Together, we uphold women’s rights. Today, and every day.

08/03/2021
Press release
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For over a century, March 8th has been synonymous with women’s rights. Today, and every day, FIDH strives to advance women’s rights around the world. So that women can live free from violence and have autonomy over their bodies. So that they can be equal according to the laws of their countries, have the right to speak up and to work in decent conditions.

In 2021 — 107 years after German feminists dedicated the day to fighting for the right to vote and 44 years after the United Nations began celebrating the day — much remains to be done for women to enjoy equal rights. Our Federation fights for this by taking legal action to address injustices, influencing political decision-making, supporting women human rights defenders, and informing people about the challenges people face simply for being born a girl. We work tirelessly toward equality, hand in hand with our 192 member organisations around the world.

Below, you will discover several powerful actions spearheaded by FIDH in recent years — from awareness campaigns and fact-finding reports to valuable tools and advocacy leading to tangible implications for women’s rights.

Our five guiding principles:
- There are no human rights without women’s rights
- Promoting justice for all
- Defending and supporting feminist activists
- Naming and understanding crimes
- Combating gender inequality.

There are no human rights without women’s rights

Fighting for gender equality is everyone’s business. As Hillary Rodham Clinton famously said in Beijing in 1995, “Women’s rights are human rights.” Violations of women’s rights harm the human dignity of each and every one of us. When women’s rights are threatened, the rights of everyone become vulnerable and the universality of human rights is undermined.

United, we can better fight for women’s rights and gender equality. One good illustration of this is the mobilisation to defend sexual and reproductive rights in Poland, where access to abortion has been severely limited and even criminalised. These restrictions and anti-democratic abuses threaten human rights as a whole as well as the rule of law. In addition to violating sexual and reproductive rights, such restrictions gravely harm women’s and girls’ rights to life, dignity, non-discrimination, and education.

To counteract this worrisome erosion of hard-won rights, FIDH, alongside its member organisations and partners, has worked at national, regional, and international levels to resist nationalist and authoritarian measures, advocating for liberalisation and advances for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. In a 2018 report, FIDH and its Polish member, the Polish Society of Antidiscrimination Law, illustrate how the rapid degradation of rule of law in the country has had serious consequences for such rights. Following serious developments in Poland in October 2020, FIDH forged ties with other organisations working on women’s rights in Poland and at the international level, establishing an informal coalition of around 30 organisations active on women’s rights and broader human rights and rule of law issues.

Justice for all!

Pushing for legislative changes and promoting the effective implementation of fair legal frameworks not only improves women’s access to justice, but also serves to change social norms and has a deterrent effect on crimes against women.

FIDH and its South African member organisation, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), contributed to progressive strides in combating sexual violence in Africa, with the adoption of the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights’ Guidelines on combating Sexual Violence and its Consequences, adopted in May 2017. FIDH and LHR took part in developing these groundbreaking guidelines, which provide specific proposals for States to work towards the elimination of sexual violence. The text is aligned with some of the most progressive standards in the fight against sexual violence, such as on the age of the sexual consent.

Pushing for legislative changes has led to concrete victories, including the Tunisian parliament’s historic adoption of a law taking major strides against sexual violence. The law tackles both violence in the public sphere and the family sphere and established a broad definition of violence, including not just physical aggression, but also economic, sexual, political and psychological violence. FIDH, alongside the Civil Society Coalition for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls, had worked tirelessly for this law, drafting and presenting amendments to problematic articles prior to the final push before the vote.

At the end of 2019, FIDH published a collection of articles on the Impact of Litigation on Combating Sexual Violence and its Consequences in Africa. This compendium, written by lawyers, experts and activists, from several countries (Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia, Sudan, Kenya, Guinea, Liberia) gives priority to sharing experiences with litigation, at different levels, carried out for, and by, the victims of sexual violence and to present the effects and challenges of this form of action and make tangible recommendations. These litigation actions, several of which have been carried out by FIDH, its members and partners, may lead to victories through emblematic convictions, supporting victims in speaking out, or even legislative change. The case of Meriem Ben Mohamed is emblematic in this regard. Along with the report, a short interview video, viewed 80,000 times on Twitter and Facebook, was produced where she describes the impact the trial had on her life.

