Archive for March 30th, 2010

1. CWP Opens a New Activity Center in Tel-Aviv-Jaffa

After nearly a decade of activity, CWP is finally opening an office and activity center. The new center is located on Yad Harutzim Street, in South-Central Tel-Aviv, and will be open within the next few weeks. We hope that this center will become a home for local peace activists, serve as a space for political meetings and events and encourage new actions and initiatives. We also hope that the new space will be a meeting point for our international friends and supporters and enable them to join our activities and to work with us on joint actions.

2. Call for Action on Global BDS Day, March 30

The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) has issued a call for action to mark the second Global BDS Day of Action on March 30 2010, in solidarity with the Palestinian people and for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israeli institutions and corporations. This Day of Action coincides with Palestinian Land Day, which marks the struggle against the expropriation and colonization of Palestinian lands and commemorates six Palestinian demonstrators killed by Israeli security forces on the first Land Day in 1976.

BDS is an effective and nonviolent form of struggle, intended to generate international pressure on Israel to end the occupation and to bring justice to the Palestinian people. As Desmond Tutu noted with regards to the end of apartheid in South Africa: “We would not have succeeded without international pressure – in particular the divestment movement of the 1980’s”. The Palestinian call for BDS measures against Israel, issued in 2005, has grown into a powerful global solidarity movement. CWP has decided in its General Assembly in November 2009 to support the Palestinian call for BDS and we see ourselves as part of this international movement.

What can you do?

CWP’s online database, “Who Profits from the Occupation?”, was launched in January 2009 and has since become a leading source of information about corporate involvement in the occupation and a key asset to the global movement of economic activism and BDS. You can search the WhoProfits website to find ideas for action on March 30. Some suggestions:

* Demand that your university, church council, workers union or pension fund divest from Israeli and international companies that are involved in the occupation. The WhoProfits research team can help in surveying investment portfolios to identify these companies. For example, in May 2009, following a campaign initiated by CWP, the Norwegian

Pension Fund declared that it will divest from Elbit, an Israeli company that provides surveillance technologies for the Apartheid Wall.

* Organize a creative action targeting a corporation that is involved in the occupation. Hundreds of Israeli and international companies that violate international human rights law await you at the WhoProfits database. You might like to try: Carmel Agrexco – Israel’s largest exporter of agricultural produce. In a court case in November 2006, the General Manager of Agrexco UK at the time testified that Agrexco markets 60-70% of the agricultural produce grown in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories. 50% of Agrexco’s shares are owned by the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and the company serves as a tool in Israel’s colonialist expansion and land expropriation. Agrexco exports are sold in many supermarkets around the world, particularly in the European Union.

Ahava – A privately held Israeli cosmetics company that manufactures products using minerals and mud from the Dead Sea, sold in beauty stores around the world. The company’s main factory and visitor center are located in the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Shalem in the occupied West Bank and nearly 45% of the company’s shares are held by the Israeli settlements Mitzpe Shalem and Kalia.

Support existing BDS campaigns facing challenges. Last week, UC Berkeley’s student senate voted in support of divestment from General Electric and United Technologies because of their involvement in the occupation. A week later, the Senate president vetoed the bill. However, the veto can be overturned with just 14 senate votes – and the students need you to email the UC Berkeley senators to let them know why they should overturn the veto. Write a letter to (if possible, include in bcc). In France, the Israeli lobby is trying to introduce new laws that will deem any BDS activity as “anti-Semitic” and the French Prime Minister and Minister of Justice have been attacking the BDS movement. One activist, Sakina Arnaud from Bordeaux, is facing trial for putting BDS stickers on orange juice at a local supermarket. You can sign the petition in support of Arnaud and against the criminalization of BDS (endorsed by CWP).

