international-human-rights-day_mediumWorld YWCA Statement

We are celebrating Human Rights Day, just when the world leaders have clearly expressed that the basic rights of the majority of the world are yet to be achieved; that statement expressed through the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We are observing this day, at a time when the World YWCA movement has just adopted its bold and transformative vision, that “by 2035, 100 million young women and girls transform power structures, creating justice, gender equality, a world free of violence and war; leading a sustainable and inclusive movement”.

Every year on 10 December we celebrate Human Rights Day to commemorate the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year, Human Rights Day commemorates that 50 years have passed since the adoption of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Inherent in the human rights commitment is ending discrimination as enshrined in the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

These three international conventions, together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, form the bedrock of the universal human rights framework granting all persons the same rights. They oblige State Parties to ensure the equal rights of women and men.  So why, 50 years later, do world leaders again need to commit to work towards gender equality through the Sustainable Development Goals?

The agonizing truth to this question lies in the fact that, today, discrimination and violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence against women – are major and constant concerns of our communities worldwide. For example, worldwide, more than 700 million women were married before their 18thbirthday, violating their fundamental human rights, robbing them of their right to education and opportunities to make a livelihood and preventing them from establishing a healthy foundation for their adult life.

All around the world, discriminatory laws against women in many countries mean women and girls do not have the same rights as men to citizenship, employment, parenting, inheritance and property. In addition, women represent the world’s poorest inhabitants, and since 1975, the number of women living in rural poverty has steadily increased.

While women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, they earn just 10% of the world’s income. Formal, structural and substantive barriers face women, young women and girls who strive to become leaders at the local, national, regional or international level. These are some of the reasons we do not have proportionate representation of women in key leadership positions in today’s society.

Cultural as well as social roles often portray women as not suited for leadership positions, while domestic responsibilities and norms and a lack of adequate child care and other support and services discourage women from pursuing careers with leadership opportunities. Discrimination against women also intersects with other forms of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, disability, persons affected by HIV/AIDS and sexual orientation, which further exacerbates violence against women and prevents women from having the same opportunities as men.

It is clear that ensuring women enjoy the same equal rights and opportunities as men remains an elusive aspiration. At the same time it has become evident that the pace of reform since we first adopted the International Bill of Rights has been too slow.  While many countries have officially signed international agreements designed to protect women’s rights, create more gender equality and eliminate violence against women, these agreements are often neither honoured nor implemented.

We don’t need more rhetoric or more formal agreements. As the world’s largest women’s movement, we at the World YWCA are calling on Heads of State to implement the human rights commitments they have already made. We’re calling on governments to protect women’s rights, to promote gender equality and to ensure that laws designed to eliminate violence against women are upheld.

Today on International Human Rights Day, we recognize that women, young women and girls have a critical role to play in shaping our futures. However, they can only do this if they can exercise and enjoy the human rights that their governments have pledged to implement and protect.