In Celebration of International Women’s Day

"Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all"-Hillary Clinton
In Celebration of International Women’s Day, we at the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School have compiled a list of just a few of our favorite retweet worthy moments from today’s celebrations and movements around the globe.
Vital Voices, an NGO that empowers emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs around the globe, hosted Global Mentoring Walks in Washington, D.C., Seattle, San Francisco, and in more than 40 cities around the world. image

A march was held to address domestic violence against women, marking International Women’s Day in Beirut.


Women in Kenya also rose up to celebrate and inspire change.


A host of inspirational speakers presented throughout the day at Middlesbrough Town Hall in England.


London was also ready to join the movement!image

As part of the 6th annual UN’s Women Empowerment Principles event (Gender Equality and the Global Jobs Challenge) held this week, topics discussed included business strategies, experience and challenges on increasing and enhancing job opportunities for women and expanding access to decent jobs.

Catch up with the event on the Guardian’s liveblog


These are only a few examples of the inspiring events going on around the globe! Please check in with our twitter feed to catch up on all of the buzz going around about International Women’s Day.

Violence against Native Women in the United States and the Violence against Women Act – One Year In

Decades after being abused by a former husband, the physical and emotional scars are still with Sheila Harjo. She has difficulty speaking because of nerve damage to her face. She vividly remembers the first time he slapped her and the unimaginable cycle of violence that followed. Less than three months after they were married, her husband slapped her. “It hurt so bad,” she recalls. “It was one of those white burning fire things. My face was just burning.” In disbelief, she walked from the room. “Looking back now, I know that was my very first mistake, just letting it go, not saying anything to him. It was like it never happened. We just ignored it.”*

 One year ago this Friday, President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 into law.  This historic moment came a year and a half after the previous authorization had already lapsed, and put an end to a protracted political battle waged over new provisions aimed at increasing protections for particularly vulnerable groups. 

 These long-overdue changes to VAWA include new tools to combat violence against Native women, an epidemic that has gone unnoticed for far too long.  Native women are currently more than twice as likely as non-Natives to be victims of domestic violence, and nearly three out of five have been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners.  New provisions in the 2013 VAWA Reauthorization will empower tribes to prevent and respond to violence against women in Indian Country.  For the first time, tribal governments will be able to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence.  Tribal courts will also have full civil jurisdiction to grant protection orders to ensure the security of Native women whose safety is threatened.  These new provisions are set to take effect in March of 2015.  However, selected tribes have already been authorized to exercise their new prosecution powers through participation in a two-year pilot program. 

 Granting this new authority to tribal governments signals an important change in the way we approach violence in Indian Country.  However, it is only a first step.  We must do more for the 43 percent of Native women who experience rape, physical violence, or stalking during their lifetime, both in preventing violence and prosecuting the offenders.  It is only through increasing awareness and seeking solutions specifically aimed at the unique jurisdictional challenges in Indian Country that we will be able to achieve justice for Native women.  

 Alex Kitson ’16 is a Cornell Law Student and member of Cornell’s Native American Law Student Association.

 Cornell is hosting several events in the coming weeks aimed at bringing attention to this important issue on the one-year anniversary of the new VAWA provisions. Please join us for the following:

Screening of Finding Dawn, March 6 at 5:15pm at Akwe:kon

Panel Discussion on Violence Against Native Women: Resistance and Responses, with panelists Jennifer Denetdale, Sarah Deer, and Amanda Sampson Lomayesva, March 12 at 4:15pm in the Moot Court Room (Rm 390)at Cornell Law School. A reception will immediately follow in the Saperston Student Lounge.

*From the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center

Free Course on Women's Health and Human Rights


International Women’s Health & Human Rights is an open online course offered through Stanford University, taught by Anne Firth Murray, the founding president of the Global Fund for Women.

The course begins in early 2014. Visit to find out more and sign up!

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Access a world of resources. Whether you want to get involved with a local NGO or look up treaties related to women’s health, start your search … 

Innovating Rape Litigation in Afghanistan - Strategic Advocacy for Human Rights

In Afghanistan, cultural stereotypes of female/male sexuality, myths about what rape is and how it happens, as well as misinterpretations of Shariah law have resulted in victim-blaming. In this context, it’s also known as “contributory negligence” to rape. For example, a voluntary act on the part of a rape victim, for instance, entering into a car with a stranger or having a prior acquaintance with the alleged rapist, are often used by prosecutors and judges as proof of consent to sex. This is more commonly known as “implied consent”. Where such conditions are present, consent is “implied” by arguing on the probability of consent (“it was likely she consented”), or otherwise, that proof of non-consent is insufficient.

