EQUALITY NOW New York: 250 West 57 Street, #1527, New York, NY 10107, USA ▪ Tel:+1 212-586-0906 • Fax:+1 212-586-1611 • Email: firstname.lastname@example.org London: 6 Buckingham Street, London WC2N 6BU, UK • Phone:+44 (0) 20-7839-5456 • Fax:+44 (0) 20-7839-4012 • Email: email@example.com Nairobi: PO Box 2018 KNH 00202, Nairobi, Kenya • Tel: +254 20-2719-832 • Fax: +254 20-2719-868 • Email: firstname.lastname@example.org EQUALITY NOW Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund Introduction For too many girls, especially in poor and developing countries, the critical adolescent years are shaped by harmful experiences that are oftentimes irreversible and irreparable, and then as women they are often further subjected to violence, poverty and severe health problems as a result of these harmful experiences in adolescence. Because the onset of puberty usually begins two years earlier for girls than it does for boys, their childhoods are cut short sooner, and because emotional development has not kept pace with physical development, girls enter adolescence at a clear disadvantage to their male peers. While boys becoming young men find themselves with a host of new opportunities and possibilities before them, the emergence of girls’ sexuality during puberty instead generates damaging responses. Many girls are seen as unworthy of investment or protection by their families, and societies disinvest in their schooling and personal development while appropriating their labor, sexuality, and fertility - oftentimes by force. Despite nominal legal recourse, young girls have no support structure to protest abuses by family members, partners, teachers, or strangers. Isolated and unsupported, these girls have little voice to demand their rights. The Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund (AGLDF) was created in order to address and rectify the unique and devastating human rights abuses that adolescent girls in Africa face and that keep them from realizing their full potential as women, citizens and human beings. The Fund supports and publicizes strategically selected legal cases, diversified to represent the most common and compelling human rights abuses of adolescent girls in Africa. Because of the number and severity of incidents, the urgency of taking on these cases and the structural changes that can be leveraged from successes is clear. Due to gender inequality and discrimination, adolescent girls in SubSaharan Africa face such human rights abuses as child and forced marriage, sexual abuse by teachers, female genital mutilation and disproportionately high rates of HIV, and they are a class of plaintiffs whose rights are too often ignored. For strategic and practical reasons, the Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund has chosen to make as its current focus the eastern southern African Anglophone Commonwealth countries while remaining open to other cases if they arise in other parts of Africa. Equality Now, with an office in Nairobi, is a particularly appropriate host for the Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund given its proven ability to find and support the grassroots organizations that can prosecute these cases. Equality Now has already been involved in legal defense work on behalf of girls in African countries, including a female genital mutilation (FGM) case in Kenya, one in Tanzania and an Ethiopian case involving abduction, rape and forced marriage. In addition, the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa entered into force in November 2005, an historic moment brought about by the intense campaign efforts of Equality Now and the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) coalition. It is a tool that will hopefully prove instrumental in EQUALITY NOW WORKS FOR THE CIVIL, POLITICAL, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL RIGHTS OF WOMEN AROUND THE WORLD protecting and promoting the rights of African girls and women by giving African women’s groups a new avenue of recourse when domestic litigation is unsuccessful. Safe at Home, Safe at School, and Safe in the Community In 2007, Equality Now completed the planning phase for the Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund with a $25,000 grant from the Cullman Family Foundation. We conducted a survey to identify women’s rights groups for collaboration on this initiative, established an advisory board, and identified particular cases and human rights issues to keep girls ―safe at home, safe at school, and safe in the community.‖ For girls in many countries, debilitating physical and psychological abuse often begins at home, continues in the classroom, and is reinforced in the community. Safe at Home The home is both the most intimate environment, but can also be one of the most threatening to a girl. An adolescent girl in Africa may be subjected to female genital mutilation by or with the consent of their parents, or subjected to child marriage, to name just two examples. Without safety or protection at home, a girl will not do well in school or be able to fully participate in community life. A girl whose rights are violated by the people who are supposed to protect her loses a sense of agency, resulting in little or no real prospect for citizenship or participation in public life. Safe at School According to the WHO, the most common environment where young women experience sexual coercion and harassment is at school. Reports show, for example, that teachers attempted to gain sex in return for good grades in the DRC, Ghana, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Such incidents are commonly reported but rarely acted upon. Girls have the right to an education and in particular to protection ―from all forms of abuse, including sexual harassment in schools,‖ according to Article 12 of the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa. And yet, too many girls – unlike their male peers – are withdrawn at a young age from school to help support their families or be married off; and too many girls in school experience sexual abuse, including rape or defilement, by teachers and other school authority figures. In order to ensure independent and