Top Ten Wins for Women’s Health and Rights in 2009


RH Reality Check will resume regular daily publication and real-time coverage on January 4th, 2010.  Happy New Year to all!

1.  Activists in India Achieve an Historic Win for Gay Rights; In Nigeria, a Step Forward

At the
beginning of July, the High Court of Delhi, India
struck
down Penal Code 377
, overturning
a colonial-era law criminalizing consensual gay sex.  In March, a similar law banning all expression of
homosexuality in Nigeria stalled in the country’s lower house of
parliament.  IWHC has helped secure
global human rights that include the right to control one’s own sexuality. We
supported the many brave and persistent advocates in India and Nigeria who
secured these 2009 wins. 

What’s
next
: The repeal of Penal Code 377 presently only
applies to India’s capital city, and the Indian Supreme Court has not yet
decided the case on a national level. Human rights advocates throughout India,
including our partner
CREA will continue to advocate
for the decriminalization of homosexuality nationally and
ensure that LGBTQI communities are better informed about their rights.

Although the
law in Nigeria was defeated, new, similar bills are taking shape. In Burundi,
for example, the Senate rejected a proposed amendment to criminalize homosexual
conduct, only to see the bill sent back to the national assembly in April by
the President, where it was passed. In
Uganda
and Rwanda,
proposed anti-gay legislation
would egregiously violate basic human rights if enacted.  IWHC will continue to work with our
partners in Africa and around the world to help secure human rights—including
the right to control one’s own sexuality.

Find
out more:
 Recently, in Cameroun, IWHC partner Sébastien Mandeng,
vice-president of the Association for the Defense of Homosexuality (ADEFHO),
was
illegally
detained
for “promoting
homosexuality.”
Read his
blog
entry
highlighting the need for
sexual rights.

 

2. U.S. Administration Acts Swiftly on Women’s Health and Rights

Three early
actions by the Obama Administration signaled a revitalized U.S. commitment to
realizing the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls worldwide:   

·      
President
Obama revoked the
Global
Gag Rule
, which limited
international non-governmental organizations’ ability to provide the full
package of sexual and reproductive health care services, including safe
abortion counseling and services. 

·      
President
Obama worked with Congress to restore funding to the
United
Nations Population Fund

(UNFPA), enabling millions to access the sexual and
reproductive health services and information they need.

·      
The
Administration paved the way the way for new U.S. leadership on women’s health
and human rights globally by appointing Hillary Clinton as U.S. Secretary of
State, and appointed an Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, creating a new
office for Global Women’s Issues. 

What’s
next: 
In the next year, the
United States has unique opportunities to develop foreign assistance policies
and funding.  The President’s
US Global Health Initiative proposes a women-centered
approach that will help generate better sexual and reproductive health
outcomes, and leverage significant support from other donors.  In close collaboration with more than
50 colleague organizations, IWHC continues to work with U.S. Administration
officials to ensure that
foreign assistance best meets the needs of women and girls.

Find out
more
:
Visit the IWHC
Capital Critiques web feature on Akimbo for more insight into
the U.S. administration’s record on women.

 

3. New Bolivian Constitution Guarantees Sexual and Reproductive Rights

In January, 61% of Bolivians approved a new Constitution, which for the first time dedicates a chapter to women’s
rights. The new Constitution specifically
entitles men and women to sexual and
reproductive rights
, and states that life is not defined as “starting at
conception,” which would have outlawed abortion in the country. Additionally,
the strong language of the document enforces
 the right of women to live free from
discrimination, violence, sexual coercion, and emotional abuse. IWHC partner
Catholics for the
Right to Decide
has been at the forefront of the advocacy efforts to revise the
Constitution, and affirm and protect the health and rights of women and girls.

What’s next: Women’s advocates continue to
be targeted by
conservative
groups, and were the targets of threats, insults, and physical aggression
during formal sessions that discussed the right to life. Bolivians are advocating
for the sexual and reproductive rights of women and young people,

putting pressure on the Bolivian
Government and Congress to implement
policies for SRRH.  Other countries
in Latin America may follow Bolivia’s lead: Uruguay, for example, has recently
elected a pro-choice president, inspiring hope that Uruguayan women will gain
more widespread access to comprehensive healthcare in the coming years.

Find
out more:
Read a blog
entry
by Teresa Lanza,
Executive Director of
Católicas
por el Derecho a Decidir
in
Bolivia, for more information on what the new constitution will mean for girls
and women in Bolivia.

 

4. Governments Reaffirm Commitments to Sexual and Reproductive Rights

During the
1990’s, UN world conferences on population and development revolutionized the
way the world views population policy and funding. Specifically, at the UN’s
International
Conference on Population and Development

(ICPD), held in Cairo in 1994, IWHC mobilized women worldwide to help achieve
an unprecedented commitment by 179 governments to pursue an ambitious 20-year
"Programme of Action" (PoA) that places women’s rights and access to
reproductive health at the center of population policy. 

