Women’s Rights Watch - tracking a global backlash | ActionAid UK

What is #WomensRightsWatch?

Right now, we’re living through an alarming rise in attacks on gender equality. In every corner of the planet, from Bangladesh to the United States, women’s and girls’ rights achieved through decades of feminist struggle are being rolled back. The denial of these rights is one of the biggest causes of poverty worldwide, so we’re starting #WomensRightsWatch to call out these pervasive attacks, and to celebrate the women who are standing up to resist. Read on to find out why this backlash is happening, and how you can get involved.

Two campaigners speak at the launch of a women's rights empowerment project in the Volta Region, Ghana
Two campaigners speak at the launch of a women's rights empowerment project in the Volta Region, Ghana

A global attack on gender equality

Despite years of amazing progress won by women’s rights movements, it seems we’re in the middle of a backlash. Every day we are witnessing examples ranging from large to small; examples that are constant and happening across all continents. They range from moves in Bangladesh to allow some girls under 18 to be married, to the Trump administration expanding the devastating Global Gag Rule on reproductive rights, to many women we work with experiencing regular threats to their lives and personal safety.

This backlash often takes the form of harassment and persecution of women human rights activists, designed to control and silence them: women like campaigner Berta Cáceres, the co-founder of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras, who was threatened after her high-profile campaign against a proposed hydroelectricity project in her area. In 2016, she was shot dead by gunmen in her own home.

"Justice for Berta Cáceres!" protest in Washington, DC

The rollback is exacerbated by political and religious fundamentalisms, leading to state-sanctioned attacks on women’s basic rights. In Jordan and Lebanon, women’s movements have been fighting hard to repeal similar laws that allow rapists to escape justice so long as they marry the girl or woman in question.

Supporters of the laws say that they help rape survivors escape social stigma - in reality, they let perpetrators off and permit rapists to continue their abuse. Thankfully, the law in Jordan was repealed this month.

Religion is also influencing politics in Poland, where MPs recently moved to make abortion illegal - even where pregnancies resulted from rape or incest. The bill, which was initially supported by the country’s Catholic Church, would have meant vulnerable women and girls facing up to five years in jail for having an abortion.

Women are fighting back

But this backlash isn’t going unopposed. Women’s movements in every country have been making progress on gender equality for decades, and they’re not going to stop now. Just this month, women’s rights activists in Jordan are celebrating successfully pushing their parliament to repeal Law 308 - the law that allows rapists to escape justice for their crime via marriage. Their counterparts in Lebanon hope that their country will soon follow.

In cities all over the world, January’s incredible Women’s March galvanised millions of women to stand up and shout for their rights, energising a new wave of activism that is still going strong today. Official estimates consider it one of the largest protests in recent memory. ActionAid campaigners joined the march in many cities, and sister marches were held everywhere from Iraq to Antarctica!

And in Latin America, feminist activists across the continent are taking to the streets en masse to protest the shocking numbers of femicides in their countries. The call to protest spread on social media using the hashtag #niunamenos (‘not one woman less’), with campaigners demanding that governments do more to stop violence against women.

A woman holds up a sign at #niunamenos protests, Rio Janeiro

What is ActionAid doing to help?

ActionAid stands up for the rights of women and girls living in poverty around the world. We invest in grassroots women’s groups and farming cooperatives, and support women to challenge harmful laws and to lead their communities in eradicating violence. We are committed to the global struggle for women’s rights - and we’re proud to work with some inspiring women at the forefront of that struggle.

One of them is Tiwonge Gondwe, who campaigns for gender equality in Malawi. After being trained in her rights by an ActionAid women’s group, she left her abusive husband and started working with other women in her community to bring down violence.

Thanks in large part to women’s groups like Tiwonge’s, Malawi passed its first Gender Equality Act in 2013. The year after, the country's president launched a three-year national campaign to end sexual violence.

Tiwonge was regularly beaten by her abusive husband. She stood up to him and now supports other women in Malawi who face domestic violence.

Another ActionAid partner, Thuzar Tin, runs a women’s group in Myanmar. Women often come to her house having been beaten by their husbands, wanting to speak to her and her volunteers. For many of these women, talking to Thuzar Tin’s organisation is the first time they’ll hear they have a right not to be beaten. The group run counselling and training sessions for women in the community, and help them learn about their rights and learn skills so they have financial independence from their husbands.

Why #WomensRightsWatch?

We see examples of this global backlash, big and small, every day. So in addition to campaigning for women’s rights, we want to start calling out and tracking these examples.

When we see yet another case of women’s rights under attack, we’ll tweet it using the hashtag #WomensRightsWatch - and if you’re on Twitter, we invite you to do the same. Inspired by campaigns like the excellent #everydaysexism project, we want to bring attention to the sheer volume of attacks on gender equality all over the world - and celebrate the women who are standing up and speaking out.

Want to help? You can join in by using the hashtag #WomensRightsWatch on Twitter, or by sharing this blog post to spread the word using the buttons below. And if you’re not on Twitter, don’t worry - we’ll be launching a new campaign on women’s rights soon, so make sure you’re signed up for our campaigner emails to be kept in the loop.