Expert proposes recommendation to protect women after divorce

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Divorce affects men and women differently, so women need extra legal protection, according to an expert on the UN Anti-discrimination committee.

Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

The committee just concluded its discussion of reports by 8 countries on how they are implementing the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). During this last session in New York, Professor Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, Vice President of the Committee, asked participants to provide input to a proposed General Recommendation on the economic consequences of divorce. Chris Weeks found out more from Professor Halperin Kaddari about this proposal.

Halperin-Kaddari: As women gain more economic independence, and can really safeguard their rights within the family, the situation of women in other spheres of life will obviously improve. So that is in a nutshell the basis of the need to come up with a new universal norm.

Weeks: What sort of financial situations can some women find themselves in after divorce?

Halperin-Kaddari: What women all share is that they are worse off following divorce, and following the dissolution of family relations, worse off than men. But women in developing countries may often find themselves just being thrown out of their houses, of the marital homes, with only their belongings with them and nothing else. Or they may find themselves under laws that require them to marry male relatives of deceased husbands, otherwise they will not have any means to sustain themselves. Then, on the other hand, women in the developed world find themselves in harsh economic circumstances after years of resorting to part-time work or even no work outside the home at all, due to their contribution, their non-financial contribution to the household and the family.

Weeks: Have you heard personal testimony of women who, as you put it, have literally been thrown out of the family home after divorce with very few belongings, no money and no prospects?

Halperin-Kaddari: Yes, as a member of the CEDAW committee for two-and-a-half years now, we have heard many such stories, horror stories, from all the NGOs who come and testify in front of us when their countries are reporting.

Weeks: When this addition to the Convention is sorted out, is there concern that it just won't be followed in some cases, and nothing will change?

Halperin-Kaddari: Well, this is a very valid concern, because there is a gap between the law in the books and the law in action. And, with respect to international norms, unfortunately there are many countries who have ratified the convention but are not living up to their commitments and their international commitments. But once we have this norm, I believe that the value is worth the effort.

Weeks: Finally, what is being asked for here? Is it just that women have economic security or is it something more specific?

Halperin-Kaddari: It's not just a question of security, it's the question of their rights during their life course and not having to such pay high price for maintaining family and having children, recognizing the equal share that women with men make to the families and societies at large.

Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, Vice President of the CEDAW committee speaking to Chris Weeks.

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