In April 2009,
the UN Commission on Population and Development (CPD) conducted reviewed 15
years of implementation of the original Programme of Action, and produced a
resolution recommitting national governments to
priority actions. The first strong
intergovernmental statement that implementation of the Programme of Action is
essential for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the 2009
CPD resolution  placed an
unprecedented emphasis on human rights, including in regard to sexuality.  The resolution also included a new
commitment to
"comprehensive education on sexuality and gender
equality," access to male and female condoms, reproductive health services
for adolescents, and the importance of SRRH to HIV/AIDS

What’s
next:
This strong
resolution is the result of collaboration and leadership by government
delegations and a web of dedicated advocates, and can be used to move
implementation strongly forward. At the country-level, advocates can hold
government accountable for policies, funding, and programs to meet the ICPD
commitments. Global advocates can work with UN agencies and multilateral
agencies, such as the World Bank and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS,
Tuberculosis, and Malaria, to help them align their policies and funding with
the CPD resolution.

Government
delegations and advocates will promote reaffirmation of the language of the
2009 resolution in future negotiations, including the UN General Assembly and
the Commission on the Status of Women, as well as the Commission on Population
and Development.  This fall, the UN General Assembly adopted a historic
resolution to create a strong women’s agency to consolidate and monitor the
work of UN bodies.  If vigorously
implemented—and funded—the resolution promises a politically powerful, independent
agency to move adopted goals for gender equality and women’s empowerment
forward. 

Find
out more:
Read background, overview
analysis
, and detailed
analysis
of the 2009 CPD
Resolution.  

 

5.  Young People Advocate for Their Rights in International Fora

This year, a strong
new class of visionary youth activists advocated on behalf of the largest
generation of youth ever at high-level international conferences. At the
International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in August, the
Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights (APCRSHR)
in October, and the NGO Forum on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Development
in September, for example, they presented action agendas and released compelling
youth
statements
, demonstrating the
power of meaningful participation by and for young people on the international
stage.

What’s
next
: In the next year, IWHC will continue its support of several
organizations and networks to secure young people’s health and human rights, including
the
YP Foundation
in India, which
was founded and is managed by young people.  In January 2010, IWHC will launch
Young
Visionaries
, a campaign devoted
to showcasing the voices and the work of a new generation of advocates. In March
2010, we will hold an Advocacy in Practice (AiP) workshop for young leaders during
the 54th UN
Commission
on the Status of Women
to persuade powerful global actors who create policies and
control budgets to invest in young people. 

Find out more: View a video highlighting the work of the
YP
Foundation,
a
youth-led non-profit in India.
Read
a speech
given by Priscilla Ikos
Usiobaifo, Program Coordinator of
BraveHeart
Initiative
, at the official
ceremony of Nigeria’s 49th Independence Day celebration. View IWHC’s
series
on young adolescents
.

 

6. Indian Parliament Strikes Down Sex Work Criminalization

In February,
the Indian Parliament dropped the
Immoral
Traffic (Prevention) Bill
, which
would have further stigmatized sex workers by criminalizing the purchase of
sexual services. This is a major victory for advocates, who have been lobbying
against the bill since its conception by India’s Ministry of Women and Child
Development in 2006. Our partner
Sangram led an international coalition of
women’s rights and sex worker advocates to advocate against this measure.

What’s
next:
Sex workers in India are among the most marginalized, and
their access to healthcare is severely limited. Continued efforts are needed to
promote coalition-building among sex workers, labor activists, and feminist
activists for health and rights. Sangram and other grassroots human rights
organizations are pushing the dialogue beyond vice and victimhood to support for
the rights and health of sex workers worldwide. Bringing sex workers’ voices to
the policy table is an essential component of sound rights-based based policy
at the local, national, and international levels.

Find
out more:
View a video documenting SANGRAM’s work to inspire
collectivization among sex workers in rural India. Click
here to read a blog by Meena Seshu, founder
of SANGRAM, about the campaign to battle stigma and discrimination against sex
workers in India.

 

7. Cameroun Ratifies Women’s Rights Protocol

On May 28th,
2009 Cameroun joined 27 other African countries in ratifying the Protocol to
the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in
Africa, better known as the
Maputo Protocol. Adopted in 2003 by the African Union,
the Protocol calls on countries to eliminate discrimination against women and
girls, and uphold their rights to dignity, life, education and training, and
health, including reproductive rights.

