Women and girls of African descent: Human rights achievements and challenges

The programme of activities for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent gives great importance to the promotion and protection of the rights of women of African descent. In this context, the present publication provides an overview of the enjoyment of human rights by women and girls of African descent, drawing from the work of international human rights mechanisms.

The publication is also informed by responses from key stakeholders to a questionnaire circulated by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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Summary

Women and girls of African descent face intersecting and multiple forms of discrimination, including based on race/ethnicity, sex, gender, nationality, migration status and/or other social status. This publication focuses on women who belong to communities descended from victims of the transatlantic slave trade and migrant African women in the diaspora.

The publication contains a synopsis of the human rights situation of women and girls of African descent. It analyzes the findings of international human rights bodies in order to show the reality of the discrimination affecting women and girls of African descent. Throughout, it highlights different examples of good practices as well as presenting recommendations to improve the human rights of women and girls of African descent.

Introduction by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet

When gender, skin color, ethnicity, class, religion and beliefs, migratory status or other grounds of discrimination combine and interact they create intricate webs of deprivation and denial of rights that oppress, cause suffering to and hinder the development of millions of people. Many women and girls of African descent have to deal with this harmful situation.

Discrimination and equality of and before the law represent fundamental principles of human rights. The idea of equality is inseparable from that of human dignity, something that is essential to everybody. Respect for equality and nondiscrimination is at the very heart of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all other international human rights treaties. We need to adopt urgent measures to put an end to the injustices that women and girls of African descent have to face on a daily basis. Now more than ever, we urge States to reaffirm their commitments and fulfil their obligations, to adopt a crosscutting approach to gender and ethnicity in their public policies and to effectively protect those who are in a more vulnerable situation.

When implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and the International Decade for People of African Descent, States should guarantee:

  • equal access to quality education at all levels, to health services - including sexual and reproductive health  and to suitable housing, among other rights, to women and girls of African descent.
  • that all women of African descent have the effective remedies to be able to tackle any violation of their rights.

It is essential that affirmative action policies are established that ensure their appropriate representation in policy making within the political sphere, the public administration and the labour market, including at the highest levels. More further-reaching initiatives are needed to erradicate negative gender and racial stereotyping, both within public institutions and in society in general. States should also redouble their efforts to combat baseless ideas of racial superiority, incitement to racial hatred and gender-based violence.

This publication contains a synopsis of the human rights situation of women and girls of African descent. It analyzes the findings of international human rights bodies in order to show the reality of the discrimination affecting women and girls of African descent. Throughout, it highlights different examples of good practices as well as presenting recommendations to improve the human rights of women and girls of African descent.

The International Decade inspires us to continue working to guarantee that women and girls of African descent are able to develop their personal, academic and professional skills on equal basis, free from limitations imposed upon them by racial and gender stereotyping and prejudice. The International Decade also provides us with the opportunity to pay tribute to the outstanding achievements of millions of women of African descent from around the world in their roles as politicians, artists, professionals, human rights defenders, sportswomen, scientists, workers, mothers and students. This publication is dedicated to all of them for their resilience and their daily struggle for equality.