The NEWW East-East Legal Coalition
Activities Past and Present
At all levels of post-communist societies, citizens of new states are having to quickly conceptualize new rights, new freedoms, new social responsibilities and relationships. This urgent process of social invention demands active citizens, but in many cases, the creation of new public spheres often omits women. The reasons for this are numerous and the social response so far very underdeveloped.
From the beginning, members of the Network of East-West Women supported dialogues among women's rights lawyers and women's NGOs in all the former communist states on these themes. Recognizing the danger of the loss of women's public voice, in 1994 NEWW inaugurated the East-East Legal Coalition, to foster a regional articulation of legal issues and priorities, and to contribute to sustaining the rule of law in the region. In practice, this means women's ability
- to participate in the decision-making process,
- to connect with women in similar situation in other states, and
- to build democratic legal institutions that solidify just political practices.
NEWW'S East-East Legal Coalition (EELC) joins lawyers and women's rights advocates from Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Kosovo/a, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, the Netherlands, and the United States. Members of the coalition work cooperatively to strategize civic and legal action protecting women from violations such as economic discrimination and domestic violence. NEWW provides the EELC with informational resources, technical and institutional support, and both material and fund-raising assistance to carry out local initiatives and coordinate the regional exchange of information.
At its inaugural meeting, in Budapest in June 1994, the EELC identified its goals:
- an oversight function -- disseminating information about the rapidly changing legal structures in the region and the impacts on women, fostering research and reporting;
- a strategy function -- developing legal strategies in employment discrimination, reproductive freedom, sexual battering, as well as in those areas that are apparently gender neutral but are having disparate impacts on the lives of women;
- a legal consultation function -- responding to requests for reviewing existing and proposed laws and drafting new model laws;
- an international legal advocacy function -- analyzing laws under relevant international conventions;
- a legal literacy function -- providing advocates with training in legal literacy, leadership, and program development. Coordinating educational outreach to police, the court system, and the general public to raise awareness of women's social and legal issues;
- an education function -- launching a human rights education campaign to establish pilot human rights education programs throughout the region.
First Steps, 1995-1996
The Fourth UN Conference on Women in Beijing, September 1995, was a key moment for the EELC. Before, during and after the Beijing conference, EELC members from Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and the United States met in Pushkin (near St. Petersburg), Russia, and Warsaw, Poland, for planning and debriefing sessions. Participants from 11 countries organized an East-East Caucus in Beijing to represent regional needs, lobbying on behalf of women's issues specific to the region. On behalf of the caucus, Wanda Nowicka, of the Federation for Women and Planned Parenthood in Poland, spoke before the UN Assembly during the Government Forum and expressed the need for an officially recognized political or geographic region comprising the CEE and FSU countries.
In March 1996, EELC participants met in Saratov, Russia, to present preliminary situation assessments on the status of women prepared by members from Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Russia.
In April 1996, NEWW co-sponsored, with the University of Connecticut School of Law's International Law Program, "The Status of Women in New Market Economies," a conference on women and legal issues in the post-Soviet bloc, bringing together practitioners, scholars, and activists from the region and the United States.
Legal Coalition Activities 1997
With the support of the Open Society Institute, the pace of EELC activities has accelerated significantly in the past year, with a major focus on writing national reports on the legal status of women. Identifying countries with national legal committees ready to begin work on such reports, or with potential given adequate support, is a major undertaking of the EELC.
National Legal Committees
Writing national reports on the legal status of women is a key goal of the EELC. At the beginning of 1997, 11 countries were identified by EELC project staff and advisers as being either "advanced and ready," "with strong potential," or "with potential" for establishing a legal committee and/or writing a legal status report. Russia, Ukraine, and the Kyrgyz Republic, as participants in the 1995-96 ARD/Checchi-sponsored pilot project for developing NIS Legal Committees, had already written preliminary legal status reports. The Ukranian Legal Committee is currently working on revising and updating their original report, and the Russian and Kyrgyz groups will likely embark on similar projects soon. Poland, Czech Republic, Serbia, Lithuania, and Armenia are currently working on their reports; and Albania, identified as a strong possibility before the military troubles that currently plague the country began, will likely join Belarus and Kazakstan in the next wave of report writing.