When a victim is found to have “created the conditions” for rape or taken a risk on that possibility, she herself can be held liable on charges of “moral crimes”, “adultery” or “attempting to commit” the aforementioned. Additionally, the absence of physical resistance (by proof of bruises or wounding) is often taken as proof of consent.  “If she refused his advances, she must have fought back and inevitably sustained some injuries. Thus if she was not injured, this means she consented.”

To tackle these stereotypes, my team and I collated and re-phrased some brilliant arguments from international case law and legal scholarship on rape. By using them as a blueprint, we substantiated each legal point with a basis in Afghan law, Shariah and fiqh (jurisprudence). It was a creative process - going back and forth between counter-arguments and counter-counter- arguments. At each stage, we asked “What is the Shariah basis for this?” Thus we were able to come up with a list of Shariah-based arguments that also conformed to the best practices in international law. By asking critical questions and pushing the boundaries of law, we refined arguments for use in an Afghan courtroom.

Through a Shariah-based approach, we believe that we will be able to cross some hurdles, even if the odds are against us. We have drafted a series of model defence statements for Afghan lawyers to defend rape victims from a conviction of adultery.

On the requirement of resistance

Rape is loosely defined under Article 429 of the Afghanistan Penal Code as a violation of chastity by threat or deception.  In our workshops, we have argued that proof of violence (bruises or wounding) is not a legal element under that definition. Under this article, rape can also occur through a threat. By requiring ‘screaming’ and ‘physical marks’, prosecutors are proposing that in order to be protected by the law, women should fight their attackers and risk their lives to prove “non-consent”. Must women resist regardless the risks? The law cannot require women to endure violence in order for their testimony to be accepted in trial. By doing so, it places women at a legal disadvantage whilst those who rape remain undeterred in the absence of legal accountability. Additionally, why is resistance and self-defense not required in cases of theft and assault? A victim of theft is never questioned or held liable for not fighting back to protect his/her properties.

On the definition of consent

Shariah has also defined consent as a fundamental element of adultery. It is only a crime of adultery where there is consent on both sides. This is evident in the Sunnah (traditions of the Prophet pbuh) which has made clear that the consent given by a woman who was asleep is not full and free consent for the purposes of adultery. Thus legal consent is “full and free consent”. Consent is the exercise of a free and untrammelled right to forbid or withhold that which is being consented. To be legally effective, consent must be freely given. Therefore, even if a complainant consented by saying ‘yes’, circumstances may arise which call into question what factors prompted her consent. We have argued that prosecutors and judges are obliged to enquire into the circumstances of consent. Thus we have taken a hadith (tradition of the Prophet pbuh) to argue that an enquiry into the circumstances of consent is a matter of legal procedure.

On the doctrine of implied consent

As rape victims are often convicted for adultery under the doctrine of “implied consent”, we have argued that the doctrine of “implied consent” is against Shariah law. In fact this doctrine risks enshrining in law the assumption that once a woman goes into another man’s house or accompanies him into a car, she cannot refuse sexual activity with him. If the Court uses this as a measure of consent, in effect the Court renders a man’s “right” to sexual access more important than a woman’s inalienable and Islamic right of integrity and autonomy over her body.  A fact of prior acquaintance or voluntary companionship cannot supersede that right. It implies that it is okay for some women to be raped, or that in certain circumstances, women are not able to say “no” to unwanted sex, a legal position that is extremely inverse to the laws of Shariah on adultery and bodily integrity.

In other words, there is a presumption of integrity and autonomy. The default state of a person is non-consent to touching and any other form of assault, especially one relating to an act which is by nature intrusive, unless consent is acquired. On the basis of this presumption, we have argued that the onus is on the accused to demonstrate that there was consent. The onus is on the accused to demonstrate that he took reasonable steps to ascertain consent.

These are some of the ways in which we have tried to argue within the constraints of the laws in Afghanistan. Through a series of mock-trials, we will test these arguments and ensure we have tackled every line of argument that a court can conjure to defend victims of rape from a charge and conviction of adultery.

