United, we can better fight for women’s rights and gender equality

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Lucia Dong

FIDH, comprised of 192 member organisations, denounces and warns against the erosion of women’s rights directly affecting half of humanity. Through this deterioration, humanity as a whole and the universality of human rights suffer.

Violations of women’s rights have surged throughout the world since the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic. Behind this deadly virus lies another outbreak, a shadow pandemic of worsening violence against women. Gender inequalities have increased. Women’s economic and social rights are receding and gender-based violence has exploded. The United Nations Population Fund warns that covid-19 increases economic and social precariousness affecting women because of the hindrance, or even interruption, of certain economic activities and the weakness or absence of dedicated social protection. In a 2020 report, UN Women estimates that "47 million girls and women will enter poverty in 2021 as a result of the pandemic". [1]

Moreover, on 23 October 2020, in Geneva, 35 States, including the United States, Brazil, Egypt and Hungary, spoke out against the right to abortion in the name of the "women’s well-being" and the "preservation of human life". [2] Behind this outburst of conservative discourse defending a model reproducing social inequalities between gender under the guise of the "traditional family", lies a clear and alarming erosion of women’s rights, denounced by FIDH for many years.

We are alarmed by the rise of populist and conservative forces, sometimes with fascists accents and often allied with religious extremism, on all continents, encouraged and reinforced by the patriarchal structures of many States. These forces threaten the achievements of the rule of law and the primacy of positive law. They target human rights broadly and women’s rights in particular, instrumentalise cultural “specificities” to the detriment of the universality of human rights, call into question equality between women and men, and jeopardise certain rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, which are the first step in the empowerment of women and girls and a necessary condition for the achievement of gender equality.

In addition to these two contexts, there are other realities of violence that are intensifying and continuing in an alarming way, particularly in the context of crises, occupations and wars. [3] Since the appearance of covid-19, data and reports from those on the front line have shown that all types of sexual and gender-based violence, especially domestic violence, have intensified. In war and crisis contexts, sexual and gender-based violence takes particularly atrocious forms where women, but also men, are victims of rape – often gang rape – sexual slavery, sexual mutilation, crimes committed by both defence and security forces and their auxiliaries and by extremist non-state groups, and femicide. [4]

FIDH is alarmed by this trend and denounces the fact that several international inter-governmental institutions, although mandated to deal with the problems faced by women all over the world, have not been up to the challenge. FIDH also deplores the failure of States to fulfil their obligations "to prevent gender-based violence against women, to protect them from it and to ensure that the perpetrators of such acts are held accountable". [5]

The marginalisation of women and girls, as well as the decline in respect for women’s rights is all too real, in a multitude of contexts and situations. In times of peace and war, women find themselves in increasingly precarious political and socio-economic conditions. The intensification of various forms of sexual violence is part of a continuum of violence that stems from the intersectional discrimination inherent in the patriarchal system and structurally unequal relations between women and men the world over.

FIDH is convinced that it is of the utmost importance to fight for equality and eradicate the discrimination and violence suffered by women by involving both public and private actors and civil society organisations in joint actions fostering equality, in order to bring about profound societal change and establish equal gender relations.

This is why, on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence:

• FIDH calls on States to ratify, protect, respect and implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, [6] as well as the various instruments of international law relating to the protection of women’s rights. FIDH calls on the States that have ratified the CEDAW Convention to lift the reservations that prevent the implementation of the Convention. FIDH calls on the States Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to apply the guidelines of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) on the fight against sexual violence and its consequences in Africa.

• FIDH calls on States to adopt long-term measures to protect women against the consequences of crises, occupations, wars and pandemics that affect their dignity and moral, physical and sexual integrity and of which they are the main victims.

• FIDH recalls that the fight for gender equality is everyone’s business. The violence against women is a violation of human rights and harms the human dignity of all.

• FIDH calls on the generalist human rights movement to strengthen its commitment and solidarity, its alliance and its unfailing support to feminist movements and organisations that promote women’s rights and fight against impunity for all forms of sexual and gender-based violence.

Allies around the world, join us to bring about change.

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