Croatia, for example, through NEWW's Croatian partner B.a.B.e. (Be active, Be emancipated -- a women's human rights group), has already prepared a draft status report through independent funding, and is working on updating and revising to include women in all of the successor states of Yugoslavia. B.a.B.e. is planning a five-day workshop in September 1997 for 25 women from throughout the former Yugoslavia for training on international human rights mechanisms and reviewing topics and issues in coordinating writing of the legal status report.
A two-day awareness-raising training workshop was held in Belarus in June 1997, directed by Urszula Nowakowska and Isabel Marcus, focusing on issues of domestic violence, gender and law.
The Lithuanian Legal Committee, based at the Vilnius University's Women's Studies Center, is preparing to research and write the women's legal status report.
Three additional countries -- Bosnia-Hercegovina, Romania, and Kosovo/a -- are in the preliminary stages of forming legal committees to work with the EELC.
The national legal committees collaborate with NEWW's On-Line Project for communication, and now also have their own on-line resource, the electronic mailing list neww.rights (in English) and glas.women.rights (in Russian).
NEWW'S On-Line Legal Resource Service
The On-Line Legal Resource Service (OLLRS) is building an extensive electronic library of diverse materials and resources:
So far these materials cover these topics:
- news from the region
- electronic resources
- organizational profiles
- descriptions of publications
The topic currently under development is international human rights law. In-depth research on this subject is the result of a fruitful collaboration with the Women's Rights Advocacy Program (WRAP) of the International Human Rights Law Group (IHRLG) (see below). Documents on these topics are converted into electronic format, disseminated, and archived. A Russian language archive will also be established, primarily to serve legal committees, international organizations, and NGOs working in Russian-speaking countries, the Baltics, Central Asia, and Transcaucasia.
- violence against women
- labor law
- health and reproductive rights
- family law
On-Line and Printed Publications
Additional publications by EELC participants are being prepared.
Guide to Internet Research (forthcoming 1997)
This guide, a follow-up to the NEWW On-Line User's Guide, published in 1995, will be a clear, simple explanation of the electronic tools -- anonymous ftp, gopher, electronic mailing lists, Usenet newsgroups, and the World Wide Web -- used for researching the Internet. It will include such "how to" information as:
- focusing and organizing research
- accessing electronic tools
- using appropriate, or "best/smart practices," of the Internet for research (e.g., when information can better be found by e-mailing the right source than by spending three hours on the Web)
- integrating Internet exploration into office routine and other research methods
Guide to On-Line Legal Resources for Women's Rights Advocates (forthcoming 1997)
This publication will focus on electronic mailing lists, anonymous ftp, gopher, and World Wide Web sites dealing with women's rights issues, with emphasis on information pertinent to advocates and activists in the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe. Each listing will include a description and review of the site named. The guide will include those resources collected through the On-Line Legal Resources Service as well as those relating to UN mechanisms and international human rights treaties obtained from NEWW's partnership effort with the International Human Rights Law Group.
Human Rights Manual
In 1995, in collaboration with the Winrock International NIS/US Consortium, NEWW translated attorney Julie Mertus's women's human rights education manual, entitled Our Human Rights, into Russian for use in workshops at the UN conference in Beijing and in Russia. Mertus, a founding member of the EELC now teaching at Emory University Law School, conducted human rights trainings for the Russian Legal Committee in 1995 and coordinated a new series of workshops with various women's groups in Russia and Ukraine. Our Human Rights will be the focus of one part of a workshop or training by several existing or potential legal committees in the near future. There is also interest in translating Our Human Rights into local languages -- most immediately Kyrgyz, Kazak and Armenian -- pending funding.
The updated English-language edition of Our Human Rights, with the new title of Local Action, Global Change: Learning About the Human Rights of Women and Girls, will be published by the Center for Women's Global Leadership and UNIFEM at the end of 1997.