prosperous futures, girls must be kept in school and must be safe at school. A failure to invest in girls today means that they will be excluded from civic participation and economic development as adult women. Safe in the Community In addition to being safe at home and at school, girls must be safe and welcome in the community, and must know that as they grow into adulthood, a future that includes access to property, citizenship, and community decision making awaits them. If they make it through to adulthood safe at home and safe at school, it will all be for naught if they cannot fully participate in the public sphere. Coupled with continuing economic development challenges, volatile political situations in many African countries translate to dangerous environments and unsafe communities, especially for adolescent girls who are vulnerable to sexual attacks. Too often, justice is an unobtainable goal for girls who face such abuses. Cases: Justice, Structural Change, and Leveraged Advocacy Cases are/will be chosen based on their significance and the prospects of finding restitution for the victims and reshaping the rule of law by setting precedents or highlighting the need for equal protection under the law. Cases are/will be brought to the public’s attention to foster public debate and to support widespread rights-seeking. In addition to addressing and rectifying problems at the systemic level, the Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund aims to remedy abuses at the individual level, for the girl plaintiff(s) identified. As of December 2007, Equality Now has identified and moved forward on two cases for support from the Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund. Safe in the Community: Ethiopia Marriage by abduction, a common practice in parts of Ethiopia, occurs when a man kidnaps a woman or girl, rapes her and then pressures her or her family to marry him. In 2005, following advocacy efforts by the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA), supported by an Equality Now Women’s Action international campaign, Ethiopia abolished the law that provided for exemption from punishment in these cases of abduction and rape if the rapist subsequently married his victim. Equality Now's campaign highlighted the case of Woineshet Zebene Negash, who was abducted at age 13 and raped. In Amhara province where Woineshet is from, 50% of girls 20-24 were married under the age of 15, many of them by force. And although she was rescued and her rapist arrested, when he was released on bail he abducted her again and held her for a month until she managed to escape, but only after he had forced her to sign a marriage certificate. Those involved in Woineshet’s abduction were sentenced to prison; however, in December 2003 the decision was overturned by an appeals court, and the perpetrators were released. Woineshet and her father, backed by Equality Now and EWLA, appealed the case to the Cassation Court, which upheld the decision of the appeals court. The abductor and accomplices remain free, and all domestic legal avenues have been exhausted. Equality Now, in collaboration with EWLA, decided to petition the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ rights, which may be one of the first girl’s rights cases ever referred to them, in a further effort to seek justice for Woineshet and to encourage a decision from the Commission that would press for equal protection of the law in Ethiopia. In the communication, filed in May 2007, Equality Now and EWLA noted the continued prevalence of the bride abduction practice in Ethiopia and noted reports that Woineshet’s abductor has forcibly abducted and married another girl in the village after his release from prison. The Commission is expected to consider the admissibility of the communication at its next session in late April/May 2008. Equality Now’s Nairobi Office Director, Faiza Jama Mohamed, visited Ethiopia in January 2008 to investigate the status of Woineshet’s case following Ethiopia’s reply to EWLA and Equality Now’s communication stating that domestic remedies have not been exhausted because they are bringing a new case against the perpetrator. Faiza met with the Head of the Justice Bureau of Oromiya who told her that in fact the abductor/rapist has not been re-arrested yet, as the prosecutor has just completed reviewing Woineshet’s file. However, new charges may be brought shortly, if so then directly as a result of the African Commission appeal. With EWLA, Faiza also met with Woineshet’s father to brief him on the status of the case. Equality Now and EWLA, with the international legal expertise of Advisory Board member Elizabeth Evatt filed a response to Ethiopia’s request for dismissal of the communication before the African Commission in February 2008. Publicity on the case may be given a boost later this year, thanks to a journalist who is including Woineshet’s story in a TV documentary on child marriage, which will air on US cable network station Oxygen some time in June 2008. In March there will be a national government launch of a campaign in Ethiopia against child marriage, and Woineshet’s story may be told as part of that national campaign. Safe at School: Zambia Equality Now has been actively supporting a case involving the rape of a 13-year-old girl, whom we will refer to as R.M., by her teacher, a crime that occurs all too often in Zambia. Two other teachers confirmed her allegations, and R.M.’s aunt/guardian reported the incident to the school. The teacher admitted to having had sex with R.M. but alleged it was consensual, and remarks reportedly made by the head teacher indicated that this was not the first such incident involving this teacher. The teacher went into hiding, and his parents tried to negotiate with the aunt, who refused to do so and reported the matter to the police. The teacher was arrested but was released on bond and has not been prosecuted. As a result, the aunt consulted a lawyer she knew who agreed to handle the case pro bono as a civil matter. R.M. is seeking damages from the teacher, the school, the Ministry of Education and has enjoined the Attorney General in the suit as the government legal