On March 4, I was fortunate to take part in the activities and workshops prepared by the North Staffordshire Women´s Network for their International Women’s Day celebrations.
Women, and men, from across Staffordshire, gathered at the Mitchell Arts Centre to participate in art and dance workshops, as well as lightening talks to basically spend the day sharing experiences and create new ones.
Having met some of the wonderful ladies that represent organizations part of the network, I was asked to prepare a talk on Women´s Rights for their annual day of events.
The title I chose was “Women’s Rights are Human Rights”. Plain and simple, just the message I wanted people to take home for International Women’s Day, and everyday.
I have made a written summary of the talk which might be of interest, and a version of the ppt used, available for download.
Women´s rights are Human Rights
Very often we hear the term Human Rights used widely and, quite often, in contexts where it shouldn´t be. So let´s put it put in the open, do we know what Human Rights are. How can we define Human Rights, what use are they to all of us?
Quite simply, human rights are your basest rights, protections and guarantees every human being has just for existing. It protects your life, access to a name, a nationality, to health, to an education. The list goes on. Still, one of the most important things we must remember is that they are interdependent, so if one is affected, as a result, another will suffer too.
Although Human Rights have been around for centuries, the institutionalization of Rights as we know it today was born in the aftermath of the Second World War and the advent of the United Nations.
Created to prevent nations from ever going back to war, the State parties understood there were other issues it was necessary for this organization to supervise. That’s why the UN has a Human Rights Committee and other subcommittees were created to uphold the rights of both men and women. The UN Charter, its constitution to put it plainly, clearly states the UN´s commitment to the equality of both men and women. After all, although women were not allowed to serve in the front, they either took part in supporting vital activities, suffered the consequences of rationing or attacks at home, or had to do the jobs men used to, but they were not around to do them.
The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, also made references to equality of both men and women before the law. By then the UN had created the Committee on the Status of Women, which was tasked with creating documents that would advance women´s rights. After drafting a number of conventions on equality of labour, and marriage consent, the committee was requested to prepare a declaration on discrimination against women. And so, the Declaration was approved by the General Assembly in 1967, but since it was a declaration, a statement of principles and aspirations, it lacked “teeth”, and so it was vital to make it legally binding for all State parties.
That´s the other important issue to remember, conventions make State parties, governments liable before its citizens and the international community should they fail to fulfil the obligations, or violate the rights the text recognizes.
Which is why, the 1979 Convention on Discrimination Against Women is considered a landmark in Women’s Rights history. Although we must remember it entered into force a few years later, once the minimum number of signatures was reached.
It has usually been the UN that takes the first step in turning into a convention, and part of International Human Rights Law, the safeguards and guarantees for rights, and later it is the regional mechanisms the ones that take up the baton and adopt this assurance in their own Regional Systems, namely the Inter American Commission of Human Rights, The African Commission, The European Parliament.
In case of a violation of Women’s Rights then, a woman can petition before her local regional mechanism, or can file a complaint before the CEDAW committee. The CEDAW is so much more than a convention, it also monitors countries are fulfilling their obligations and makes recommendations to help them do so. Also, we have the Special Rapporteurs, who are indeed, specialists on women’s issues and/or human rights, that not only prepare reports, but also carry out state visits to take first hand accounts from women of the status of their rights in any given country.
And so, even if you don´t “buy” the argument that women are equal to men before the law and that conventions recognize them to be, perhaps the economic argument might impress you.
There´s mounting evidence from The World Bank, The World Economic Forum, and other think-tanks and organizations, that if women increase their participation in the economy, the GDP of a country will be positively affected. Also, according to The World Bank “the return (on investment) on one year of secondary education for a girl correlates with as high as a 25% increase in wages later in life”.
Other processes in which women are instrumental, if you want to succeed, are peace processes. Engagement of women means a 20 % increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least 2 years, and a 35 % increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least 15 years. Still, women are hardly invited to participate as negotiators, but we have made progress in our voices being heard as consultants, specialists, and the latest Colombian agreement is proof that some of the barriers are coming down.
Evidence proves it then. Women’s special qualities and place in any family, community puts them at the heart of any process that affects it. So, again, even if you don´t grasp the equality argument, look at the figures, the hard evidence that shows that women participation is essential for the positive and lasting outcome of any process that aims to deliver change.
Still, women no longer ask to be empowered, a word that has fallen into disrepute according to some. Women are empowering themselves by understanding their capacities and strength, by learning their struggles are shared by others, and so together, just as it has been up to know, they shall push the remaining boundaries to have their rights fulfilled.