3. Universal Jurisdiction Update

In December 2009, following an arrest warrant issued in London against Tzipi Livini for war crimes committed during the war on Gaza, the British government announced its intent to limit the principle of universal jurisdiction, which enables the prosecution of foreign war criminals. CWP initiated an urgent appeal to the British Prime Minister and to the British Foreign Secretary, urging them to not take this dangerous step. The letter was endorsed by 99 feminist peace organizations from 25 countries, among them 20 Israeli and Palestinian organizations.

The letter helped generate international and internal pressure on the British government. In March 2010, the British cabinet announced that it will postpone any changes to universal jurisdiction until after the general elections. We would like to thank all of the people and organizations, who helped us in signing and spreading this appeal.

4. Stay in Touch

We are currently in the process of rebuilding and improving our website. We apologize for the inconvenience, but in the meantime you can receive regular updates about our work through our Facebook fan page:

For any questions and comments, or to be subscribe to our international mailing list, please write to:

In Solidarity,
The Coalition of Women for Peace


In 1985 the Joint Action Group against Violence against Women (JAG) organised a historic workshop cum exhibition on VAW calling for law reforms to rape, prostitution, domestic violence and amendments to all laws that discriminate against women. The workshop also highlighted issues on the negative portrayal of women in the media and sexual harassment in the workplace.

The 1985 workshop raised public awareness on violence against women and led to the formation of several new women’s rights organisations which joined JAG. Since then the membership of JAG has evolved and in 2010 JAG, now known as the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality comprises five (5) women’s groups, namely:
* All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
* Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
* Sisters In Islam (SIS)
* Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
* Women’s Centre for Change (WCC), Penang

Since 1985, JAG has diligently documented, monitored and lobbied for law and policy reforms on all aspects of women’s human rights. Several strategies were adopted to advocate and lobby about the government’s duty to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.

For instance, on 30th April 2008, JAG reminded the newly elected Members of Parliament (MP) about their election promises on gender equality issues and published “Kotakan Kata” which summed up a list of pending law and policy reform.

When analyzing JAG’s advocacy efforts and government response we detect a pattern of promises made but not kept. The government makes all the right noises and moves – receiving memoranda, setting up taskforces and committees, conducting studies, holding dialogues and organising huge conferences and public campaigns but all to no avail as they have not followed up with actual delivery.

The lack of political will is supported by a political creed of divide and rule whereby a divisive discourse of race and religion continues to be perpetuated by the government and political parties. For instance, after the 2008 General Elections, the Government set up the “Sekretariat Pembelaan dan Permekasakan Wanita Islam” (SENADA) for issues related to Muslim women only, while the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (MWFCD) deals with non-muslim women’s rights. SENADA, which is now under the MWFCD, only serves to perpetuate a false divide between Muslim and non-Muslim women. It also defeats the purpose of the MWFCD to be inclusive and representative of all women’s rights issues.

The government’s power appears to be limitless given a menu of oppressive laws, such as the Internal Security Act, Sedition Act, discriminatory provisions in the Penal Code and Syariah enactments which are selectively used to silence dissent and curb differing views. No one has been spared from the brunt of these oppressive laws whether media, NGOs and politicians.

JAG’s efforts in the past 25 years have seen historical movements of lobbying, documenting and monitoring for law reform. Our national history has seen a myriad of the good, bad and ugly side of law and policy reforms and implementation. Some of the more positive achievements are the amendments to the Penal Code to include wider definitions of rape; the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act; and amendment to the Guardianship of Women and Infants Act, including a cabinet directive giving all mothers the equal right to sign official documents to manage the affairs of their children. Also welcome was the amendment in 1997 to the Distribution Act to allow a surviving wife to inherit the whole of the estate instead of only one third.

Similarly in 1995 Malaysia ratified the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and shortly after, the One Stop Crisis Centre (OSCC) was established in hospitals nationwide. Other good news includes the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1995 and the establishment of the toll free Talian Nur hotline for women in crisis. In 2002, an amendment to Article 8 of the Federal Constitution guarantees women equal rights.

