ASTRA Central and Eastern European Women’s Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health

Women’s rights are facing an alarming backlash in many parts of the world, and it is critically important to press on with further setting of standards on gender equality, a group of UN independent experts* has warned.

“The world is at a crossroads, with the very concept of gender equality being increasingly contested in some quarters,” said the experts.

“We feel it is time to reiterate the backlash against the progress which has been made in promoting and protecting women’s human rights. The polarization in the battle for rights is being demonstrated increasingly, and regressive positions have become a serious threat to the human rights legal framework.

 

“The international community needs to keep moving forward on setting standards on gender equality to counter the alarming trends which are undermining human rights principles and jeopardizing the gains made in women’s rights.”

The experts restate their support for the repeal of all laws that discriminate against women on traditional, cultural or religious grounds and laws that exclusively or disproportionately criminalize action or behaviour by women and girls.

They also stress women’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies, and to receive comprehensive sexuality education so they can enjoy their right to sexual and reproductive health.

“We need more than ever to protect the fundamental principle that all rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated,” the experts said.

“Despite this unbreakable principle, upheld in the 1993 Vienna Declaration on human rights, we are witnessing efforts by fundamentalist groups to undermine the foundation on which the whole human rights system is based.  Some of these efforts are based on a misuse of culture, including religion and tradition, or on claims related to State sovereignty.

“Under the disguise of protecting the family, some States are taking initiatives aimed at diluting human rights. We obviously recognise that the family is the fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection, but we insist on the need to re-assert women's right to equality in all aspects of family life and recognise that diverse forms of families exist.”

The experts stress that discriminatory practices frequently take place within families, where, for example, women and girls may be limited to certain roles, experience harmful practices and patriarchal oppression, and suffer other human rights abuses including domestic violence and sexual abuse.

The experts insist that international human rights bodies need to guard against the backlash being witnessed, to ensure that the human rights legal framework is not undermined.

“In the current context, where women’s rights are being pushed back in all regions of the world, we need to continue denouncing any anti-rights rhetoric and actions which hinder the implementation of human rights standards, in particular regarding gender equality. Without equal rights in the family, gender equality will never be achieved,” the experts conclude.

*The experts: UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice; Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Karima Bennoune; Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed; Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity Vitit Muntarbhorn; and Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences Dubravka Šimonović.

Source: United Nations Human Rights