Independent Expert on minority issues
1. Situation of minority women
The Independent Expert recognizes that denial or violation of rights may be manifest in different ways in the experiences of men and women, and girls and boys. Pursuant to the requirement under her mandate to apply a gender perspective in her work, the Independent Expert has placed a high priority on the issues of minority women. Information received by the Independent Expert consistently reveals that women belonging to minorities experience unique challenges and multiple or intersectional discrimination emanating from their status as members of minorities and as women or girls. Multiple or intersectional discrimination may make women and girls particularly vulnerable to violation and denial of their rights in both public and private life.
The Independent Expert has established a practice of holding forums dedicated to minority women’s views and voices during her country visits. She has conducted such forums during her country visits to Hungary, Ethiopia, France, Dominican Republic, Guyana and Greece. These forums for women have revealed highly significant country and community specific information about the lives of minority women, which is reflected in the visit reports of the Independent Expert. They have been vital to a deeper understanding of issues facing minority communities in general.
The forums for women have also revealed, over the course of several forums, a number of issues that are common to women from many minority communities. Particular problems are faced by girls in accessing educational institutions and continuing their education through higher levels, especially in highly patriarchal family and community structures. Poverty and discrimination add to the weight of the “burden of family care” shouldered by most women. Minority women, whose families are often extended ones, find those burdens particularly constraining. Heightened levels of domestic violence and physical assaults, coupled with a multifaceted denial of access to justice have been common complaints heard from women from marginalized minority communities. They also face blockages within their homes and communities that deny them a role in decision-making. In the larger society they are denied a voice in decisions of the national polity because they are women and because they are minorities.
The Independent Expert holds a forum for women from different communities in Georgetown, Guyana, during her country visit.
The Independent Expert shares her information and experience with other mandate holders and bodies relevant to the rights of women, including the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
On 7 March 2006 the Independent Expert stated that new and urgent attention must be given to the rights of women facing multiple forms of discrimination, exclusion and violence.
2. The situation of minority children
Article 30 of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child specifically relates to the rights of children belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities. The Independent Expert seeks to collaborate closely with the Committee on the Rights of the Child and share expertise with that body particularly in regard to minority children and such issues as education, health, adequate housing and trafficking. In the field of education, the Independent Expert stated early in her mandate that she will consider whether minority children lack equality in education, including provisions for instruction in their own language, putting them at a disadvantage in relation to other children.
In her annual report to the Human Rights Council in March 2009, the Independent Expert noted that education is a basic human right for all children and yet in all regions of the world minority children continue to suffer disproportionately from unequal access to quality education. Failure to ensure equal opportunities and equal access to education creates new generations of those who are disadvantaged in all walks of life, who cannot fulfill their potential in employment, and cannot contribute fully to their own communities and to wider society. Lack of access to education perpetuates the cycle of poverty that is often experienced most acutely by minority communities facing discrimination and exclusion, yet conversely, education provides a vital key to sustainable poverty alleviation. Education provides a gateway to the full enjoyment of a wide array of other rights, without which individuals and societies remain economically, socially and culturally impoverished.
Ensuring equal access to education is one of the most serious challenges for minorities and States alike, and also offers one of the greatest opportunities for the advancement of the full rights and freedoms of persons belonging to minorities. Equal access to education must be understood in the holistic sense of the rights to non-discrimination and equality. The concept goes beyond issues of physical or economic accessibility to focus on the ultimate goal of equal access to achievement outcomes. Disproportionate outcomes should be considered to implicate State responsibility for the promotion and protection of these rights.
Human Rights Council resolution 6/15 of 27 March 2008 established a Forum on Minority Issues to be held annually for two days in Geneva. The inaugural session of the Forum on Minority Issues was held on 15 and 16 December 2008 and considered the thematic issue of “Minorities and the Right to Education”. The resolution requires the Independent Expert on minority issues to guide the work of the Forum and prepare its annual meetings, and invites her to include in her report thematic recommendations of the Forum for consideration by the Human Rights Council.