Natasha Latiff, Fahmida Islam and Deborshi Barat work with Strategic Advocacy for Human Rights (also known as Femin Ijtihad/ “Critical Thinking”). SAHR conducts legal research and training for lawyers and community mobilisers on using and arguing Shariah and International Law on women’s rights in the family and criminal process. For more info on SAHR/F-I, please see:


Women’s Rights Case Law

Prosecuting Sex Crimes

16 Cases on Gender-Based Violence - Day 16

Join us each day of the 16 days of activism as we feature a different seminal case on gender-based violence and women’s human rights from our online Women and Justice database!

Day 16: Rantsev v Cyprus and Russia (ECHR)

In an historic first judgment concerning cross border human trafficking in Europe, the European Court of Human Rights found that Cyprus and Russia committed a number of human rights violations and failed in their obligations to protect against, as well as to investigate, trafficking.

The case concerns the death of a twenty year-old Russian woman, Oxana Rantseva, who was trafficked from Russia to Cyprus, a destination country for women trafficked from Eastern and Central Europe for the purpose of sexual exploitation. In Cyprus under the ‘artiste’ visa scheme, she was subjected to sexual exploitation in a cabaret in the island’s largest coastal resort, Limassol. Ms Rantseva was found dead in March 2001 below the balcony of an apartment belonging to an employee of the cabaret, having been taken there from a police station by the cabaret’s owner. The police found a bedspread tied to the railing of the balcony on the upper floor of the apartment.  An inquest in Cyprus found she had died as a result of injuries sustained when she jumped from the balcony. 

The case was brought by Nikolay Rantsev, Ms Rantseva’s father. He argued that there was no adequate investigation into the circumstances surrounding his daughter’s death, that she was inadequately protected by Cypriot police while she was still alive and that there was a complete failure to punish the individuals responsible for exposing his daughter to the sexual exploitation and ill treatment which ultimately led to her death.

The Court found that Cyprus, the State of destination in this case, had not only failed to protect Ms Rantseva from being trafficked or from being unlawfully detained prior to her death, but it had also failed to adequately investigate her death.  Russia, the state of origin, was found by the Court to have failed to adequately investigate the way in which Ms Rantseva had been trafficked from its borders. Noting that, as a relatively modern phenomenon, human trafficking is not mentioned in the 1950 European Convention, the Court found that it nevertheless fell within the scope of Article 4 of the Convention (prohibiting slavery, servitude, and forced or compulsory labour).  The Court elaborated on the positive obligations of states in the context of Article 4 with respect to trafficking, holding that there is a positive obligation on states to adopt appropriate and effective legal and administrative frameworks, to take protective measures, and to investigate trafficking where it has already occurred.

Please see more on the case here.

The Women and Justice Collection offers a free searchable database of case law with unique access to judicial decisions from around the world that apply international or domestic law to protect women’s rights and prevent and punish gender-based violence.

Shut Up or Get Out: Chronic Nuisance Ordinances Punish Domestic Violence Victims Who Call the Police - 16 Days of Activism Against GBV

Last year in Norristown, Pa., Lakisha Briggs’ boyfriend physically assaulted her, and the police arrested him. But in a cruel turn of events, a police officer then told Ms. Briggs, “You are on three strikes. We’re gonna have your landlord evict you.”

Yes, that’s right. The police threatened Ms. Briggs with eviction because she had received their assistance for domestic violence. Under Norristown’s “disorderly behavior ordinance,” the city penalizes landlords and tenants when the police respond to three instances of “disorderly behavior” within a four-month period. The ordinance specifically includes “domestic disturbances” as disorderly behavior that triggers enforcement of the law.

After her first “strike,” Ms. Briggs was terrified of calling the police. She did not want to do anything to risk losing her home. So even when her now ex-boyfriend attacked her with a brick, she did not call. And later, when he stabbed her in the neck, she was still too afraid to reach out. But both times, someone else did call the police. Based on these “strikes,” the city pressured her landlord to evict. After a housing court refused to order an eviction, the city said it planned to condemn the property and forcibly remove Ms. Briggs from her home. The ACLU intervened, and the city did not carry out its threats, and even agreed to repeal the ordinance. But just two weeks later, Norristown quietly passed a virtually identical ordinance that imposes fines on landlords unless they evict tenants who obtain police assistance, including for domestic violence.