While it is admirable that efforts have been made to establish and implement new law reforms, we must not let it overshadow the lack of effort to execute them effectively.

Issues which have been discussed but with little follow up and commitment for improvement include the reforms to Islamic Family Law, the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976; recognizing psychological violence as a form of domestic violence; amendment to the Local Government Act 1976 enabling local government elections to be held, the enactment of a Sexual Harassment Act, and amendment to the Parliamentary Standing Order to curb sexist behaviours and remarks.

Committees such as the National Advisory Council for the Integration of Women in Development (NACIWID) and even the Cabinet Committee for Gender Equality appear to be ineffectual.

The ugly side that degrades women still continues to shock and appal those working towards a progressive nation today. Sexism reigns in the debates in parliament and among politicians, marital rape has yet to be recognized and the sexual abuse of Penan women was an eye opener. Recently the use of Section 498 to sue a wife’s alleged boyfriend is both demeaning and outdated. Degrading too are the sexist and discriminatory comments made by Perak ADUN Hamidah Osman about how women can run households, but cannot run state governments.

Even uglier is the fact that child brides are still evidently in existence in our country today. Women are being sentenced to whipping for the first time under Syariah Law. Women who are asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers are vulnerable to both sex and labour trafficking. Orang Asal and Orang Asli rights are still not on the main agenda, and the increase in women contracting HIV/AIDS is not addressed.

While we acknowledge that positive changes have taken place in light of JAG’s 25 years of advocacy, we are disappointed and angered that the full realization of gender equality has been sluggish. Each time an issue arises, the authorities are quick to respond with more reports, studies and conferences, but fails dismally when it comes to taking effective comprehensive action.

JAG realises that a lot more has to be done in order to eliminate gender inequalities and discrimination. We urge Members of the Parliament and in particular the Parliamentary Gender Caucus to keep raising women’s issues and fulfil their duty to the citizens in keeping the government honest to their commitments.

This statement is released by JAG comprising:

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO). P.O. Box 493 Jalan Sultan, 46760 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia. Tel: 60 3 7957 5636 / 0636 Fax: 60 3 7956 3237 Email:

Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER), 13 Lorong 4/48E, 46050 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia. Tel: 60 3 77844977 Fax: 60 3 77844978 Email:

All Women’s Action Society, 85 Jalan 21/1, Sea Park, 46300 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia. Tel: 60 3 78774221 Fax: 03 78743312 Email:

Sisters in Islam (SIS), 7 Jalan 6/10, Petaling Jaya, 46000 Selangor, Malaysia.
Tel: 60 3 77856121 Fax: 60 3 77858737 Email:

Women’s Centre for Change (WCC), 24 Jones Road, 10250 Penang, Malaysia.
Tel: 60 4 2280342 Fax: 60 4 228578 Email:


See also:
* Police Investigates Sisters in Islam on the Caning of Three Muslim Women under the Shariah Criminal Offences Law
* Support the Right to Freedom of Expression in Malaysia – Please sign up now for Freedom of Expression in Malaysia

The Global Campaign is pleased to announce the publication of our first Policy Briefing Series on culturally-justified violence against women (CVAW). Launched on March 3rd, 2010 at our panel discussion at the 54th UN Commission on the Status of Women, the Series is a valuable resource for those working on issues of CVAW. Policy Briefing Series I includes the following titles:

