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A century of progress in women’s equality under threat in the name of culture, religion and traditions International Women’s Day - Sunday 8 March 2015

GENEVA (6 March 2015) – A United Nations expert group on discrimination against women today warned that progress and achievements made over the last hundred years in the fight for women’s equality are under constant threat.

“We are seeing regressive signs, often in the name of culture, religion, and traditions, that threaten the hard-fought progress in achieving women’s equality,” the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice said*, speaking ahead of International Women’s Day (Sunday 8 March).

“We have seen attempts to restrict women’s place in the domestic sphere,” they said. “Attention and focus on family value and on protection of the family is important, but it is neither an equivalent nor a replacement of women’s equal rights and autonomy.” Protection of the family must include protecting the human rights of individual members of the family, especially the right to equality between women and men as well as between girls and boys.

The human rights experts noted that “discrimination against women persists in both public and private spheres, in times of conflict as in times of peace, and in all regions of the world. “No country in the world has yet achieved full substantive equality of women,” they stressed.

Participation of women in political and public life remains much too low – averaging 20% of parliamentarians and 17% of heads of States or Governments. Women continue to be paid less for work of equal value and are severely underrepresented in top leadership in decision-making bodies in business, finance and trade, including in international institutions as well as in cooperatives and trade unions.

 “We continue to witness appalling forms of violence, in the name of perceived honour, beauty, purity, religion and tradition,” they said.

“Too many women are being deprived of their sexual and reproductive health and rights, fundamental human rights of women,” the Working Group underscored.

Each year, some 50,000 women die as a result of unsafe abortions, and some 5 million women suffer from disabilities due to lack of, or negligent reproductive health services, according to a recent study by the World Health Organization. Completely avoidable maternal deaths are still very high in many countries. There are still countries that impose a total prohibition of abortion in all circumstances and imprison women accused of abortions for up to 30 years.

“There is no acceptable justification to deny the human rights of girls and women by allowing practices to continue which are harmful and dangerous to their physical and mental health,” the experts said. “Just like the century old foot binding, practices such as child marriages, female genital mutilation, and “honor” killings have no place in the 21st century.

(*) Check the full statement by the Working Group marking International Women’s Day (Sunday 8 March) – “Nothing short of full rights – protecting the hard fought progress and allowing no space for retrogression”: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15652&LangID=E

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 Emna Aouij (Tunisia), Frances Raday (Israel/United Kingdom), Eleonora Zielinska (Poland) Alda Facio (Costa Rica), Kamala Chandrakirana (Indonesia) and. Learn more, log on to:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/WGWomen/Pages/WGWomenIndex.aspx

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 that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Hannah Wu (+41 79 221 8074 / hwu@ohchr.org) or Bernadette Arditi (+41 79 752 0485 / barditi@ohchr.org) or write to wgdiscriminationwomen@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN mandates:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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