In April, the ACLU, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and the law firm Pepper Hamilton filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Briggs, challenging the ordinance. These laws violate tenants’ First Amendment right to petition their government, which includes the right to contact law enforcement. They also violate the federal Violence Against Women Act, which protects many domestic violence victims from eviction based on the crimes committed against them, and the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, and just celebrated its 45th anniversary . The ACLU has long argued that evictions based on domestic violence can discriminate against women, because such evictions are often motivated by gender stereotypes that hold victims responsible for the abuse they experience, and because the vast majority of victims are women.

Norristown is not alone. Cities and towns across the United States have similar laws, sometimes referred to as “nuisance ordinances” or “crime-free ordinances.” We represented a domestic violence victim in Illinois, who after years of experiencing abuse, decided to reach out to the police for the first time. The police charged her husband with domestic battery and resisting arrest. Yet only a few days later, the police department sent her landlord a notice, instructing the landlord to evict the victim under the local ordinance based on the arrest. The message was clear: calling the police leads to homelessness.

A recent study of Milwaukee’s nuisance ordinance showed that domestic violence was the third most common reason that police issued a nuisance citation, far above drug, property damage, or trespassing offenses. The study also established that enforcement of the ordinance disproportionately targeted African-American neighborhoods. The result? Women of color, like Ms. Briggs, were less able to access police protection.

Effective law enforcement depends on strong relationships between police and members of the community. These ordinances undermine that trust, by punishing victims who call 911 and coercing them to endure escalating violence in silence. Even worse, Norristown reports that domestic violence victims make up 20 percent of its homeless population. In order to reduce domestic violence and homelessness, Norristown should repeal the ordinance, and keep it off the books for good. And other towns that are considering enacting or enforcing these ordinances should learn the same lesson.

Sandra S. Park is a Staff Attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project. This was originally posted on the ACLU Blog of Rights  Learn more about domestic violence and other civil liberties from the ACLU: Sign up for breaking news alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

16 Cases on Gender-Based Violence - Day 15

Join us each day of the 16 days of activism as we feature a different seminal case on gender-based violence and women’s human rights from our online Women and Justice database!

 Day 15: Maria de Penha v Brazil (Inter-American Commission)

The Inter-American Commission stressed the importance of judicial reform when it recommended that domestic violence awareness trainings and special mechanisms for victims of domestic violence be instituted in Brazil following this tragic case.

In 1983, María da Penha Maia Fernandes’ husband, Marco Antônio Heredia Viveiros, attempted to kill her by shooting her while she was asleep. As a result of the wounds, she suffered irreversible paraplegia in addition to other physical and psychological trauma. When she returned from the hospital, Mr. Heredia Viveiros attempted to electrocute her in the bath. She alleged that he had assaulted both her and their daughters throughout their marriage. The couple subsequently separated. Due to her injuries, Ms. Fernandes suffered a loss of independence; she required ongoing physical therapy, medication and medical attention. She received no financial assistance from her ex-husband to cover her medical expenses, nor the alimony stipulated in their separation order.

The public prosecutor filed criminal charges against Mr. Heredia Viveiros, but the case languished eight years before he was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in prison. The defense filed a time-barred appeal, which the court considered, vacating the prior decision. The second trial also found Mr. Heredia Viveiros guilty and sentenced him to ten years. A subsequent appeal had not been decided upon at the time the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights considered the cas.. Mr. Heredia Viveiros remained free from custody throughout the interim.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that Brazil’s failure to prosecute the attempted murder of María da Penha by her husband more than fifteen years after criminal charges were filed represented a pattern of State-condoned violence against women. The Commission found that the Government violated of Articles 3, 4 and 7 of the Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará), which include the right to be free from violence, women’s rights to enjoy all internationally-protected human rights, and the State’s obligation to condemn violence against women. It recommended: that criminal proceedings be instituted against the perpetrator, that an investigation be undertaken regarding the unwarranted delays in prosecuting the case, that the victim be compensated, and that the judicial reform process be expanded to include domestic violence awareness trainings as well as special mechanisms for victims of domestic violence.

Please see more on the case here.

The Women and Justice Collection offers a free searchable database of case law with unique access to judicial decisions from around the world that apply international or domestic law to protect women’s rights and prevent and punish gender-based violence.