  • No Justice in Justifications: Violence Against Women in the Name of Culture, Religion and Tradition
    Shaina GreiffThis paper gives a general overview of discourses on culture, tradition, and/or religion that are used to justify, and therefore perpetuate, specific manifestations of VAW in our focal countries, as well as local methods to counter such arguments. While recognising that culture and religion can be empowering for, and central to, both individual and collective identities, this article will look at the misuse of these discourses for the purpose of sanctioning impunity for perpetrators and silencing dissenters. This discussion concludes with recommendations for activists, scholars, and policy makers.
  • Stoning is Not our Culture: A Comparative Analysis of Human Rights and Religious Discourses in Iran and Nigeria
    Rochelle Terman & Mufuliat FijabiSince stoning is implemented differently in different contexts, this paper presents two case studies – Iran and Nigeria – in order to examine the issue in a comparative perspective. These case studies detail the specific ways in which stoning arises, as well as how local activists work to eliminate stoning in their own countries. We conclude with specific recommendations to policy makers and civil society.
  • Criminalizing Sexuality: Zina laws as Violence against Women in Muslim Contexts
    Ziba Mir HosseiniThis paper shows how zina laws and the criminalization of consensual sexual activity can also be challenged from within Islamic legal tradition. Far from mutually opposed, approaches from Islamic studies, feminism and human rights perspectives can be mutually reinforcing, particularly in mounting an eff ective campaign against revived zina laws. By exploring the intersections between religion, culture and law that legitimate violence in the regulation of sexuality, the paper aims to contribute to the development of a contextual and integrated approach to the abolition of zina laws, thereby broadening the scope of the debate over concepts and strategies of the SKSW Campaign.

In 2007, the Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women (SKSW Campaign), was launched to end the relentless misuse of religion and culture to justify the killing, maiming and torture of women as punishment for violating the imposed ‘norms’ of sexual behaviour. Violence against women is never acceptable, and yet its manifestations are diverse, prolific, and cut across all cultures.

Our Key Messages:

  • Culturally-justified violence against women and all its manifestations cannot be condoned and tolerated , whenever and wherever they occur.
    Both State and non-state actors are increasingly using culture to ‘justify’ carrying out violence against women. When these acts are given legitimacy, whether at the international or regional levels, it promotes the idea that there is an inherent cultural right to execute violence amongst certain communities. This is patently unacceptable and must be rejected. When such conservative forces claim ownership over an ‘authentic’ interpretation of culture, tradition and/or religion, women are not only told to accept violence, they are denied the fulfillment of their potential as equal and active contributors to the development and production of culture.
  • Human rights are universal, indivisible, and inalienable to each and every person
    States are accountable to their existing obligations under international law to prevent, investigate, punish and redress all acts of violence against women, whether in peacetime or armed conflict, regardless of whether the perpetrators are State or non-State actors. We are calling for the repeal of all national-level laws that facilitate or condone harmful acts against women for alleged sexual and moral transgressions as a critical step without which women subject to gender-based violence have little or no legal recourse.
  • Ending discrimination against women is the ultimate solution to culturally-justified violence against women
    Patriarchal interpretations of cultural norms and traditions including religious texts in many societies which promote a mind-set which claims women’s bodies and sexuality as the prerogative of her male family and/or community members still abound. Women who do not conform to prescribed norms, especially those related to her sexuality, are ostracised and and subjected to brutal, cruel and sadistic reprisals by members of her own family and community. The Campaign actively promotes the importance of evolving a more gender-equitable, rights-based value systems.

A bill to protect women in Jammu and Kashmir from domestic violence was introduced in the legislative Assembly earlier this month.

Introducing the bill, Social Welfare Minister Sakina Ittoo said the bill, aimed at giving protection to women against any kind of violence within the family, will be a ‘historical legislation’ in the state.

The bill defines ‘domestic violence’ to include actual abuse or threats by husbands that is physical, sexual, verbal, emotional or economic. Harassment by way of dowry demands would also be covered under the definition.

According to the objectives of the bill, the measure seeks to ‘protect the women from being victims of domestic violence in society and cover those women who are in a relationship with the abuser where both parties have lived together in a shared household and are related by consanguinity, marriage, adoption in addition to relationship with family members living together as a joint family’.

‘However, whereas the bill enables the wife to file a complaint under the proposed enactment against any relative of the husband or the male partner, it does not enable female relatives of the husband or the male partner to file a complaint against the wife or the female partner.’

