Women’s rights

Women claiming their rights thanks to Saathi in Nepal

Throughout the world, millions of women and girls are denied their human rights, just because they are female. Everyone has the right to receive an education, to speak freely, to live free from violence and torture. But for many women everyday reality is very different.

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What are women’s rights?

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that all humans should be guaranteed. These rights apply to everyone equally, but many women are prevented from realising their rights because of tradition, prejudice, social and economic interests.

When many international human rights laws were being drawn up the typical citizen they imagined (and often the person writing the law) was a man. Since then women's movements around the world have campaigned for the violence and discrimination experienced every day by women to be given greater visibility and to be understood as a violation of women’s fundamental human rights.

International women’s rights instruments

Today there are several international instruments which protect women’s rights, including:

  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, and often described as an international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.
  • The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a historic agreement between 189 governments, including the UK, to empower women globally. It can be seen as the blueprint for action to advance women’s rights and empowerment across the globe and was adopted at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. It covers 12 key vital areas on women’s rights, including violence against women and access to power and decision-making.
  • The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325), adopted in 2000. It was the first resolution to recognise the important role of women in peacebuilding and calls on governments to ensure that women are included in all peace negotiations and processes.
  • The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) succeed the Millennium Development Goals on 1 January 2016. The SDGs are a new, universal set of goals, targets and indicators that UN member states will use to frame their development priorities over the next 15 years. They include a standalone goal on gender equality and targets on violence against women and girls and women’s participation and leadership (thanks in part to campaigning by Womankind and our partners).

These policy frameworks may seem detached from the realities of most women’s lives, but they are an important tool for activists. From advocating for new laws, to securing justice for survivors of violence, or making sure women are at the table during peace processes, women's rights organisations hold governments to account and deliver real change for women.

Women’s rights organisations champion change

Even though it was campaigning by the global women’s movement which led to the women’s rights agreements above, when it comes to international decision-making the experience and expertise of women’s rights organisations are often overlooked. Local and national women’s rights organisations are the champions of change. They must be heard at the international level and be involved in setting commitments and targets.

Women’s rights organisations around the world are also critically underfunded, reliant on piecemeal project funding which often restricts their ability to do policy and advocacy work. Although there have been huge strides forward for women’s rights over the last few decades there is still urgent work to be done and an ever-present danger that women’s hard-won rights could be rolled back.