Wins for women’s rights in 2016

Grace Gaywood | Dec 30, 2016
Womens rights are human rights
2016 has been a difficult year for many people, including women. While there is much cause for concern and women’s rights has been facing an unprecedented backlash, women’s movements are standing together strong, and there have been many victories to note and celebrate.

Thanks to the campaigning of women’s rights organisations and movements, gender equality and women’s rights are firmly on the global agenda and we have much to be proud of this year. Women around the world have come together and stood up against injustice, discrimination and inequality. Their united voice has demanded governments and law makers take their concerns seriously and respond to protect their rights.

So here is our roundup of some of the past year’s biggest success stories for women’s rights from around the world...

Polish women’s victory on abortion ban

One of the most inspiring successes came in October when, thanks to the mobilisation of Polish women’s groups, the Polish government were forced into a humiliating retreat over a bill proposing a complete ban on abortions. In a powerful demonstration of how effective a united women’s movement can be, Polish women’s groups worked closely with grassroots organisations and built a broad coalition to raise awareness of the threat the new law would pose to women’s health and human rights.

In a tremendous display of people power, on 3rd October, tens of thousands boycotted work and 30,000 people, dressed in black, took to the streets in support of women’s reproductive rights. The action was almost entirely promoted through social media, with the hashtag #blackprotest (#czarnyprotest) ensuring the event went viral and bringing the world’s attention to the streets of Poland.

The current abortion law in Poland is already one of the most restrictive in Europe with many women risking their health by resorting to unsafe illegal abortions or ordering pills online. This is not the first time a complete abortion ban has been proposed in the country, and also not the first time the women’s movement has organised to defeat it. But the overwhelming response this time has sparked a change in the public’s attitude towards abortion and many are now calling on the existing laws to be revised and be more reflective of women’s reproductive rights.

Powerful protests in Turkey force withdrawal of bill permitting underage sex

In yet another win for people power and women’s rights, powerful protests also forced Turkey’s government to withdraw the review of a controversial bill that would have allowed men who had sex with underage girls to be pardoned if they married them – essentially legitimising statutory rape and encouraging child marriage. Sex with underage girls and child marriage are already widespread in Turkey, with an estimated 15% of girls getting married before they turn 18.

The leader of the Republican People's Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, called the decision a "victory for women" as the government had “taken a step back, and…realised women's strength". While there is still a long way to go for gender equality in Turkey, women’s movements are marching forward and gaining confidence and momentum every step of the way.

#NiUnaMenos – Women in Argentina have had enough

A woman is murdered every 30 hours in Argentina. Just in the first 18 days of October, 19 women were killed. 2016 was the year that Argentinian women, and women across Latin America said “Enough!”. Following the brutal gang-rape, torture and killing of a 16-year-old schoolgirl, Lucia Perez, hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets to protest. Sabrina Cartabia, one of the organisers said “We are saying ‘enough!’ We won’t go back to being submissive and we won’t tolerate any more of the misogyny or violence that all us women have to deal with”.

The scale of the marches were unlike anything the women’s movement in Argentina had achieved before, and followed similar unprecedented protests in neighbouring countries. The hashtag #NiUnaMenos (‘Not One Less’) has been uniting women across Latin America who are demanding that no more women’s lives are lost to gender violence.

Extra £6 million funding for women’s rights organisations

Grassroots women’s right organisations and movements have always been at the forefront of the fight to end the abuse of women and girls, and their leadership has been pivotal in creating and sustaining real change. We also know that much of their essential work - from combating FGM and early forced marriage, to running specialist shelter services for survivors of violence – is often being carried out on a shoestring budget.

Better quality funding is crucial for their success and sustainability, and this is something that Womankind has consistently campaigned for. So we were very pleased when, in November, DFID announced £6m of extra funding to support innovative grassroots programmes working to combat FGM, child marriage and domestic violence. £3 million of this will be going to AmplifyChange, a fund which supports 40 small grassroots groups, and an extra £2.75m to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women. Given the recent uncertainty on the future of the UK’s development role, this is very welcome news and will allow the UK to continue to lead in combating violence against women and girls.