The bill also provides for the right of women to secure housing and to reside in her matrimonial home or shared household, whether or not she has any title or rights there.

UNICEF Regional Director Dan Toole has highlighted the challenges facing children and families during a six day visit to Afghanistan.

Together with Afghan President Hamid Karzai he launched the country’s National Immunization Days 2010 on 14 March – a campaign which aims to immunize nearly eight million children against polio in three days.

He emphasized the right of all girls to lives free from violence during a visit to Herat in western Afghanistan where he spoke with girls and women in a safe house, where victims of early marriage or domestic violence find can find refuge.

“It’s shocking to hear the stories of these girls, some of them hardly nine years old, who have been forced from home into an unwanted relationship, often with a man five times their age,” he said, also noting that the perpetrators of such crimes often go unpunished.

UNICEF is working to increase the numbers of girls in school by supporting the training of female teachers and setting up child-friendly classrooms. Mr. Toole visited female students at Herat Girls High School to see such efforts firsthand.

“To see such a big number of girls who are enthusiastic about becoming teachers, doctors or engineers is extremely encouraging. Their protection is among our key concerns in this country where early marriage and the denial of access to education for females is still deeply rooted in the society,” said Mr. Toole.

“Especially in high-risk, difficult to access areas, UNICEF is promoting community-based schools,” said UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Catherine Mbengue. “We set up community management committees for each school, discussing with them from the onset the importance of girls’ education and their role in making it happen.”

Afghanistan has seen an improvement in the number of children – including girls – who are enrolled in school. Today about three quarters of boys and nearly half of girls of primary school age are enrolled in primary school. While this is a drastic increase from the 42 per cent rate for boys and 15 per cent rate for girls in 2000, the gender gap remains wide.

Lack of security is a significant concern for both Afghan citizens and humanitarian workers. A total of 613 school incidents were recorded from January to November 2009, a frightening increase from 348 incidents in 2008. Insecurity is pervasive — with continued threats and direct attacks against schools, health centres and humanitarian workers.

“We are concerned about the positioning of UNICEF in an increasingly complex environment,” said Mr. Toole. “Our mandate is apolitical, but not when it comes to the basic rights of children. Humanitarian support is needed at the bottom, and development of the country will come from the Afghan citizen.

“The children whom we assist today are the adults of tomorrow,” he added.

Rights activists blame the economy, Hamas-Fatah tensions and the conflict with Israel for the rising number of cases of violence against women. Disinterest in domestic abuse by the judicial authorities and the apparent impunity of violators have made matters worse, they say.

A March 2010 report by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) explores women’s perceptions of the organizations or legal bodies designed to protect them, based on focus group discussions and interviews with women and girls in the West Bank and Gaza between June and November 2009.

“Women and girls revealed that their feelings of insecurity are related to the ongoing conflict, society’s tacit acceptance of violence against women, their own lack of awareness of service providers, and their distrust of the available services,” the report said.

“Women and girls explained that they were reluctant to resort to women’s organizations, human rights organizations, or security and justice providers, such as the police and courts, because of the strong social stigma attached to reporting abuse.”

The report said women recommended more awareness-raising events and education campaigns for all segments of society about women’s rights and the institutions in place to uphold them. They also felt better training was needed for members of the social services, women’s and human rights organizations and hospital staff and police – in addition to increased female representation in these organizations and political life in general.

A 2008 survey of 2,400 Palestinians by Ramallah-based independent research centre Arab World for Research & Development (AWRAD) found that 74 percent of Palestinians did not know of a women’s or human rights organization working in the field of women’s rights; and 77 percent of respondents believed that laws needed to be enacted to protect women from domestic violence.

In December 2009, a report by the Gaza-based Palestinian Women’s Information and Media Center (PWIC) noted an upsurge in violence against women since Israel imposed an economic blockade on the Gaza Strip in June 2007, after Hamas became the de facto authority there.

