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Gender Equality in Progress: Equality Now at the 56th UN Human Rights Council

What is the United Nations Human Rights Council? 

The Human Rights Council is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the world, including by making recommendations to address human rights violations. 

Equality Now engages with the Human Rights Council by making written submissions on violations of women’s rights to the various mechanisms of the Human Rights Council, making oral statements during its sessions, as well as holding bilateral meetings with government representatives, and hosting side events. 

Our team members from Sri Lanka, Kenya, Sudan, and India joined various events across the 56th session, alongside our partners from The Gambia and the United States and young people from Egypt and Palestine who joined as part of the YW4A program. 

Calling for equality in family law 

Campaign Manager for the Global Campaign for Equality in Family Law, Hyshyama Hamin, and Equality Now Senior Legal Advisor, Esther Waweru, each spoke as panelists during the annual full-day discussion of the rights of women, which is a key part of the Human Rights Council meeting. During the morning session, Waweru explained that inequality in family law is a root cause of economic violence against women, which denies them access to social, political, and economic rights and leaves women and girls vulnerable to further exploitation and abuse.  She argued that inequality in families must be addressed alongside and included in all other existing mechanisms that are designed to prevent gender-based violence and abuse. 

In the afternoon session, Hyshayma Hamin spoke about the global status of gender inequality and drew attention to the fact that the World Bank’s recent Women, Business, and the Law 2024 report reveals that no country has achieved full legal equality for women and girls and that unequal family laws are a catalyst for other inequalities. At times of crisis and conflict, women who are subject to unequal family laws are left even more vulnerable. 

She called for all States to recognize the positive domino effect of equality in family law as a powerful mechanism for unlocking and enabling the rights and opportunities of women and girls when it comes to access to education, political and social participation, and economic security. 

Addressing the escalating backlash against gender equality 

Through an oral statement in the Interactive Dialogue with the UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, Hamin also drew attention to the slow pace of progress when it comes to the realization of legal equality in the family, with some calls for family law reform reflecting a desire for change that has lasted through many generations. Women’s rights groups and gender equality advocates have faced reprisals across the many regions and contexts where inequality in family law is a reflection of religious and cultural practices and beliefs. Despite this, the movement for family law reform remains active. 

Spotlighting effective strategies to address cross-border and transnational female genital mutilation 

Equality Now’s Global Lead on Ending Harmful Practices, Divya Srinivasan was at the Human Rights Council as well, alongside partners and high-level UN officials and government representatives for an in-depth discussion on cross-border and transnational female genital mutilation (FGM) during a side-event co-sponsored by Equality Now, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM and the Permanent Missions of Burkina Faso, The Gambia and the United Kingdom. 

Hannah Wu, Chief of the Women’s Rights Section at the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, presented the OHCHR’s recent report on cross-border and transnational FGM which was submitted to the Human Rights Council and highlighted the lack of accurate data on the number of girls taken across borders to be cut. 

Panelists were concerned about States avoiding the issue or backsliding on protections.  Mariya Taher, US Executive Director of Sahiyo, a long-time Equality Now partner organization, pointed out, “Denial of FGM persists in some Asian countries, with no laws addressing it in any Asian country. FGM is a global issue.” 

“The Gambia may become a safe haven for cross-border FGM if the proposed bill to repeal the anti-FGM ban passes on July 24th,” warned Dr. Isatou Touray, former Vice President of The Gambia and current Executive Director of GAMCOTRAP. 

UN Member State representatives also brought their countries’ perspectives to the conversation. “30 years of fighting against GBV and FGM is proof of its importance for Burkina Faso,” stated Ambassador Traore. British Global Ambassador for Human Rights and Deputy Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom Rita French emphasized that “Victims and survivors should be at the heart of our work. The counter-campaign is fueled by misinformation.” 

Responding to fears about a possible repeal of his country’s anti-FGM law, Ambassador Muhammadou Kah of The Gambia reaffirmed, “The Permanent Mission of the Gambia is committed to ensuring compliance with international human rights commitments, supporting laws on child marriage and FGM.” 

“FGM is happening globally, on every continent except Antarctica,” summed up Equality Now’s Divya Srinivasan, stressing the worldwide nature of the issue.  Overall, the discussion highlighted the need for regional and international solidarity and cooperation to more effectively address cross-border and transnational FGM, as well as to respond to instances of potential backlash such as in The Gambia. 

What did we learn? What happens next?

The 56th Human Rights Council session was a reaffirmation of the importance of such international spaces for advocacy and direct engagement with key stakeholders by Equality Now and our partners. 

For example, there was significant pressure not to mention specific States in our interventions, but Equality Now team members persevered and did mention some specific States whose laws need changing. It’s part of our job to hold governments to account, even in global spaces where “everybody is watching”. If it makes them uncomfortable, they can change their laws and we will applaud their progress. But it’s not just about “calling out” governments – we have lots of expertise and knowledge resources to share, and stand ready to advise them on how to change their laws for the better.

We also leveraged the opportunity to support learning for the next generation: Equality Now’s MENA Gender Advisor, Paleki Ayang, attended the Human Rights Council session with five young women from Egypt and Palestine as part of the YW4A program to improve young women’s access to and understanding of international advocacy spaces, including the Human Rights Council.

Equality Now and our partners will continue to follow up and engage with the UN Member States we met with at the Human Rights Council session, both based on their public statements and commitments, as well as the next steps from the bilateral meetings we had throughout the week.

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External Page

Global Campaign for Equality in Family Law

The Global Campaign for Equality in Family Law (GCEFL) was launched in March 2020 as a concerted and strategic global effort to draw attention to and call for the reform of discriminatory family laws, as part of fundamental women’s rights and human rights issues.


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