Yet, despite many successes in empowering women, numerous issues still exist in all areas of life, ranging from the cultural, political to the economic. For example, women often work more than men, yet are paid less; gender discrimination affects girls and women throughout their lifetime; and women and girls are often are the ones that suffer the most poverty.
Many may think that women’s rights are only an issue in countries where religion is law, such as many Muslim countries. Or even worse, some may think this is no longer an issue at all. But reading this report about the United Nation’s Women’s Treaty and how an increasing number of countries are lodging reservations, will show otherwise.
Gender equality furthers the cause of child survival and development for all of society, so the importance of women’s rights and gender equality should not be underestimated.
This article explores these issues further.
It isn’t easy to change tradition overnight. However, a small example of successes include:
* The gains made in South Africa
* Childhood concerns in Latin America
* Poor women gaining greater access to savings and credit mechanisms worldwide, due to microcredit.
* A dwindling number of countries that do not allow women to vote including Bhutan (one vote per house), Lebanon (partial), Brunei (no-one can vote), Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (expected in 2010), and the Vatican City.
* Women gaining more positions in parliament throughout Africa. In many cases African countries have more women in parliament than some western ones.
* A protocol to protect womens’s rights in Africa that came into effect in 2005 (though many nations still need to sign up).
* An almost universal ratification of the women’s rights treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
On the 30th anniversary of CEDAW Inter Press Service (IPS) listed a number of benefits the women’s right treaty has provided around the world, for example:
* Morocco gave women greater equality and protection of their human rights within marriage and divorce by passing a new family code in 2004
* India has accepted legal obligations to eliminate discrimination against women and outlawed sexual harassment in the workplace
* In Cameroon, the Convention is applied in local courts and groundbreaking decisions on gender equality are being made by the country’s high courts
* Mexico passed a law in 2007 toughening its laws on violence against women
* And the CEDAW committee in Austria decided two complaints against Austria concerning domestic violence in 2007
* UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also noted that within the UN itself, the number of women in senior posts has increased by 40 percent
* “The Convention has been used to challenge discriminatory laws, interpret ambiguous provisions or where the law is silent, to confer rights on women,” Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said.
Ban Ki-moon also described the treaty as “one of the most successful human rights treaties ever”, according to IPS.
Lack Of Progress
Thirty years after the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), many girls and women still do not have equal opportunities to realize rights recognized by law. In many countries, women are not entitled to own property or inherit land. Social exclusion, “honor” killings, female genital mutilation, trafficking, restricted mobility and early marriage among others, deny the right to health to women and girls and increase illness and death throughout the life-course.
We will not see sustainable progress unless we fix failures in health systems and society so that girls and women enjoy equal access to health information and services, education, employment and political positions.
— Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization, Equal rights and opportunities for women and girls essential for better health, International Women’s Day, March 8, 2010
You would think that as time goes on, there would be more equality between men and women. Unfortunately, trends are moving in the other direction.
Inter Press Service notes that progress is mixed:
When it comes to female education rates, progress has been made around the world, and in many countries girls and young women have outnumbered and outperformed boys and men at all levels of schooling for decades. Nevertheless, these advances have yet to translate into greater equity in employment, politics and social relations.
— Mario Osava, Women More Educated, Not More Equal, Inter Press Service, March 1, 2010
A report from Human Rights Watch also describes how women’s rights have not been observed in some countries as much as expected; in some places claims are made that women’s rights will be respected more, yet policies are sometimes not changed enough—or at all—thus still undermining the rights of women.
In some patriarchal societies, religion or tradition can be used as a barrier for equal rights. For example, as Inter Press Service reported, the Bangladesh government tried to hide behind laws to deny women equal rights. In Pakistan for example, honor killings directed at women have been carried for even the slightest reasons.
As Amnesty International also points out, “Governments are not living up to their promises under the Women’s Convention to protect women from discrimination and violence such as rape and female genital mutilation.” There are many governments who have also not ratified the Convention, including the U.S. Many countries that have ratified it do so with many reservations.
Despite the almost universal ratification of the Convention (second only to the Convention on the Rights of the Child), a number of countries have still not signed or ratified it. The handful of remaining countries are: USA (signed, but not ratified), Iran, Qatar, Cook Islands (a Non-member state of the United Nations), Nauru, Palau, Tonga, Somalia, and Sudan.
To see the US on this list may seem surprising to most, and Human Rights Watch is critical of the delay in getting a ratification, noting that this treaty has been in limbo in the U.S. Senate for decades. It was sent it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a vote in 1980. The first hearing on it was 10 years later. After a vote mostly in favor for it by the Foreign Relations Committee in 1994, some conservative senators blocked a US Senate vote on it. In 2002 the Foreign Relations Committee again voted that the treaty should be ratified, but the 107th Congress ended, so it requires a vote again in favor of sending the treaty to the full Senate for ratification!
Some opponents of the treaty have raised fears that it would undermine US law, but Amnesty International USA shows that such fears of the treaty are based on myths.
The US of course has a decent record when it comes to women’s rights, so this may not seem a concern immediately. However, as Amnesty International USA further argues not only would ratification for the US be straight forward (for US laws in this area are already consistent with the CEDAW treaty), but it would also help to increase their credibility when raising these issues worldwide.
(There are different types of problems all over the world that women face, from the wealthiest countries to the poorest, and it isn’t the scope or ability of this site to be able to document them all here, but just provide some examples. Links to other sites on this page document more thoroughly the actual instances, cases and situations around the world.)