The study – based on 24 workshops and interviews with 350 other women in the last quarter of 2009 – found that 77 percent of women in Gaza had experienced violence of various sorts, 53 percent had experienced physical violence and 15 percent sexual abuse.

“The levels of violence against women in the Gaza Strip are higher than they were in previous years, and compared to other countries the rates are certainly higher,” Huda Hamouda, director of PWIC, said. “Women are exposed to hardships in every sphere, be it financial, social, political or lack of security.”

She said widespread unemployment was one of the biggest contributors to household stress, and in turn male violence towards females.

“It’s hard to imagine a family living in dignity when they live on less than three dollars a day. Many say they don’t feel respected and suffer depression. Poverty affects education and public participation. It limits their social standing,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Commission on the Status of Women, a commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), on 12 March approved a text on the status of and assistance to Palestinian women, to be sent to ECOSOC for adoption.

The draft resolution expresses concern about the “grave situation of Palestinian women in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, resulting from the severe impact of the ongoing illegal Israeli occupation and all of its manifestations”.

Part of a longer report at

Domestic violence in Japan increased 11.7 per cent in 2009 to 28,158 reported cases, the highest since surveys began in 2002 according to the National Police Agency (NPA).

The number included 2,429 serious cases where courts issued restraining orders against partners, spouses or other family members under the domestic violence prevention law, the NPA said.

A further 1,658 cases of domestic violence were handled under other laws, including 552 assaults, 853 injuries, and 44 murders or attempted murders, they added.

In 2008, a government survey of 1,358 women with current or former partners found that 33.2 per cent reported suffering physical assaults, psychological threats or sexual coercion from their partner.

However, about half of the victims never reported the incidents nor mentioned them to anyone, the Cabinet Office said in its report.

Asked why, 50 per cent of these silent victims said that they did not consider the problem serious enough, and 36 per cent said they blamed themselves.

‘Some women think some of the fault might be theirs,’ said Mie Ueda, an executive board member of Japan Women’s Shelter Network for victims of domestic violence.

‘The first thing that I tell a battered woman is, ‘You are not the one in the wrong’,’ she said.

Experts and activists claim the incidence of domestic violence is likely to be much higher than reported, since many Japanese people still regard violence against women as a family matter rather than a violation of the women’s human rights.

‘One of the biggest problems is that the commercialization of women’s bodies is taken for granted in Japanese society,’ Ueda said. ‘The media have also failed to provide a serious debate about the issue of domestic violence.’

Activists, lawyers and victims have long been pushing for more effective laws to protect victims of domestic violence.

In April 2001, the Japanese Diet passed a law – which came into force in October 2001 – allowing courts to impose restraining orders on abusive husbands. In 2007, the remit of this law was extended to included unmarried partners.

The word ‘rape would soon be removed from the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as the government is working towards replacing it with ‘sexual assault’ in an attempt to provide gender-neutral and to broaden the range of crimes covered under the sections.

Official sources said that the home ministry is working on drafting a bill to replace the word ‘rape’ from nearly 150-year-old Indian Penal Code with ‘sexual assault’ to widen range of the crimes covered.

Sources said the replacement of ‘rape’ with sexual assault will cover crimes like sodomy, fingering, insertion of foreign object and other similar offences which do not come under present definition of rape.

Under section 375 of IPC, penetration is sufficient to constitute the sexual intercourse necessary to the offence of rape.

Sources added that ‘sexual assault’ would ensure gender neutrality, which means that the relevant sections of IPC can be imposed on accused of any gender.

Sexual cirmes against women, men and children will also come under the new provision.

According to sources, the decision can be seen as an effort o prevent sexual crimes among homosexuals.

Homosexuality was decriminalised by the Delhi High Court in 2009.

Caritas Internationalis is calling on governments and the international community to protect migrants who work in people’s homes as maids, nannies and carers from exploitation. These workers are mostly women.