Nepal leads by example

At the end of 2015, Nepal elected its first female president, Bidhya Devi Bhandari. While the Presidency is a ceremonial position, it went a long way in making women visible in public life. This year we can applaud Nepal on appointing its first female Chief Justice! Nepal has for some time been leading South Asian countries in women's political participation - the appointment of Sushila Karki as Chief Justice is yet another significant moment for women in Nepal, ending male domination of the judiciary. We hope that Nepal will continue to lead by example in 2017!

#BringBackOurGirls: 21 kidnapped schoolgirls released and returned home

There are many obstacles that stand in the way of women and girls fully exercising their right to participate in and benefit from education. Poverty, geographical isolation, minority status, early marriage and pregnancy are just some of the reasons why, in many parts of the world, young women and girls are denied an education. Sometimes it’s simply because men are aware of and threatened by the potential and power of an educated woman. So when in April 2014, the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from their classrooms in Chibok, they meant it as a threat to all women. The girls disappeared without a trace, leaving grieving families with nobody to turn to for help.

So it was amazing news when in October this year, 21 of the 276 girls were released and safely returned home. This was a remarkable victory for all the women in Nigeria’s ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ movement and all the women’s groups around the world who campaigned tirelessly for their release. It was thanks to the numerous protests outside embassies, the commitment and determination of Nigerian women’s rights activists, and the solidarity shown around the world by campaigns such as the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign, that there was sufficient pressure on the Nigerian government to negotiate their safe return.

We should all welcome the news and, with a united voice, continue to call for action until all 276 girls are released.

Landmark win for rape survivors in Guatemala

Early in 2016, Guatemala produced a landmark win for rape survivors in that country. The Sepur Zarco Sexual Violence Case was the first time a Guatemalan court prosecuted anyone for sexual violence committed during the country’s 36-year internal armed conflict and was also the first time a case of domestic and sexual slavery was trialled in a domestic court. The judge said “Today, we recognize and acknowledge the value and respect that the women of Sepur Zarco deserve…the judges of this tribunal consider that crimes of this nature should never again be repeated.”

This historic ruling would not have been possible without the courageous testimony of the 15 indigenous women survivors who chose to speak out and instil the support of women’s groups and activists. The ruling marks a significant step towards ending impunity for sexual violence in conflict around the world.

Dalit women finally being heard in Nepal

Thanks to the hard work of our partner the Feminist Dalit Organisation (FEDO), 2016 was the first year that Nepal’s Election Commission included points relating to Dalit women’s issues in their five-year strategic plan. Gender and social inclusion are now ensured at all local and national levels of the election commission. Inequality based on caste and gender is widespread in Nepal with many women experiencing discrimination and violence.

Last year, Womankind supported FEDO in campaigning for Dalit women’s rights to be recognised by government and it has been a success! The women’s movement in Nepal is growing and has been further strengthened with the inclusion of Dalit women.

Establishing safe spaces for refugee women

In the past year, we’ve seen the refugee crisis grow as conflict, poverty and humanitarian disasters have forced millions from their homes. While a traumatising experience for anybody involved, the plight of women refugees is especially concerning as they are at more at risk of trafficking, sexual exploitation and violence.

Womankind has been working with our partner the Women’s Legal Aid Centre (WLAC) at the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania providing specialist support and ensuring refugee women’s rights are protected. There has been much progress to celebrate - in just the first 6 months of the project WLAC have trained 92 refugee paralegals to provide free legal aid to hundreds of women and over 280 police, healthcare workers and community leaders, on how to support women who have experienced violence.

As threats to women’s rights present themselves in new and more challenging ways, women around the world are organising to ensure those women have a voice and receive the support they need.

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