Every year in March, South Africans celebrate Human Rights Day, paying tribute to those who challenged the apartheid laws and fought for democracy and equality in our country.
This year, I’ve been thinking about how remarkably far South Africa has come on this front, but also about how equal access to rights is still an undeniable problem in the world. These rights include living free from slavery, violence and discrimination, access to education, and the right to earn an equal and fair wage. In essence – being treated fairly and justly.
On September 5th 1995, Hillary Clinton gave a speech at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing: “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.”
If ‘women’s rights are human rights’, why are so many women around the globe still unable to access these rights in 2018? Why are so many girls and women denied their rights just because of their gender? 2017 – 2018 brought many monumental movements and uprisings against inequality. These movements highlighted that there is still copious amounts of work to do, but also that there is a power and determination to fight.
#MeToo proved that laws around sexual harassment must be strengthened to protect everyone. The BBC pay scandal unveiled that laws need to change so that women can exercise their right to equal pay, and that organisations have to come together and fight discrimination in the work place. The Women’s March on 21 January 2017 was the largest coordinated protest in the history of the US. It had a massive impact, taking women’s rights go beyond focus groups and into a global arena, and gave a rise to a new era of activism.
These monumental moments were publicly broadcasted and celebrated globally, which contributed to worldwide awareness of the vital issues at hand. However, there have been many other achievements by women all over the world in the past year, which are not always as publicly available. These achievements and movements show copious amounts of bravery and courage within female communities, and demonstrate how strong the fight for equality remains.
In September 2017, Mexico was hit by the strongest earthquake in a century. Two weeks later, a second quake hit. Among the devastation and loss this disaster caused, Semillas, an organization building a powerful movement of women’s groups across the country for 25 years, instantly began addressing the needs of women and girls. Semillas developed a reconstruction and rebuilding campaign for the country.
Thanks to years of persistence and determination by women’s groups, in August 2017, Lebanon’s Parliament abolished a law that allowed men accused of rape to be exonerated and escape punishment if they married the individual they raped. This major legal win came just weeks after Jordan’s Parliament voted to revoke the same law. Tunisia did the same in July. These law abolishments were massive wins for gender equality, but there are still multiple laws that need to be amended.
Another monumental moment for women’s rights was when Chile’s Constitutional Tribunal voted to legalize abortion under three cases. At the heart of this legal victory was Chile’s resilient women’s movement and many other women’s groups.
And there are so, so many more examples..
I can only hope that these movements keep on highlighting issues and encouraging people to take a stand. Inequality and discrimination are not acceptable and people are no longer willing to tolerate them.
Every single person’s rights are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a woman’s right to decide if and when she has children, and to have high-quality health care for pregnancy and childbirth. Female genital mutilation is a violation of girls’ rights, and must be eliminated. Every woman has the right to live free from discrimination.
Only when women and girls have full access to their rights – from equal pay and land ownership rights to sexual rights, freedom from violence, access to education, and maternal health rights – will true equality exist.