Standing up for women’s rights around the world
Gender inequality – in numbers
1 in 10
women around the world first experienced street harassment before the age of 101
the amount less that women get paid globally on average than men2
women every hour die as a result of domestic violence3
girls are married before the age of 18, often against their will4
- 1. https://www.actionaid.org.uk/latest-news/three-in-four-women-experience-harassment-and-violence-in-uk-and-global-cities ↩
- 2. https://www.actionaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/actionaid_double_jeopardy_decent_work_violence_against_women_6.pdf P.9 ↩
- 3. https://www.actionaid.org.uk/latest-news/domestic-violence-kills-five-women-every-hour ↩
- 4. Ellsberg, M. et al. (2014) ‘Prevention of violence against women and girls: what does the evidence say?’, The Lancet, Vol 385, No. 9977. Pp. 1555-1566. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)61703-7/abstract. Accessed May 2015. ↩
Women’s rights are human rights
Because human rights apply to men and women equally, this means they can overlook women’s specific needs. So women’s rights include those that that are specific to women, or that need to be expanded to take account of women’s experiences and situations.
For instance, the use of mass rape as a weapon in war is a form of sexual violence that overwhelmingly targets women and girls, and it is now recognised as a crime against humanity within the framework of human rights.
Other fundamental women’s rights issues are violence against women and girls (VAWG); women’s economic inequality and empowerment, which includes the wage gap and women bearing the brunt of unpaid care work; sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), including abortion and a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body; and women’s political representation. Historically, women’s suffrage, or the right to vote, has been a vital issue for women’s movements.
In 2015, all member states of the UN signed up to a global goal to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by 2030.
Women’s rights are only on the international political agenda because of the tireless work of feminist and women’s rights organisations and movements fighting for change. But we still have a long way to go.
Safe Cities for Women campaign
Campaigners in South Africa protest street harassment for the 16 Days of Activism on Violence Against Women, joining with other organisations with a positive solution ‘Tax Pays for Safe Cities for Women’.
ActionAid’s Safe Cities campaign runs in 17 countries, tackling violence against women in public spaces.
We recognise that cities provide huge opportunities for many women trying to make a living and provide for their families, but when women and girls feel unsafe in public, it severely impacts their use of public spaces and services.
What is discrimination against women?
The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is ‘the international bill of rights for women’. It defines discrimination against women as:
Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.
Different identities overlap with the group ‘women’
It is important to recognise that there are many different identities that overlap with the group ‘women’, including race, disability, class and sexual orientation. This can mean different groups of women are further disadvantaged, or discriminated against differently. And not everyone identifies with being either a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’. Grouping people into ‘women and girls’ as opposed to ‘men and boys’ can therefore be over-simplified.
But there is no country in the world where women and girls as a group are not disadvantaged in relation to men and boys. It is not acceptable that the rights of half the world’s population are systematically undermined.
Violence against women and girls is a fundamental women’s rights issue
One in three women and girls will experience some form of violence in their lifetime, making it one of the most widespread human rights abuses worldwide. It includes domestic violence, rape, and harmful traditional practices like FGM and child marriage, as well as violence in the workplace.
Violence against women and girls happens everywhere, in times of conflict and ‘peace’, and can be exacerbated by other aspects of a woman’s identity such as race, disability, class or sexual orientation.
Although all these types of violence are different, and violence manifests in different ways in different places, they all have gender inequality at their root. Girls and women are seen and treated as less valuable than boys and men, and violence is used to control their bodies and their choices, ‘keeping them in their place’.
Violence, and the threat of violence, can hold women and girls back from accessing their full range of human rights – like getting an education, going to work, and taking part in public life.
As well as being an abuse in its own right, violence holds back families, communities, countries and global development efforts by blocking women’s and girls’ potential.
COMBAT squads tackling violence in Ghana
Doris Owusu Prempeh, 30, is a teacher and a member of a Community Based Anti-Violence Team (COMBAT) in Ghana, which was established by ActionAid and local partners in 2011.
Doris and other members of the team have been trained to reduce violence against women and girls. She has been an active COMBAT member for the past four years, visiting houses, churches, mosques, schools and other places to educate community members on Ghana’s domestic violence laws, broadening the knowledge of the community members on what domestic violence is and what support is available for survivors.
Doris and her COMBAT team members have also organised a campaign against early and forced marriage, and work with a young women’s group to tackle teenage pregnancy in the community.
What is ActionAid doing for women’s rights?
ActionAid campaigns with women and girls living in some of the world’s poorest places as they challenge the root causes of poverty and injustice. Supporting women and girls as they claim their rights and lead their communities out of poverty is the most effective way of changing lives for good.1
These are ActionAid UK’s commitments in the global struggle for women’s rights:
1. ActionAid UK will stand with the courageous women speaking out for change in their communities, as well as backing the grassroots women’s rights organisations they lead.
2. We will challenge harmful social norms which perpetuate gender inequality and abuses like violence against women and girls.
3. We know that women earn on average 24% less than men, in more insecure, part-time, low-paid jobs. They also bear the brunt of unpaid care work, doing nearly 2.5 times more than men. So ActionAid will challenge unfair economic systems that impact women’s and girls’ rights.
4. The number of humanitarian crises is increasing, but too often women and girls are excluded from disaster response and peace building processes and their voices are not heard. ActionAid will advocate for local women’s rights organisations to be at the forefront of humanitarian response work.
5. ActionAid will promote women’s and girls’ access to justice — from access to land, to denial of inheritance, and prosecution for multiple forms of physical or sexual violence.
Women-led emergency responses in Bangladesh
Southern Bangladesh regularly experiences cyclones, tidal surges, coastal erosion and drought. Women in poor coastal communities are the most vulnerable — but they also have huge capacity to respond effectively to disasters if given the right support and resources.
Sabita Rani is one of those women. Since 2009, Sabita has worked as a community activist, dedicating herself to working with her community to build resilience to disasters. Sabita works tirelessly, establishing networks with local government and non-government organisations and mobilising her community to ensure the voices of community members are heard and considered in local decision making processes.
She received training from ActionAid to lead disaster response in the devastating aftermath of Cyclone Mahasen in 2013.
Sabita says the women’s approach has made a huge difference. “Men would rush to someone’s house and say harshly: ‘You need to go to the shelter now.’ This can cause people to get scared and lose courage. We went to people’s houses and explained to them that the storm is coming. We asked, ‘Will you be able to get to the shelter alone? How can we help you?’ This way they felt encouraged and less scared.”
What about men and boys?
Men and boys also experience abuses of their rights, including sexual and domestic violence. But everywhere, violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women, making it one of the most widespread abuses of human rights worldwide. That is why ActionAid focuses on this issue.
Of course, ending violence against women and girls means engaging men and boys, and this includes changing attitudes and behaviour. And because men dominate positions of power and decision-making roles they are important allies in the fight against it. Men can absolutely be feminists, too.
Women’s rights and feminist organisations and movements have been working with men and boys for decades. Men and boys need to be part of the struggle for women’s rights and gender equality, but it is women who must be in the driving seat.
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