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Press releases Special Procedures

Women's rights facing global pushback from conservative and fundamentalist groups, UN experts warn

Discrimination against women

22 June 2018

GENEVA (22 June 2018) – Immediate actions must be taken to stop a backlash which is threatening to undermine, erode, and even roll back hard-won women’s rights around the globe, say a group of UN experts.

“Alarming pushbacks have been progressing across regions of the globe, with an alliance of conservative political ideologies and religious fundamentalisms,” said the Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice in a report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“Practices such as polygamy, child marriage, female genital mutilation, so-called honour killings and criminalizing women for sexual and reproductive behaviour have no place in any society. There is no acceptable justification for waiting for the elimination of discrimination against women,” said the Working Group.

“Rising authoritarianism, economic crises and rocketing inequality have posed considerable challenges to achieving and maintaining women’s human rights. Not only is the advancement of women’s rights and full equality too slow, uneven, and far from a global reality, but women’s hard-fought achievements now risk being reversed,” the report stressed.

The Working Group also pointed to some of the advances made over the years. “Important steps are being taken in different regions to reclaim women’s rights. Most recently, through popular vote as well as legislative and judicial actions, efforts are  being made, in particular to secure reproductive rights, which is encouraging in a global context of retrogressions in this area” the experts said.
“Moves in certain countries to eliminate the gender pay gap and to strengthen laws criminalizing rape and sexual violence are also key successes in the struggle to eliminate discrimination against women,” the experts added.

“It has been 70 years since women’s right to equality was enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, nearly 40 years since the ground-breaking Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted, and this coming Monday, 25 years since the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action established that women’s rights are an indivisible part of human rights, but no country in the world has successfully eliminated discrimination against women or achieved full equality,” said the experts.

“This should not be tolerated or normalized. There is an urgent need to protect past gains, and move forward to secure equality for women everywhere.”

The report says that, of the many obstacles to gender equality that women face throughout their lives, the areas of family and culture as well as sexual and reproductive health remain the most significant challenges, and are the fields in which women are facing the biggest backlash.

“Persistent discrimination in the areas of family and culture, sexual and reproductive health has a debilitating impact on women’s capacity to claim equal standing in all aspects of life,” the report stressed.

The experts urged the international community to move forward on gender equality and to guard against the current backlash. They applauded the efforts worldwide of women human rights defenders, who have maintained courage in the face of resistance.


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 others on laws that have a discriminatory impact where women are concerned. The Working Group is composed of five independent experts: current chair Ivana Radačić (Croatia), Alda Facio (Costa Rica), Meskerem Geset Techane (Ethiopia), Melissa Upreti (Nepal/USA) and Elizabeth Broderick (Australia).  

For further information, please refer to the following documents:
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 

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 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 information and media requests, please contact Hannah Wu (+ 41 22 917 9152 / [email protected]), Bernadette Arditi ( +41 22 917 9159/ [email protected] ) or Monica Iyer ( +41 22 917 9668/ [email protected] )

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Jeremy Laurence – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected]