At the United Nations Fourth World Conference in Beijing in 1995, Hillary Clinton famously remarked that “human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” Her statement is as relevant today as it was twenty years ago. Some of the most prevailing women’s rights issues today, such as violence against women and sex trafficking, are also pressing human rights violations.
It’s today, on Human Rights Day – which commemorates the U.N.’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 – that we can both honor the achievements and progress of women’s rights, while reflecting and acting on the issues that persist today. What better time to reflect on women’s accomplishments and goals than the final days of the year?
2015 has has marked positive milestones for women such as the elimination of female genital mutilation in some countries including Papua New Guinea. At the same time it has also been a year of brutal violence against women from the Yazidi women in Iraq being captured and killed by ISIS, to the murder of Farkhunda Malikzada, a 27-year-old Afghan woman who was falsely accused of burning the Quran. And let’s not forget about the women who experience violence in their very own homes. Feminist icon, Gloria Steinem called violence against females, “the biggest issue women face today,” with an average of three U.S. women a day being killed in domestic homicides and nearly one third of women having experienced domestic violence.
Worldwide, women are battered, mutilated and forced into marriage – their basic human rights breached, broken. The International Center for Research on Women estimates that there are nearly 70 million child brides worldwide. Countries such as Guatemala have made strides, passing legislation that raises the minimum age of marriage to 18.
Other countries are crawling slowly towards gender equality. Saudi Arabia has allowed women to vote and run for public office, albeit without the right to drive themselves to the voting booths. For the first time women in Tunisia can travel with their children without their husband’s permission, yet the father still remains the legal guardian.
Change has been a gradual process, made possible only by the people at the front lines fighting for women’s rights despite the threat of arrest, or worse, death. Former congresswoman and gun violence survivor Gabby Giffords spoke out bravely saying, “dangerous people with guns are a threat to women.” In China, five women’s rights activists were detained for for protesting sexual harassment just days before International Women’s Day.
Our very own first lady, Michelle Obama has campaigned for girls’ education, pointing out that “right now, 62 million girls are not in school,” while Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai continues to advocate for women’s education. Men too, have gone to bat for women, appointing them to leadership positions as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did when he appointed women to half of the positions in his cabinet.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg for women’s rights. Even climate change, one of the largest issues of our time, disproportionately affects women, making it harder for them to secure resources and survive in extreme weather. The list goes on for issues that are still on our agenda: sex trafficking, gender discrimination, maternal mortality, reproductive restrictions.
We have come far, but not far enough. It is not until we secure women’s rights, that we can secure our basic human rights.