International law is the foundation of Equality Now’s work to ensure all women and girls are able to live safe, fearless, and free. December 18th, 2019 marked the 40th anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This international human rights treaty acknowledges the continuing extensive discrimination against women, defines that discrimination and lays out how states must act to address it.
..the term “discrimination against women” shall mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.
Equality should be in the constitution
All States Parties commit to embody the principle of the equality of men and women in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation if not yet incorporated therein and to ensure, through law and other appropriate means, the practical realization of this principle;
All but eight countries in the world have ratified CEDAW. Not only has the United States not ratified CEDAW, but it also does not guarantee full equality for women and men in the constitution. Equality Now is working at the local and federal level to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). These efforts include supporting grassroots groups working to ratify the ERA at the state level, as well as, pushing at the federal level to eliminate the original ratification deadline and enshrine gender equality in the U.S. Constitution.
Men and women should be equal before the law
States Parties shall accord to women equality with men before the law and take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women;
Despite this, there are only six countries in the world where there is legal equality between men and women. States need to change that.
There is legal inequality between men and women in almost every country in the world, except Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg, and Sweden, according to the World Bank’s Women Business and the Law Report 2019.
Without equality in the law, there can never be equality in society. Equality Now has been methodically reporting on and advocating for an end to sex discriminatory laws, as agreed to in the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995.
Violence against women should be seen as discrimination, not a private matter
General Recommendation No. 19 from 1992 was historic as it clearly framed violence against women as a form and manifestation of gender-based discrimination, used to subordinate and oppress women. It unequivocally brought violence outside of the private sphere and into the realm of human rights.
25 years later, General Recommendation No. 35 elaborates on the gender-based nature of this form of violence, building on the work of the Committee and other international human rights mechanisms, as well as developments at national, regional and international levels.
Around the world, 35 percent of women have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence. No country is free from such violence and access to justice is hard to come by. In Bolivia, sexual violence survivors who choose to report their case face many obstacles to obtain justice, including having to prove “intimidation, physical violence, or psychological violence,” a burden that discourages many survivors from seeking justice.
The trafficking and exploitation of women should end
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women.
The commercial sexual exploitation of children, women, and other marginalized genders is increasing and changing shape as exploiters take advantage of the technological anonymity afforded by digital innovations and prey upon the vulnerabilities created by increasing wealth disparity and migration routes. Exploiters rake in huge profits across a $99 billion a year global industry. And now exploiters can reach vulnerable people in all corners of the globe through the internet and move between online sexual exploitation and direct contact sexual exploitation with increasing anonymity and ease.
Women and men should be equal in nationality law
States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality. They shall ensure in particular that neither marriage to an alien nor change of nationality by the husband during marriage shall automatically change the nationality of the wife, render her stateless or force upon her the nationality of the husband.
States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children.
Despite this, there are 25 countries worldwide that prevent women from passing their nationality to their children on an equal basis with men. This leaves children at risk of wide-ranging human rights violations and inhibits sustainable development. Even more countries deny women the equal right with men to pass their nationality to their spouse, leaving many individuals lacking access to fundamental services and opportunities and causing misery and despair.
There should be equality in sport
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in order to ensure to them equal rights with men…and in particular to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women…[t]he same Opportunities to participate actively in sports and physical education;
2019 was a year of incredible achievement in women’s sports, the Women’s World Cup was watched by a record one billion viewers for the first time, Simone Biles became the gymnast with most World gold medals, and Jasmin Paris became the first woman to win a grueling 268 mile race (whilst breastfeeding).
It was also the year that Iran let women watch football in stadiums. This change came after Sahar Khodayari, an Iranian female football fan, who dressed as a man to enter a stadium died in September this year. She set herself on fire outside a courtroom when she learned she may face six months in prison.
Every woman and girl should be able to live safe, fearless, and free. Until then, we will continue to remind States of the commitments they made, call them out on their failings, and work with them to promote and protect women’s rights.