Standing up for women’s rights around the world | ActionAid UK

Standing up for women’s rights around the world

January 2017 saw millions of people around the world take to the streets to march for women’s rights. The denial of women’s and girls’ rights is a gross injustice. No country can really succeed when half its citizens are denied the rights enjoyed by the other half.

The rights of women and girls are at the core of everything ActionAid UK does.

What are women’s rights, and why do we need them?

Women and girls around the world face inequality and discrimination in almost every aspect of their lives.

From the moment they’re born, girls are seen and treated as less than boys. Girls are less likely to go to school than their brothers, millions of girls worldwide are married as children, and often to much older men.1

All over the world women and girls have less social, economic and political power, which can lead to their human rights being denied or abused. Gender inequality is the root cause of women’s rights abuses.

  • 1. 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. Accessed May 2015.

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

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  • 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. 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.

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.

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.

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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 worldwideThat 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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