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Shattering the myth: “US women lag behind” – UN experts on discrimination against women

WASHINGTON DC (11 December 2015) – A United Nations expert group on discrimination against women today praised the current administration for its commitment to women’s equality, but warned that the extreme polarisation of politics in the United States “is profoundly affecting the ability of Government to guarantee women’s human rights, and even to ratify the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.”

According to the experts, this visit is particularly timely, at a moment when the political rhetoric of some of the candidates for the Presidency in the upcoming elections has included unprecedented hostile stereotyping of women and when there are increasingly restrictive legislative measures by many of the states to prevent women’s access to exercise of their reproductive rights.

“The US, which is a leading State in formulating international human rights standards, is allowing its women to lag behind,” said the human rights experts, composing the UN expert group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, at the end of an official visit* to the country.

“We understand the complexity of federalism, but this cannot be regarded as a justification for failure to secure these rights, which are universal, indivisible and inalienable,” they underscored.

The visiting delegation, which included human rights experts Eleonora Zielinska, Alda Facio and Frances Raday, noted that a wide diversity in state law and practice in the US makes it impossible to give a comprehensive report, but they pointed out to an “overall picture of women’s missing rights.”
“While all women are the victims of these missing rights, women who are poor, belong to Native American, Afro-American and Hispanic ethnic minorities, migrant women, LBTQ women, women with disabilities and older women are disparately vulnerable,” the experts stressed.

“US women do not take their rightful place as citizens of the world’s leading economy, which has one of the highest rates of per capita income,” said the experts, noting that women face barriers in campaigning for political office and are 72 in global ranking for representation in the legislature. There is no nation-wide right to paid maternity leave.

The expert group cautioned that US women face ever increasing obstacles to accessing reproductive health services, both as a result of legislative restrictions in many states and because of violent attacks on reproductive health clinic staff and patients. Between 1990 and 2013 maternal mortality increased by 136%, with Afro-American women at four times the risk.

“We witnessed the intimidation and harassment in our visits to clinics,” they added. Indeed, just before their arrival in the US, people were killed at the Planned Parenthood Family Planning Center in Colorado.

The UN human rights experts noted that, despite the efforts of the current administration to take measures to eliminate violence against women, such violence is persistent and is exacerbated by the lack of gun control.

“We were appalled by the over-incarceration of women, mostly for non-violent crimes, and the failure to find non-custodial solutions for mothers of dependent children,” they said, expressing deep concern at the women prisoners’ conditions, which include mass accommodation spaces, over-crowding in cells, solitary confinement, shackling during childbirth and lack of support for re-entry.

The experts were also deeply disturbed at the situation of migrant women in detention centers, in particular women with minor children who are in prolonged detention.

“Appropriate health care services are not systematically provided to these women in a timely manner despite the horrifying physical and emotional ordeals endured by many of them in their transit to the US,” they said. “We also received allegations of women being subjected to an ‘expedited removal process’ resulting in the denial of many legitimate asylum claims.”

During its ten-day visit, the UN Working Group delegation met with Government officials at the federal and state levels, representatives of civil society organizations, academics as well as practitioners. They held meetings with representatives of civil society organizations, as well as academics, practitioners and individual women in Washington DC, Alabama, Oregon and Texas.

The Working group will present a comprehensive report with its conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2015.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16872&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 Frances Raday (Israel/United Kingdom), Eleonora Zielinska (Poland) Alda Facio (Costa Rica), Kamala Chandrakirana (Indonesia) and Emna Aouij (Tunisia). Learn more, log on to:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/WGWomen/Pages/WGWomenIndex.aspx

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.

See the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CEDAW.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page –United States: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/LACRegion/Pages/USIndex.aspx

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Ms. Hannah Wu (+41 79 752 0484 / +41 22 917 9152) or Ms. Bernadette Arditi (+41 79 752 0483 / +41 22 917 9159) at 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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