Women's Political and Legal Rights in New And Revised Constitutions

Monday, June 27, 2011
Compiled by Lesley Abdela and Tim Symonds, Eyecatcher/Shevolution

Earlier this year in response to the Arab Spring and the major part women are playing in the overthrow of dictatorships, my colleague Lesley Abdela and I circulated excerpts from recent Constitutions concerning women's rights (see list below). From the examination of new Constitutions it struck Lesley and me all the Constitutions of UN Member States – old and new - could do with a Gender Audit in the same sense many countries now engage in Gender audits of their annual Budget to eliminate unintended negative impacts on women.

We, the Nation's Women …

In the past 21 years around 110 countries have been involved in writing new constitutions or undertaking substantial revisions of existing ones. Treaty bodies such as CEDAW regularly encourage States' parties to review Constitutions, especially with regard to non-discrimination clauses. Because Constitutions hold a central place in a nation's law and political culture, the extent to which UN Member States pay attention could be assessed by a listing similar to the IPU list on women in parliaments (www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm) where as of April 2011 Rwanda, Andorra and Sweden held the top 3 places with over 45% women, and Saudi Arabia, Solomon Islands and Qatar bottom with 0%. A low ranking in an audit could encourage the Member States concerned to respond appropriately to the Constitutional rights and needs of the majority sex.

Law Professor Helen Irving (http://sydney.edu.au/law/about/staff/HelenIrving) recommends gender audits should include provisions governing the recognition of international and customary law; equality rights and reproductive rights; institutions of government; the design of the constitutional court; principles of interpretation; provisions governing citizenship; access and standing; and the means of Constitutional amendment.

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