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Engendering Compensation: Making Refugee Women Count!

Prepared for the Expert and Advisory Services Fund International Development Research Centre

by Nahla Abdo

March 2000 - Ottawa

6. Gender Compensation: The International Context
This section briefly surveys international customary and Human Rights Laws that are relevant to the experiences of Palestinian women. Emphasis will be placed on International treaties and conventions that deal specifically with compensation made on the basis of gender or sex.

Although relatively new, compensation for gender/sex related violations is an area of increasing international concern. There are specific International conventions and laws that protect and safeguard women from abuse on the basis of their sex. The two most comprehensive international bills of rights of women are: the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the UNGA on 18 December 1979, and the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action adopted in November, 1995.

The CEDAW regulates the relationship between the State and the female citizen and is thus not applicable to Palestinian refugees. Nonetheless, it is an important international reference to consider if and when discussions of refugee settlement in any existing state occur, as both Israel and neighbouring Arab countries are signatories to the CEDAW Convention. The binding force of CEDAW is not its legal, but rather its moral power and commitment to gender equality within the boundaries of the state.

Commitment to CEDAW varies according to an individual state’s respect of human rights and international laws. Canada, for instance, has demonstrated a high commitment to women’s rights and gender issues. Canada has been a pioneer in some areas, for instance in considering persecution on gender or sexual basis as grounds for granting asylum and refugee status. Also, aware of the negative impact labour discrimination against women causes, the Canadian government, following a federal Court ruling in October 1999, is expected to compensate about 200,000 mostly female employees for loss of wages they incurred on the basis of their sex.

The Beijing Conference and Platform of Action elaborates and expands on the terms of CEDAW, and has more direct relevance to Palestinian women refugees. A key area of concern within the Platform of Action, Critical Area E, concerns women under Armed Conflict. The relevance of Critical Area E to the Palestinian case is found in the very definitions provided by the Platform of Action:

Peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men and development.

Violations of the human rights of women in situations of armed conflict are violations of the fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Violations of human rights in situations of armed conflict and military occupation are violations of the fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law.

The Beijing Platform of Action carries special weight in the Palestinian case because of the definition it attributes to the term ‘Armed Conflict’. People in armed conflict, according to the Platform of Action, include those living under ‘military occupation’, ‘colonialism’, ‘foreign’ or ‘alien’ rule. In other words, included in the definition of living in armed conflict are the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, West Bankers, Gazans and all camp refugees living outside of Israel/Palestine.

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