International: Lobbying for Women's Rights at the UN - an interview with Leyla Pervizat

Meydaan via WUNRN
Leyla Pervizat is a Turkish feminist researcher and activist who played a pivotal role in lobbying for the UN resolution on elimination of crimes against women and girls committed in the name of honour. An interview by Soheila Vahdati.
Leyla Pervizat is a Turkish feminist researcher and activist who played a pivotal role in lobbying for the UN resolution on elimination of crimes against women and girls committed in the name of honour [see link below]. I contacted Dr. Pervizat through a mutual friend, Lois Herman, who is also an activist at the UN level. Since honor crimes continue to exist in Iran and especially, regarding stoning which is a form of state-sponsored honor crime, I interviewed Dr. Pervizat regarding her activism at the UN level. I would like to express my gratitude to Lois Herman for making this interview possible and express my best wishes for Dr. Pervizat on her future success.

--Soheila Vahdati

Vahdati: Dr. Leyla Pervizat, you have had a pivotal role in passing the UN resolution on elimination of crimes against women and girls committed in the name of honor. Considering the fact that there is a UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, would you please explain your reasons for the emphasis on crimes of honor and your motivations to initiate the efforts to address this issue at the UN level?

Pervizat: Declarations and resolutions are not the same things. They have different purposes conceptually and strategically. We, women’s human rights defenders working on violence against women, should be on our feet and ever vigilant to keep these horrendous violations at the top of the agenda. Resolutions are one of the ways to do that. Resolutions are narrow and specific documents.

If you want to introduce a rarely discussed issue before the United Nations system, you must work on introducing and integrating the language relating to your issue into the all relevant resolutions. Of course, this is done by way of consistent and perseverant lobbying, spanning over a long period of time.

When I first started lobbying on the crimes of honour at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva around ten years ago, no one knew what crimes of honour was, and I was told persistently to go to the New York where ‘they do women.’ So naturally, I kept insisting to be at the Commission on Human Rights and kept coming back to Geneva! Of course, Commission on Human Rights is a highly political mechanism, like the General Assembly, where heated debates took place and also a very mainstream and “malestream” body. This is where I wanted to raise the issue. Women’s issues and agendas should be at the mainstream mechanisms at very high levels. Not at some only women’s issues bodies and mechanisms. So we should especially work on resolutions where there is a great level of gender blindness. So target all relevant mechanisms with a feminist perspective in mind.

Vahdati: Could you please explain the process of proposing this resolution and having it adopted by the General Assembly? Please explain how long did it take, who were the other involved parties or organizations, and how did you attract all of the countries’ support, etc.

Pervizat: The specific resolution was first introduced by the Netherlands in the fall of 2000. The resolution is tabled every two years. Now there is a general resolution on violence against women, and crimes of honour is part of this big one (?) since last fall. At the beginning there were some problems surrounding the tabling of this resolution. Then, in 2004, Turkey and the United Kingdom main sponsored the resolution jointly. It was a huge success. We have eight main sponsors from the Organization of Islamic Countries to this resolution.

To be more specific in answering your question, as you might know, the nongovernmental organizations do not introduce the resolutions at the United Nations. I strongly suggest learning the process of the United Nations and the procedures surrounding all of the meetings. It is crucial to start using the United Nations mechanisms much more frequently and wisely. But we first must learn it!

If you have an issue that you would like to bring up, first find out the relevant documents and procedures around this issue. Then you must identify friendly and unfriendly states towards these issues, start lobbying all of them continuously until you achieve whatever you want to achieve. Establishing ongoing personal connections with the diplomats are very important. Lobbying is not only about attending the meetings but providing the states with information all year around. Length of time varies for each different case. For me it was around nine years. But length of time cannot be measured equally for different people. Just go into it and decide on your strategy. It is a creative work believe it or not!

Vahdati: How do you evaluate the actual impact of this resolution on reducing or eliminating the crimes of honor against women and girls in different countries, and specially in the Middle East? Is the issue being seriously followed up by the UN related bodies?

Pervizat: The subject of the resolution is being followed in different mechanisms and various forms around the United Nations system. Obviously it is crucial to make these resolutions come alive in our daily lives. I mean states exercise due diligence to eradicate these crimes and tackle the issue of impunity. The declarations and resolutions are very important documents to identify the states’ intentions and positions on the issue but all these documents must be translated into actions on the ground. What governments did with the resolution varies greatly. For Turkey, there was some work done but not enough. Maybe a personal experience can clarify the situation vividly. After the resolution was adopted second time at the United Nations General Assembly in 2002, I coordinated the efforts of translating the resolution into 13 different languages. I subsequently distributed the resolution around the world to many different actors and organizations. Of course, I also gave the resolution to one of the women’s organization in South East Turkey, a poor region with a history of armed conflict. In one of the smaller cities of the region, women were conducting a women’s human rights awareness workshop. So participants were given a copy of this resolution in Turkish as well as in Kurmanci, a language spoken by the Kurds in country. When an illiterate participant, who was not fluent Turkish speaker, asked about the resolution, it was explained to her that this is a resolution from the United Nations. Of course, she also did not know what United Nations was; so this was also explained to her. Then, after hearing that the resolution is about the crimes of honour and at some far distant place called New York, some people took the effort working on this issue. Then she said “Oh you mean that honour killing is not my destination?”

Anything and everything we do is very powerful and transformative, and we sometimes forget that how connected we are. This is a very powerful story that I love to tell, especially, to the diplomats since they always ask me whether the work they do is relevant to the women on the ground whether it has any impact. It is very relevant and it does have a huge impact. But we, as the activists and nongovernmental organizations working on the ground, are the key actors to make that link.

Vahdati: As you know, there are specific crimes of honor in Iran that are sanctioned and in some cases even sponsored by the state. If a man murders a woman for illegitimate sexual relationship, he will not be punished. Flogging and stoning to death are legal forms of punishments for fornication and adultery, respectively. Having combated against crimes of honor for so many years, what suggestions and guidance would you offer for the human rights activists and women rights defenders in Iran, including the Stop Stoning Forever Campaign activists, to effectively address the issue?

Pervizat: What is happening in Iran with the stoning and flogging is NOT acceptable. It should stop NOW. Women’s human rights activists should follow a multidimensional and holistic strategy to end this.

First of all, international attention to the issue is very good but not without a price to pay. Each time there is an attention from outside to any issue, but specifically to women’s human rights violations, there is a strengthening resistance and backlash. At the same time, there is a more ‘covering up’ of these cases in many different aspects.

What I suggest is to lobby the eradication of the issue through the international human rights mechanisms as well as funding the like-minded groups in Iran. But at the end of the day, just start listening to the women on the ground, what exactly do they want to do? Their voices will lead the way. You can use your local connections. I am sure that they will guide much better than anyone else can. You as, Iranian Diaspora, you can do your share, of course. However, you should also be prepared for the backlash as well as being ‘another outsider’. We have similar situation with Turkey originating population in Europe as well. Just remember that it is an ongoing and ever evolving web so it is highly complex and intertwined, thus requires innovative leadership and taking risks. It is not easy and there are no set of rules.

Just follow your feminist’s intuition and do not forget to include the men as agents of change in eradication of these crimes.

Vahdati: Thank you very much for your time.