Domestic workers are frequently trafficked and exploited. They rarely benefit from any form of legal protection. Abuse can be difficult to detect because the workplace is in private homes.

Caritas asks that domestic workers have the same legal protection in the workplace as others workers do.

‘Apart from the risk of abuse, domestic workers may have no social security protection, can be overworked and underpaid. Many fear their employers’ reprisals if they complain to the authorities and thus continue to live as modern day slaves,’ says Martina Liebsch, Director of Policy for Caritas Internationalis.

The International Labour Organziation is the UN body responsible for international employment standards.The ILO will consider a draft convention to protect the rights of domestic workers in June 2010. Caritas is asking for specific provisions for migrant domestic workers that includes that their work or residence permit is not tied to one employer.

Caritas is calling for the creation of a complaints mechanism and a compensation scheme for migrant domestic workers that is independent of their legal status.

Domestic work should be regulated through the creation of employment agencies which act as intermediaries between employers and migrant workers. Agencies should ensure compliance with labour standards and the quality of the work performed.

Caritas recognises an increasing demand for domestic workers and home care providers, yet legal migratory channels don’t existent in many countries. Caritas calls on governments to create channels for legal labour migration for people wishing to leave their own countries.

European commissioner for fundamental rights refuses to rule out legislation to promote wage equality

The pay gap between men and women in Europe has barely changed for the better in 15 years, the European commission said today, while pledging to narrow the gap significantly within five years.

The situation in Britain was worse than average, with women in the UK being paid 79% of male rates, while across the 27 countries of the EU the figure was 82%, according to a survey from Eurobarometer timed to coincide with International Women’s Day on Monday.

Viviane Reding, a European commissioner for fundamental rights including gender equality, pledged to step up a campaign for equal pay and to combat gender violence, saying she did not rule out European legislation to promote wage equality.

Later this year, said José Manuel Barroso, the commission president, Brussels would deliver a “women’s charter”, a five-year plan aimed at redressing the inequalities in pay which ranged from under 5% in Italy to 30% per cent in Estonia.

The commission said it “plans to raise awareness among employers, encourage initiatives to promote gender equality, and support the development of tools to measure the gender pay gap. On the other hand, new legal measures are not excluded.”

Reding said: “I am deeply concerned that the gender pay gap has barely fallen over the last 15 years and in some countries it is even increasing.”

The opinion survey found that 62% of Europeans believed inequality between the sexes was widespread, with between 40% and 44% calling for better care facilities for children and the elderly, flexible working, and straightforward pay rises for women in order to redress the imbalance.

“Tackling the gender pay gap will be one of the main priorities,” said the commission today, vowing “to use all available instruments, both legislative and non-legislative, to reduce the gender pay gap”.

Any European law proposals seeking to compel a level playing field would need to win the backing of all 27 governments as well as being endorsed by the European parliament.

RIGHTS: U.N. to Focus on Global Epidemic of Gender Abuse

EAST AFRICA: Women Want Visibility in Regional Union

THAILAND: Temple Grounds A Venue for Curbing Domestic Violence

POLITICS-PHILIPPINES: Rice and Condom on the Election Agenda

SOUTHERN AFRICA: Women Traders Demand Support

POLITICS-MAURITIUS: Plea for More Female Candidates

EAST AFRICA: Improving Local Access to Family Planning

RIGHTS: Iran Rebuffs U.N. Criticism, Denies Abuses

THAILAND: Women with HIV Break Silence, Confront Stigma

BRAZIL: Carnival, a Complex Annual Revolution for Women, Gays

POLITICS-TOGO: First Female Presidential Candidate

DEVELOPMENT-ASIA: ‘Poverty Still Has a Woman’s Face’

EUROPE: Fight Female Mutilation Harder Activists Urge EU

CENTRAL AMERICA: Women Eke Out a Living in Informal Economy