Defending feminist activists

Many of the brave individuals who stand up to protect and defend human rights are women. Women human rights defenders are forces for change — instrumental in Thailand’s pro-democracy movement and leaders in the fight for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. But they often face backlash, encountering criminalisation, harassment, surveillance, travel bans, the dismantling of their organisations, and even torture and death. FIDH documents such violations, supports women human rights defenders, and amplifies their voices.

Based on interviews conducted with 22 Thai women, a recent report from FIDH’s and OMCT’s Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders illustrates and documents how women who played a key role in organising and leading peaceful pro-democracy protests faced frequent human rights violations aimed at delegitimising their work and credibility and discouraging them from participating in the demonstrations. FIDH circulated video testimonies from several of these leaders widely on social media.

Women demonstrating for human rights in Turkey have also endured repression. The actions of Turkey’s vibrant women’s rights movement, including peaceful protests, have been systematically targeted and suppressed by the authorities in recent years. As featured in a recent report, women human rights defenders and civil society organisations have been hit hard by restrictions on freedom of assembly and have suffered disproportionately from the crackdown on civil society.

When Saudi Arabia lifted the notorious ban on women driving in 2018, it was thanks to the efforts of outspoken women’s rights defenders. Yet, rather than commend them, the authorities punished them — subjecting them to imprisonment, judicial harassment, and even torture and sexual abuse while in custody. While prominent activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released in February 2021, the spurious charges brought against her have not been lifted and she faces a five-year travel ban. Several other women’s rights defenders detained in mid-2018 are still behind bars, including Samar Badawi and Nassima El Saada. From a 2018 report to a campaign demanding their release and calling out the sportswashing of the Dakar Rally, FIDH has mobilised for these courageous defenders and won’t stop until they’re all released and free to continue advocating for gender equality.

Naming and understanding crimes

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) affects millions of people around the world, particularly women, girls, and gender minorities. It is prevalent in times of peace and conflict, including the Islamic State’s sex trafficking of Yazidi women and girls and the use of rape as a weapon of war in Sudan, both documented by FIDH in reports.

Despite the widespread nature of SGBV, very few victims receive the protection, recognition, or justice they need. To better address and eradicate SGBV, we must understand it. FIDH has spearheaded numerous efforts on this front, including a webinar featuring innovative initiatives addressing domestic violence in the context of the covid-19 pandemic; a report issuing recommendations for the International Criminal Court and States to better support victims and adopt a gender perspective in investigations and prosecutions conducted by the Court; a multilingual glossary explaining key terminology related to SGBV — an indispensable tool to inform the work of researchers, legal professionals, advocates, journalists, and others for whom understanding the relevant language is vital to their work of supporting victims and documenting, reporting, raising awareness of and litigating such violence; and, for the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, a website featuring 100 shocking statistics on violence and discrimination against women worldwide.

Combating gender inequality

At the root of sexual and gender-based violence, is gender inequality. To uproot SGBV and other violations of women’s and girls’ rights, it is imperative to achieve equality between genders. FIDH declared in a 2020 statement, “Whatever the context or situation, the marginalisation of women and girls and the decline in women’s rights are real. In times of peace and war, women find themselves in increasingly precarious political and socio-economic conditions.”

To mark March 8th in 2016, FIDH created a video poignantly illustrating the injustices people face simply by being born a girl. Sexual mutilation, being deprived of education, forced marriage, being pushed to seek unsafe clandestine abortion, domestic violence… Five years later, these phenomena still occur with unacceptable prevalence. As long as the blight of these inequalities persists, FIDH will remain vigilant and engaged to defend women’s rights — on March 8th and beyond.

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