Intersection of racial and gender discrimination discussed at r

Monday, September 3, 2001


Associated Press Writer

DURBAN, South Africa (AP) -- Lower caste women in India are often raped while collecting water. Some women in Niger are sold into slavery as "fifth wives" to wealthy men. Black and Hispanic women are disproportionately represented in American jails.

When race and gender combine, the resulting discrimination can be more than the sum of its components, experts at a round-table meeting at the World Conference Against Racism said.

"Racial discrimination does not effect men and women in the same way or to the same degree," said Gay McDougall, who heads a U.N. committee for the elimination of discrimination against women. "I think we've got to really work with states to get them to understand what we are talking about."

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson led Sunday's discussion, saying that since the Beijing Conference on Women in 1995, strides have been made to improve the rights of women but that discrimination persists, especially for minorities.

She said the racism conference's program of action would call for nations to study the plight of minority women specifically, rather than racial and gender discrimination separately. Nations would also be expected to adopt specific measures to remedy the problems found.

The U.N. conference has been dominated by the Palestinian and Arab delegations' effort to have Israel condemned in the meeting's final declaration. Discussion of contemporary slavery, caste discrimination and the rights of indigenous people have been overshadowed, though organizers say those issues, along with gender, should top the agenda.

The United States sent a midlevel delegation because of language in a draft declaration that it says would embarrass Israel. The head of the Israeli delegation accused the Palestinians of "attempting to hijack the conference."

"Deliberations continue as usual (but) we have reached a stage that we have to reconsider our participation, whether to walk out of this very conference," Mordechai Yadid said. The Norwegian delegation was trying to mediate a compromise text, he said.

Debate among delegates working on a final conference statement stalled Monday over the Palestinian issue. The Canadian delegate asked that discussion of the issue be postponed until a special committee led by Norway could finish its efforts to mediate a compromise.

But Arab delegates demanded the immediate adoption of paragraphs condemning Israel for its "racist policies." The committee chair allowed debate on the section but warned that the working group was in danger of breaking down.

Black U.S. lawmakers, who are lobbying to have reparations for slavery restored to the conference's final statement, bemoaned how the Middle East conflict has become the center of attention.

"It's a political, land-based conflict that is not grounded in racism," Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, said of the Palestinian issue. "The berating of the Jewish people and ... the equating of Zionism with racism fills the conference with unnecessary hatred."

But pro-Palestinian groups scored a victory Sunday when a human rights forum coinciding with the conference equated Zionism -- the movement to establish and maintain a Jewish state -- with racism and called for international sanctions against Israel.

The document was presented to Robinson for consideration when drafting the United Nation's final declaration.

The forum's document brands "Israel as a racist apartheid state" and calls for an end to the "ongoing, Israeli systematic perpetration of racist crimes, including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing."

The forum ran parallel to the world racism conference, which started Friday and runs through Sept. 7.

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