NEWW's EELC has launched a joint research project with the International Human Rights Law Group, supervised by Alice (Ali) Miller, director of the IHRLG's Women's Right Advocacy Program. This project aims to enhance the ability of national legal committees and other women's NGOs in the region to use UN and European mechanisms to further women's rights and to support the legal committees in preparing their national status of women reports. Key human rights materials, such as the six core human rights treaties and other documents pertinent to women, are being collected. They include:
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD);
- Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT);
- Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC);
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR);
- International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR);
- Conventional on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW);
- the Beijing Platform for Action;
- Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women;
- the 1949 Convention on the Supression of Traffic in Women;
- the 1988 Convention on the Rights of the Migrant Worker;
- key International Labor Organization treaties (Freedom of Association, Non-Discrimination, and Equal Remuneration);
- reports of the Special Rapporteur for Violence Against Women.
In addition, the project continues to gather information on the ratification status of EELC countries, as well as reservations to human rights treaties; initial and periodic country reports to treaty bodies, including reporting schedules and shadow reports that may have been submitted; and information about related European conventions.
This project has produced a report to EELC participants on the status of research to date; the report also outlines research methods used to gather this information and reviews resources legal committees could use in doing such research in the future.
Public Interest Legal Internships
The first formal announcement and call for applications for the public interest internships went out to EELC contacts in December 1996. The response was overwhelming, indicating the enthusiastic interest in this initiative and the intense need for trained advocates for women's rights in the region.
24 applications were received for three internships in the first year. Applicants' qualifications and interest were so great that NEWW is sharing information with them concerning appropriate internships with other organizations.
The first Public Interest Legal Interns for 1997-98 are:
- Roxana Paraschiv, Romania
- Marija Lukic, Serbia
- Saule Vidrinskaite, Lithuania
Strengthening EELC Regional Offices
The Women's Rights Center in Warsaw is the regional center for EELC activities. EELC staff have attended such international meetings as the January 31-February 1, 1997, Central/Eastern European Post-Beijing Women's Networking meeting in Warsaw; the March 6-8, 1997, Baltic Sea Women's Conference in Lübeck, Germany, and the UN Human Rights Commission meetings in Geneva. Potential EELC participants identified at these meetings become part of the EELC database. Reports of these events are shared with EELC members.
The Polish Legal Committee is preparing the report on the legal status of women, to be published in both Polish and English. The committee plans to reach out to lawyers and human rights activists interested in establishing women's rights centers in Gdynia, Gdansk, Cracow, Olsztyn, Torun, and elsewhere in Poland, and is considering the possibility of a Polish newsletter for such persons and groups.
The first training seminar in a series on domestic violence prevention and intervention for police, prosecutors, and judges, funded by the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, took place in March 1997; it used materials prepared by the Women's Rights Center with the assistance of the summer 1996 Buffalo Law School intern. Such experiences are available to share with other EELC country committees and may serve as models for future activities.
Building on her experience with the NIS Legal Network Project, an early precursor of the EELC, Elena Kotchkina is now manager of the Moscow Center for Gender Studies' grant to develop a gender-based analysis of Russian law, state programs, and current legislation. She also has primary responsibility for revising and updating the 1996 Russian legal status of women report. Kotchkina, Nadezda Kuznetsova (Saratov) and Olga Lipovskaya (St. Petersburg) are developing proposals for a newsletter for legal activists and a national directory. They also work with Irina Doskich, CEE/FSU e-mail and coordinator for the Russian On-Line Legal Resource Service.
For a list of participants, publications, or information on how to get on-line, please contact:
Urszula Nowakowska, Regional Director, East-East Legal Coalition
Emilia Piwnik, Regional Coordinator
ul. Wilcza 60 m. 19 V-pietro
00-679 Warsaw, Poland
Tel/fax: +48 22/652-0117; tel: +48 22/622-2517; tel: +48 22/621-3537
FSU EELC coordinator, and researcher
Moscow Center for Gender Studies
Academy of Sciences
27 Krasikova Street
Tel/fax: +7 095/332-4532
E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Network of East-West Women
1601 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 701
Washington, DC 20009
Tel: +1 202/265-3585
Fax: +1 202/265-3508