What’s
Next:
IWHC applauds Camerounian
President Biya’s decision to ratify the Maputo Protocol, and will continue to
support the advocacy efforts of our local partners, like
FESADE, to ensure the full implementation and
funding of the Protocol. At the 4th
Africa Conference on Sexual Health and
Rights
that IWHC will cosponsor
in February, IWHC and our partner,
Advocates for Youth, will hold a training for SRRH advocates
from across Africa and develop a strategy to advocate with their governments to
ratify and fully implement the Protocol.  

Find
out more:
Read Why
Cameroun Needs Maputo
, a blog
entry by our colleague Reine Rosine Agang (available in both French and
English). Find out more about our partner organization
FESADE and their work to ensure the full
implementation and funding of the Protocol.

 

8. Law to Combat Child Marriage
Introduced in Yemen

In
February, members of the Yemeni national Parliament endorsed a new law to
combat the
dangerous practice of child marriage. Under the new
provision, the minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls was set to 17.
This momentous decision came in the wake of the case of a 9-year-old Yemeni
girl who was forced into marriage and then
made the news by obtaining a divorce, only to die in
childbirth at age 12.

What’s next: Despite a petition
signed by 23 Members of Parliament to overturn the bill, the law remains valid.
However, Yemeni legislators have yet to design any mechanism for
implementation, and globally, the issue of child marriage remains a significant
threat to the health and rights of girls. If current patterns continue, more
than 100 million girls in the developing world will be married during the next
10 years. These marriages occur despite the fact that national laws often
prohibit it and that
international human rights
documents

state that marriage should be entered into with the free and full consent of
both partners.

In
the United States House of Representatives, provisions for programs to prevent
and mitigate child marriage were included in the State Department
Reauthorization bill, which passed on June 10, 2009. The Senate has not yet introduced
its version of the State Department Reauthorization.  IWHC and a strong
coalition of advocates continue to work with Senate
staff to ensure that the Senate draft includes such provisions. 

Find out more: Read a highly
personal testimony to the power of education in “School
Can Change a Girl’s Life
“, a blog entry by Sunita Rathore. Visit the child
marriage page on our website
to find out what the U.S. is doing
legislatively to end the harmful practice, and what you can do to get involved.
View IWHC’s factsheet, “Child
Marriage: Girls 14 and Younger at Risk
”.

 

9. Sonke Gender Justice
Network challenges hate speech in court

In
May, South African IWHC partner
Sonke Gender Justice Network took African National
Congress
Youth League leader Julius Malema to task for his comments
suggesting that South African President Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser enjoyed
having sex with him. As an organization that
supports men and boys to act against domestic and sexual violence,
Sonke
formalized their hate speech complaint against Malema in Equality Court.

What’s next: A decision on the case
is expected in early 2010. Regardless of the outcome of the case, however, strong
networks of men and women are needed to advocate for survivors of sexual
assault and gender-based violence, and to hold governments accountable for
ending gender discrimination. Through its
One Man Can Campaign, Sonke Gender Justice Network is supporting
new generations of men and boys to challenge gender norms and advocate for the
human rights of women nationally and internationally.

Find out more: Click here
to view an IWHC video highlighting more details about the work of Sonke Gender
Justice Network. Read a recent blog entry by Sonke Communications and
Information Manager, “Men
of Quality Do Not Fear Equality: Working with African men Towards Gender
Justice and Prevention of HIV
”. Read more about the One
in Nine Campaign
, a movement in South Africa aimed at improving rape
survivors’ access to justice.

 

10. United kingdom upholds women’s right to abortion

In October, the
UK Department for International Development (DFID) released its updated policy
on safe and unsafe abortion, stating that access to safe abortion is both a
“right” and “necessary.”  DFID, which
manages British government aid to 150 countries, wrote that "this
preventable mortality and ill-health due to unsafe abortion is seriously
undermining countries’ ability to achieve Millennium Development Goal 5 (to
improve maternal health) and places a high burden on already over-stretched
health systems."  The policy also states that in countries where
abortion is illegal, DFID will "make the consequences of unsafe abortion
more widely understood" and will consider "supporting processes of
legal and policy reform."

What’s next: In the 21st century no
woman should die or suffer the traumas of an unsafe or illegal abortion. Access
to safe abortion services is fundamental to woman’s ability to exercise her
rights to control her body, to self-determination, and to maintain her
health.  DFID’s commitment to
women’s human rights and its leadership in improving sexual and reproductive
health is exceptional, and should set a standard for the world’s governments
and international donors.  

Find out more:  View our fact sheet on safe abortion, Access
to Safe Abortion is a Human Right
. Check out this blog by Audacia Ray “Realizing
Rights: Access to Legal Abortion in India
”. Read an article in the Nation,
When Culture
Trumps Law
“, which explores access to abortion in Brazil and features
quotes from IWHC
President Adrienne Germain
.

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