that combines attention to specific groups and the intersection of inequalities, mainstreaming strategies into different policies and eliminating social and institutional barriers (Sosa, 2023; Sosa & Mestre i Mestre, 2022a, 2022b). Yet, my research shows that while many initiatives have been adopted across human rights systems to make gender-related frameworks more inclusive, many institutional barriers are found at the domestic level. These range from too narrow legal definitions of gender-based violence (De Vido & Sosa, 2021), understandings of gender discrimination exclusively as male/female imbalance (Timmer & Sosa, 2022), or simply lacking statistical data on how women’s diversity impacts their social positioning. At the same time, there has been an anti-gender offensive challenging basic human rights standards, including the anti-violence against women project. For instance, at the domestic level, we see campaigns against the Istanbul Convention’s ratification and drawbacks in long-standing policies. Such a political climate of resistance is also found within the human rights law machinery since such controversies have reached the political bodies of international organizations (Sosa, 2021). However, human rights bodies have also become a scenario where these oppositions are at play. My ongoing work on human rights monitoring procedures shows that during the last decade, gender opposition discourses have capitalized from legal notions, such as the right to life, the state obligation to protect the family, women’s vulnerability, and traditional view on ‘equal’ treatment and women’s empowerment, to strengthen conservative agendas. In consequence, gender opposition discourses emphasize strategies of ‘family mainstreaming’ and ‘family rights’ resembling traditional family values and claiming respect for parental rights and the rights of children. In many cases, this effective utilization of a ‘human rights language’ had concrete implications for domestic gender equality structures, such as the de-financing of Women NGOs and restructuring institutions, the criminalization of human rights defenders, and the elimination of the gender-perspective educational policies, particularly on sexual education. In some cases, mandatory mediation in domestic violence cases has been reintroduced, reversing hard-won protections. As feminist human rights scholars, we face today the combination of conceptual, structural and political hurdles to gender equality. A scenario calling for a comprehensive and context-based analysis in a transdisciplinary dialogue.
Feminization of Human Rights
by Felisa Tibbitts

Many of us teaching human rights courses have noted the preponderance of females in our classes. This led Felisa Tibbitts to undertake an informal study in 2018 “The Feminization of Human Rights” that examined the male-female ratio of staff (including in executive positions) in three key international human rights organizations: the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, National Human Rights Institutions/Equality Commissions and Amnesty International. The results show gender parity with the OHCHR and NHRIs across all staff levels as well as executive positions, though with a higher representation of women at headquarters than in field offices and peacekeeping missions. At Amnesty International, the percentage of females on staff was 68% - also reflected in senior-level positions - with variation by region and country. These findings point to a possible ‘feminization” of NGO-related human rights work. In other sectors that have become feminized, we have seen lower compensation and ‘gendering’ of the field (e.g., “caring”). Further research might take place about the status and roles of women in human rights careers across sectors, the drivers of their engagement in human rights work and potential implications for the field.
Recent Research
  Some noteworthy findings of this report, amongst others:

  • Women in elected decision-making positions do not have a right to maternity leave in most countries covered by this study.
  • Women in political decision making positions are frequently faced with online threats which are increasingly materializing into acts of aggression.
  • In spite of clear evidence in their favor, legally binding measures on the promotion of women to decision-making positions are still rare.
  • Quotas work, yet their full potential remains underused.
  • There is a lack of measures addressing the promotion of women in all their diversity, such as women from minorities, women with disabilities, LGBTIA+ persons.
Capita Selecta: Equality and Non-Discrimination in Human Rights Law

Lecturer: Alexandra Timmer

This module examines the core concepts of equality and non-discrimination law. We will discuss topical cases from the European Court of Human Rights as well as some materials from the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The course is aimed to foster a conceptual analysis of non-discrimination law.
Capita Selecta: Women, Peace and Security

Lecturer: Róisín Burke

In light of the UN's WPS Agenda's normative framework, the module considers the gendered nature of conflict, gendered rights violations, militarisation, changing gender roles in conflict, and women’s participation in conflict and peace processes, including mediation. It also touches on sexual violence in the context of peace operations, and the need to mainstreaming gender in rule of law reform in states transitioning from conflict.
Capita Selecta: Human Rights and Gender Identity

Lecturer: Marjolein van den Brink

The module will delve into this emerging ‘right to gender recognition’. Its historical development, legal foundations, scope, content and (legal) effects will be explored. Relevant case law documents will be critically analysed applying feminist and queer theory. Key concepts include ‘identity’ and ‘sex/gender’. The interest of the module goes beyond the topic of legal gender identity as such. A recurring theme is attention for judicial activism and the reverse: judicial passivism. What role do or should courts have in this realm? Ethical issues will inevitably surface and be looked into as well.
Capita Selecta: International Human Rights Law from a Gender Perspective

Lecturer: Marjolein van den Brink & Lena Holzer

This course focuses on the construction of sex / gender as binary, dichotomous, stable and essential in the context of international human rights law. The idea that sex/gender means: man/woman, male/female, masculine/feminine, is deeply ingrained in people’s minds as well as in law. The core issue for this course is to explore in how far international human rights law relies upon a binary understanding of gender and to what extent the enjoyment of human rights regardless of gender can be improved by limiting instances of sex-segregation, without losing the benefits of segregation practices.
75 years Congress of the Hague:
contribution Barbara Oomen
On the 2nd of March, the Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe convened in the Hague. Here, 75 years ago, over 750 delegates from around Europe took part in the historic steps towards European unity at the Congress of Europe. During the event at the Peace Palace in The Hague, participants reflected upon the altered geopolitical balance in today’s international relations – particularly after the Zeitenwende caused by the Russian aggression against Ukraine. SIM researcher Barbara Oomen spoke about the achievements of the Council of Europe in the field of human rights, and the everyday influence of the European Convention and many other CoE instruments, such as the Istanbul Convention. Over the years, the notion that women’s rights are human rights has slowly gained ground in the Council of Europe. The meeting also served as a preparation for the Reykjavik summit, where there will be attention for topics such as the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, gender justice and the role of men and boys in gender equality policies.
Judicial Colloquium ECOWAS Court and African Commission on Equality
The Centre for Human Rights University of Pretoria, South Africa, hosted a Judicial Colloquium of the ECOWAS Court and African Commission on the right to equality in the Maputo Protocol in Abuja, Nigeria on 29 & 30 November 2022. SIM researcher Alexandra Timmer was invited to present on gender equality in the European Human Rights System, to provide the colloquium with a comparative perspective. The discussion was lively, analyzing what inspiration the African and European gender equality law frameworks might take from each other.
Upcoming Event
Equality Law in Context: Illuminating Intersections in Search for Global Justice
Utrecht University will host the tenth annual conference of the Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law (BCCE) on 28-30 June 2023. SIM researchers Franka van Hoof, Lorena Sosa and Alexandra Timmer are organizing this conference together with Linda Senden. The conference will provide a space for critical reflection on (comparative) equality law, and for trying out exciting new ideas about how to move equality law forward. More than 100 papers have been accepted from equality law scholars and practitioners from around the world. For more information regarding the program and registration see here.
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