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Human Rights are not an option!

Updated on May 18, 2012

Human Rights of Women

The women's human rights movement has made a large impact in a very short time. It has raised the visibility of abuses aginst women.Over the past decade the movements growth has transformed the way human rights issues are understood and investigated.

In 1990 Human Rights Watch began working with the international community to find suitable tools to document violations of human rights and seeking solutions to such abuse. Traditionally abuses against women have been excused or ignored and women's lack of social and economic security has made worse their vulnerability to violence and sex discrimination. In some societies women have lacked political power and equal justice to freely express opinions and participate in politcal processes. Although. the Internatinal Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994 recognized;

'advancing gender equality and equity and the empowerment of women, and the elimination of all kinds of violence against women, and ensuring women's ability to control their own fertility, are cornerstones of population and development-related programs'

However,the lack of documentation of violations of womens rights only reinforces governments' silence. Advocacy for Women's rights has rejected the argument that governments have no responsibility for the wide range of abuses perpetrated and that governments must prevent such acts. National legislation and practices should be reviewed in order to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sex and governments should be forced to ammend criminal, civil, family and labour laws and provide an appropriate forum which challenges abuses.

Trafficking Women and young girls

Women and girls are trafficked in their thousands every year and forced into prostitution.They are not given a choice, can rarely escape and certainly cannot negotiate the terms of their slavery. Human Rights Watch has investigated this problem in many countries and has found that the very people who are supposed to be protecting these women such as the police and local government officers, have also been profiting from the trade.They ignore the abuses and protect the traffickers.

Trafficking women and girls is a very lucrative business and routinely escapes national and international sanctions. It has frequently been mischaraterized by both governments and human rights organizations alike as a voluntary act and has largely been dismissed as a crime. However, it is prohibited under human rights law. Governments are obligated to take apprpriate steps to eradicate forced trafficking and slavery like practises. Forced marriage is also condemned as a slavery like practice under the Supplementary Slavery Convention.

The Convention against Torture

The right to be free from torture is also a peremptory norm of the international human rights regime. It defines torture as;

'any act by which severe pain or suffuring, whether physical or mental, is intentially inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in official party'

Abuse in the workplace

The perception that women are less reliable than men in the workplace often motivates sex discrimination. Although this is prohibited under international human rights law, it is none the less often tolerated by governments. Women are afraid to report abuse in fear that they will loose their job and they often have lttle faith in the criminal justice system to respond to gender related abuse.

Violence against women in the workplace has received little attention and documentation. Women are a small percentage of union membership but even so, they are more likely to be abused because of their gender, class or immigration status than their union activism.

Although there is existing protective legislation for women workers it is often this that exacerbates sex discrimination. Employers view women as too expensive and see their abscence from work for example maternity reasons as too high relative to men. They therefore use it to discriminate.

Looking ahead

Lack of support in the past has prevented women from standing up to their abuse and speaking out at the risk of social ostracism in societies whch often blame the victim. The International human rights system is becoming more responsive to gender-based human rights violations and women are beginning to speak up about their experiences. Their testimonies only add to the evidence of the scale of the problem that the international community cannot afford to ignore.


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