advisor. They are seeking a declaration from the court that girls have the right to be protected when under the care of a teacher. The lawyer is also in touch with the Solicitor General regarding the criminal case. This past summer, Caroline Osero-Ageng’o, a lawyer and program officer in Equality Now’s Nairobi office, met with R.M., her aunt and R.M. ’s lawyer, as well as potential partner organizations in Zambia. Equality Now’s Nairobi Office Director, Faiza Mohamed, along with Equality Now President Jessica Neuwirth, traveled to Zambia to attend the last and final hearing in the civil case held on February 11, 2008, at which the defendant as well as the school principal testified. For final submissions in the case, Equality Now has advised the lawyer on relevant international law, including the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. While in Zambia, Equality Now met with R.M., her aunt and her lawyer, as well as the two teachers who helped R.M. tell her aunt about the incident. They also met with the Director of Public Prosecutions following a letter sent to him urging him to bring criminal charges against the perpetrator and copied to the Attorney General. He was open to reviewing the case and invited Equality Now to submit a letter highlighting the available evidence which has been done. Advocacy around the case is being developed, including a possible Equality Now Women’s Action campaign on the failure of the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute if no further action is taken. In Zambia, Equality Now met with several NGOs, including the Women’s Legal Aid Clinic, Women in Law in Southern Africa, and the Zambian Media Women’s Association. Public education through radio shows and legal trainings seemed promising possibilities. Potential Cases The initiating activity for the Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund included a meeting in Nairobi in December 2006 with representatives of grassroots, human, and women’s rights organization from six East and Southern African countries. The participants were asked to identify cases which either had adolescent plaintiffs or referenced problems that were initiated in adolescence. They were also asked to identify any cases involving adolescents that they could not take on for lack of resources and identify key issues, such as violations of constitutional rights, with regard to adolescent girls’ experiences, that they would like to tackle. During this process it became clear that face-to-face contact on the ground was necessary both to find rights organizations who had the interest and capacity in girls’ rights (even women’s organizations often are unfamiliar with the particular needs of these plaintiffs and their cases and their long-term nature, given the evolving capacity of the girls as plaintiffs). It was further clear that the exceptional and distinctive aspects of adolescent girls’ rights to women’s rights had to be continually defined. Though regular long-distance contact with these organizations may yield potential cases, the face-to-face engagement proposed below under capacity-building is essential to identify the best cases as well as to support the grassroots organizations and build their capacity to both identify and support plaintiffs. The advisory board of the AGLDF and staff of Equality Now will pursue potential cases and as resources become available will take them up. The AGLDF’s current commitment is to follow through on the two cases that have been identified, consider others, but commit only when the financial resources necessary to follow through with the plaintiffs are available. In Equality Now’s experience, these cases can take a numbers of years to unfold—though the advocacy and moral support benefits to the victims can be immediate. Advisory Board Equality Now’s advisory board for the Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund, which is still in formation, is made up of individuals who are able to guide the project and its strategies in a manner that is both culturally sensitive and strategically effective and includes a number of distinguished judges with experience in Africa and experts from the international human rights and women’s rights movements. The members are: Judith Bruce (Population Council), chair of the AGLDF Advisory Board Elizabeth Evatt (former Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women- CEDAW) Jane Fonda (works with adolescent girls in the United States) Marianne Gimon (an independent consultant specialized in gender and international development) Ann Graham (a specialist in women’s philanthropy and currently a consultant to the United Nations) Judge Claire L’Heureux Dubé (former Canadian Supreme Court justice who regularly trains judges in African countries) Carolyn Makinson (Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children with Dale Buscher and Sandra Krause as alternates) Judge Navanethem Pillay (South African judge on the International Criminal Court) A youth advisory board is also in development and is being led by Angel Hopkinson, a high school student from New York, who has started YAYA (Young Americans and Young Africans Working to End Violence and Discrimination Against Adolescent Girls), a club at her school which has raised $725 for the AGLDF to date. We also hope that Woineshet Zebene Negash, the plaintiff in the Ethiopian case who is now a law student, will co-chair. Starting with these two young women, we have an opportunity to connect girls around the world in both developing and developed countries and to sensitize them to their rights. In so doing, we hope to mobilize them to provide both moral and material support. Conclusion Focusing on specific cases of violence and discrimination against women and girls and building efforts around these cases to highlight issues of general concern has been an extremely effective way in which Equality Now has been able to support national initiatives in Africa and elsewhere. Equality Now believes that with the Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund we will foster an environment where laws that protect and promote the rights of women and girls are implemented and respected.