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UN experts call for resistance as battle over women’s rights intensifies

GENEVA (28 June 2017) - Women’s rights are facing an alarming backlash in many parts of the world, and it is critically important to press on with further setting of standards on gender equality, a group of UN independent experts* has warned.

“The world is at a crossroads, with the very concept of gender equality being increasingly contested in some quarters,” said the experts.

“We feel it is time to reiterate the backlash against the progress which has been made in promoting and protecting women’s human rights. The polarization in the battle for rights is being demonstrated increasingly, and regressive positions have become a serious threat to the human rights legal framework.

“The international community needs to keep moving forward on setting standards on gender equality to counter the alarming trends which are undermining human rights principles and jeopardizing the gains made in women’s rights.”

The experts restate their support for the repeal of all laws that discriminate against women on traditional, cultural or religious grounds and laws that exclusively or disproportionately criminalize action or behaviour by women and girls.

They also stress women’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies, and to receive comprehensive sexuality education so they can enjoy their right to sexual and reproductive health.

“We need more than ever to protect the fundamental principle that all rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated,” the experts said.

“Despite this unbreakable principle, upheld in the 1993 Vienna Declaration on human rights, we are witnessing efforts by fundamentalist groups to undermine the foundation on which the whole human rights system is based.  Some of these efforts are based on a misuse of culture, including religion and tradition, or on claims related to State sovereignty.

“Under the disguise of protecting the family, some States are taking initiatives aimed at diluting human rights. We obviously recognise that the family is the fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection, but we insist on the need to re-assert women's right to equality in all aspects of family life and recognise that diverse forms of families exist.”

The experts stress that discriminatory practices frequently take place within families, where, for example, women and girls may be limited to certain roles, experience harmful practices and patriarchal oppression, and suffer other human rights abuses including domestic violence and sexual abuse.

The experts insist that international human rights bodies need to guard against the backlash being witnessed, to ensure that the human rights legal framework is not undermined.

“In the current context, where women’s rights are being pushed back in all regions of the world, we need to continue denouncing any anti-rights rhetoric and actions which hinder the implementation of human rights standards, in particular regarding gender equality. Without equal rights in the family, gender equality will never be achieved,” the experts conclude.

ENDS

*The experts: UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice; Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Karima Bennoune; Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed; Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity Vitit Muntarbhorn; and Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences Dubravka Šimonović.

The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice was created by the Human Rights Council in 2011 to identify, promote and exchange views, in consultation with States and other actors, on good practices related to the elimination of laws that discriminate against women. The Group is also tasked with developing a dialogue with States and other actors on laws that have a discriminatory impact where women are concerned.

The Working Group is composed of five independent experts: the Current Chair-Rapporteur Alda Facio (Costa Rica), Kamala Chandrakirana (Indonesia), Frances Raday (Israel/United Kingdom), Emna Aouij (Tunisia) and Eleonora Zielinska (Poland). 

The Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact: Bernadette Arditi (+41 22 917 9159 or +41 79 752 0483 / barditi@ohchr.org) or Hannah Wu (+41 22 917 9159 / hwu@ohchr.org ) or write to wgdiscriminationwomen@ohchr.org

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