International Women’s Day: The dramatic deterioration in respect for women’s rights and gender equality must be resolutely reversed

  • Alarming attacks on women’s rights around the world in 2021/22.
  • Legal protections have been dismantled and women human rights defenders are now exposed to unprecedented risk.
  • Protecting and promoting the rights of women and girls and supporting women human rights defenders is crucial, including for the recovery from Covid-19.
  • Governments must act decisively to reverse regressions and uphold the human rights of women and girls.

Catastrophic attacks on human rights and gender equality over the past twelve months have reduced the protection of women and girls and increased the threats against them around the world, Amnesty International said today.

On International Women’s Day, the organization called for bold action to reverse the erosion of the human rights of women and girls.

The events of 2021 and the first months of 2022 have conspired to crush the rights and dignity of millions of women and girls

Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard

“The events of 2021 and the first months of 2022 have conspired to crush the rights and dignity of millions of women and girls. Global crises do not have an equal, let alone equitable impact. The disproportionate impacts on the rights of women and girls are well documented but still overlooked, if not outright ignored. But the facts are clear. The Covid-19 pandemic, the crushing rollback of women’s rights in Afghanistan, the widespread sexual violence that characterizes the conflict in Ethiopia, the attacks on access to abortion in the United States and the withdrawal of Turkey from the landmark Istanbul convention on gender-based violence: each is a serious erosion of rights on its own terms, but taken together? We must resist and look down on this global attack on the dignity of women and girls,” said Amnesty Secretary General Agnès Callamard.

The past two years – dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic – have had a disproportionate impact on women and girls. Domestic violence has increased, job insecurity for women has worsened, access to sexual and reproductive health services has eroded, girls’ schooling has dropped dramatically in many places. Those who are already the most marginalized have been hardest hit. Decisions taken by governments and authorities that have worsened the situation of women and girls must be repealed.

Crisis in Ukraine

This year, International Women’s Day falls as the armed conflict in Europe plunges the world into a new crisis. Images of women giving birth safe from airstrikes; women fleeing the bombs – children in their arms; grieving mothers; newly orphaned children, highlight what conflict and humanitarian crises mean for women and children. The women and girls caught up in the conflict in Ukraine now join the ranks of millions of others who have suffered the unrelenting human costs of armed conflict from Syria to Yemen and Afghanistan and far beyond.

The increased militarization of daily life, as weapons proliferate, violence escalates and public resources are redirected to support military spending – all of which imposes a high and unsustainable price on the daily lives of women and girls. Today, across Ukraine and across the region, women and girls are once again at grave risk. Amnesty International has previously documented how militarization in recent years in conflict-affected areas of eastern Ukraine has led to increased rates of gender-based violence and reduced access to essential services. This is a model now destined to spread throughout the country.

Massive restrictions on the rights of women and girls imposed in Afghanistan

Since capturing Kabul in August 2021, the Taliban have imposed blatant restrictions on the rights of women and girls across Afghanistan. The women have been told that they cannot return to their place of work or move around in public unless accompanied by a male guardian. Girls over the age of twelve are now excluded from education. A flawed, painstakingly negotiated system to strengthen women’s protection against gender-based violence has been decimated. Lawyers, judges, shelter workers and others who have worked for years to make this system work effectively now risk being attacked themselves.

“Taliban laws, policies and practices have worked to unravel the human rights gains that the Afghan people have fought for for decades. Despite courageous protests by women across the country, the Taliban remain committed to building a society in which women become second-class citizens. Restricted movement, deprived of education, denied work opportunities and income, and left unprotected from gender-based violence? It is unacceptable. It only shames all those responsible for it and all those who are also silent, ”said Agnès Callamard.

“Governments around the world must put the rights of women and girls at the very center of their foreign policy for Afghanistan. They must draw inspiration from defenders of Afghan women’s rights and insist, for example, on equal access for women and girls to education, employment and essential services, without discrimination.

Gender-Based Violence in Ethiopia

Gender-based violence is a persistent feature of armed conflicts that have continued and expanded over the past twelve months. In Ethiopia, Amnesty International documented large-scale acts of sexual violence perpetrated in the Tigray region by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, and in the Amhara region by Tigrayan forces. These attacks constitute war crimes and may have constituted crimes against humanity. Many of the attacks documented by Amnesty International – such as gang rapes – were committed by multiple perpetrators in front of family members. In some cases, those assaulted involved acts of sexual mutilation or were accompanied by ethnic insults and threats.

Legal protections dismantled

The last twelve months have also seen significant damage to the international human rights legal framework that exists to address gender-based violence.

On July 1, 2021, Turkey withdrew from the landmark Istanbul Convention – a groundbreaking and comprehensive framework to address gender-based violence and secure the rights of survivors in Europe. This decision marks a massive regression in the human rights of women and girls in Turkey and has also emboldened women’s rights advocates in several other countries in the region.

Sexual and reproductive rights have also been criticized. In the United States, there has been an all-out attack on abortion rights, with state governments introducing more abortion restrictions in 2021 than any other year. In Texas, a near-total ban was enacted and later allowed to go into effect by the Supreme Court, criminalizing abortion as early as the sixth week of pregnancy – before most women even realize they are pregnant. This ban deprives millions of people of the right to access a safe and legal abortion. The future of constitutional protection of safe and legal abortion across the country is also in serious jeopardy as it will be presented to the Supreme Court in June 2022.

Such attacks on legal protections for the rights of women and girls are particularly devastating in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen a sharp rise in cases of gender-based violence and new reported attacks on sexual and reproductive rights. worldwide. .

Women human rights defenders are driving resistance and positive change

Despite these setbacks, the tireless efforts of women human rights defenders have paid off. Human rights advocacy, campaigning and mobilization have led to key victories for abortion rights in Colombia, Mexico and San Marino. And while Turkey has withdrawn from the Istanbul Convention, two other states, Moldova and Liechtenstein, have ratified it.

There can be no excuse for not governing justly and equitably for women and girls

Agnes Callamard

Women’s rights activists in Slovenia successfully lobbied for reforms to be brought in line with international standards, following similar positive developments in Denmark, Malta, Croatia, Greece, Iceland and Sweden , while reforms are underway in the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.

Women activists and human rights defenders have also been at the forefront of resistance and protest for human rights in many other countries, including Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, Russia, the United States and Afghanistan. In many cases, they have done so even in the face of threats to their lives and families or threats of imprisonment and actual bodily harm. They deserve global support.

“Governments know well what is needed to uphold the human rights of women and girls. Those who support them, including donors and investors, must insist that the relevant authorities act now and decisively – regressive laws must be repealed. Essential services must be guaranteed. Girls and women must have equal access to education and employment. Gender-based violence must be condemned and protections against it must be strengthened, not weakened. The targeting of women human rights defenders must end. No society can afford or should ever tolerate such attacks on the dignity of more than half of its population. There is no excuse for not governing fairly and equitably for women and girls,” said Agnès Callamard.