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UN experts mark International Women’s Day saying equal rights should be top of the agenda

GENEVA (7 March 2017) – A group of United Nations women’s human rights experts* are urging governments around the world to give the issue of women’s rights to equality high visibility and top political priority.

They say the struggle to end discrimination against women remains an unfinished agenda despite notable achievements since International Women’s Day was first observed over a century ago.

“The continuing existence of direct and indirect discrimination, both visible and invisible, is responsible for women lagging behind in a number of fields,” the experts said.**

Speaking in advance of International Women’s Day on 8 March they noted that, although discriminatory laws have been repealed in many countries, such laws - especially those governing family life - are still in force in many others. Some countries have a lower minimum age of marriage for girls, while others still prevent women from passing their nationality to their children and husbands.

In some States, women are also deprived of custody rights, polygamous marriages which subordinate them are allowed and they continue to suffer discrimination in property and land rights. The experts were also concerned that women and girls continue to be denied equality in succession and inheritance rights.

“The underlying social, economic, cultural, and political causes of inequality have not been successfully and fundamentally tackled,” they said.

“Women still live with the threat of criminal punishment in some countries for sexual or reproductive conduct such as adultery, prostitution, or termination of pregnancy. Criminalization of behaviour that is attributed only to women is inherently discriminatory. So is denying access to services which only women require and failing to address their specific health and safety, including their reproductive and sexual health needs,” they said.

The human rights experts noted that women’s high educational achievements worldwide have not always translated into corresponding leadership positions or even equality in the economic field. Violence against women persists in every country, despite the enormous energy invested over the years in its eradication.

“Gender-based violence cannot be effectively addressed unless we dismantle the foundations of the discriminatory system that gives women a lower status in society,” they stressed.

“Not only is the advancement of women taking a long time and full equality far from a global reality, but women’s hard fought achievements now face the risk of being reversed,” warned the experts. “An unprecedented pushback has been launched across regions by an alliance of conservative political ideologies and religious traditionalism,” they noted.

“Discrimination against women is not only an identity issue, but a structural issue rooted in the political, economic and cultural foundations of society; women’s human rights are fundamental rights which cannot be subordinated to cultural, religious or political considerations.”

The experts paid tribute to all women who have been courageously defying patriarchal oppression and called upon women of the world to stand up and push forward. They called upon men to join in the fight.

“Today we need more than ever to unite forces to preserve the democratic space,” they said. The fight against all forms of discrimination against women must continue until women everywhere obtain full equality in public, political, economic, social, family, cultural and religious life.

(*) The UN experts: Alda Facio, Kamala Chandrakirana, Frances Raday, Eleonora Zielinska, Emna Aouij, Chair-Rapporteur and members of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; Dubravka Šimonovic Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

(**) Check the full statement by the UN experts marking International Women’s Day (Wednesday 8 March) – “Elimination of discrimination against women – an unfinished agenda”.

The Working Groups and Special Rapporteurs 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 more on UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice:

For more on the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences:

Find out more about CEDAW

For more information and media requests, please contact Hannah Wu (+41 22 917 9152, hwu@ohchr.org) or Bernadette Arditi (+41 22 917 9159, barditi@ohchr.org )

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Bryan Wilson – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9826 / mediaconsultant1@ohchr.org)  

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