On October 27, 2016, RESURJ held a webinar entitled: the Shortcomings of Penal Policies in Addressing Sexual and Reproductive Rights Violations, inviting four outstanding speakers working on different aspects of criminalization, and through different forums to speak. Each of the speakers shared with us some of their findings from the work they do and encouraged the audience in different ways to engage in a discussion on the search to find alternatives that complement and add to the criminalization of SR violations, in a way that achieves restorative justice for survivors of these violations.
The four main speakers at the webinar were:
Dalia Abdel-Hameed, Gender and Women's Rights Officer, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Jaime Todd-Gher, Legal Advisor in the Law and Policy Programme at Amnesty International
Maliha Zia, Team Lead Capacity Building, Legal Aid Society
Sinara Gumieri, Researcher and Legal Advisor at Anis - Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender/RESURJ
The discussion began with Jaime addressing the question of what we have learned from our work on sexual and reproductive rights violations at the international level in terms of criminalization and penal policies. It moved next to Sinara who outlined some of the most common problems associated with the criminal justice system, including implementation of the law – in particular the domestic violence law in Brazil and its non-penal provisions for addressing domestic violence and the obstacles facing efforts to prevent these violations in the first place. Dalia then spoke about the work in Egypt they lead around sexual harassment and the grass root work that has ensured a more successful implementation of the law as opposed to the female genital cutting law in Egypt, which is imposed by the government and is accompanied by no efforts to enforce it. Maliha also discussed some of the alternative dispute resolution means they are working on exploring, concluding with the fact that this is too early in the discussion to find out if they are working and can be considered success cases. She also discussed how increased punishment has driven law enforcement officials and judges away from implementing the law.
The discussion then returned to Jaime who told us that despite the international framework being inclined to oblige states to criminalize to meet their obligations, there are principles in international human rights law that would give us the ammunition to question criminalization measures and ensure that they do not unduly discriminate against women, youth, and minorities. Dalia also warned us against using the narrow perspective of the right to privacy approach from human rights law for addressing these issues, and told us how we need to also discuss the issue of consent. Finally, Sinara concluded the first part of the webinar by calling on everyone to actually have this discussion in an open safe space, where concerns that criminalization is the only alternative to resolving the issue are heard and acknowledged while we collectively discuss how else we can work on this issue.
Some of the questions and comments that came to the speakers after their introductory remarks revolved around how to avoid making the call for decriminalization look like it’s a call for approval of the violations; how to integrate the economic interlinkages discussion within this debate; whether or not increased penalties will actually discourage reporting; how to move from criminalization to transformative justice within communities; and, whether or not the expressive function of criminal law can also lie in changing the power balance between perpetrators and victims.
We invite feminists and other interested actors from the different movements to continue to engage with us in this debate, and in particular, in discussing alternatives to the criminalization approach and sharing success stories from their various socio-economical and political contexts. Comments and case studies can be shared with us on our email: firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to comment below.
RESURJ began this work by hosting a cross-regional dialogue in April 2016 to assist us in understanding better what exactly are the shortcomings of utilizing a quick fix, solely focused on the criminal justice system approach to our issues. After gaining a better understanding of the problematic aspects of this approach, which we summarized in a meeting outcome statement (also available in Arabic, French, Spanish and Portuguese), we felt the need to start a dialogue with allies and stakeholders around the alternatives and the way forward in advocating for more comprehensive policies to address SRR violations.