2015: A Year of Opportunity for Women’s Rights

Nowhere in the world are women and girls equal – violence affects women and girls in every corner of the globe, women are often excluded from fully and equally participating in decisions that affect their lives, and they often do not have control over their sexual and reproductive health and rights. However as a new report by Womankind Worldwide evidences, 2015 is a year of opportunity for women’s rights. Progress on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action – agreed in 1995 and seen as the most visionary and comprehensive framework on women’s rights and gender equality – is being reviewed. Furthermore, global discussions on the Post-2015 development framework (the follow up to the Millennium Development Goals) will culminate in autumn in a new development framework that will dictate funding priorities for years to come. And in October there is a 15-year Global Review of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 – which recognises women’s right to full and equal participation in peacebuilding. As an incoming Labour government, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to accelerate progress towards the achievement of gender equality and women’s rights.

Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread and persistent abuses of human rights, with 35% of women experiencing at least one form of violence in her lifetime. Violence is rooted in gender inequality, including the patriarchal social norms related to male authority, acceptance of wife beating and female subordination. Recent years have seen an increase in commitments to tackle violence against women and girls. However, progress towards supporting survivors of abuse and preventing violence remains unacceptably slow. In addition, there is a worrying trend towards focusing on types of violence, for instance sexual violence in conflict. This obscures the interconnected nature of violence and risks the transformative approach needed to end abuse. As an incoming Labour government, we will have the opportunity to champion a robust indicator on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls in the Post-2015 framework. We can advocate a move beyond rhetoric and make a life without violence a reality for women and girls across the globe.

Women’s equal and meaningful participation and influence in decision making at all levels, and in both formal and informal spaces, is fundamentally a question of social justice – women have the right to participate in decisions which affect their lives. Despite this, only one in five parliamentarians are women, women account for only 13 of 193 heads of government and in local government women make up only 20% of elected councillors. Based on current trends in representation, women will not be equally represented in parliaments until 2065, and will not make up half the world’s leaders until 2134. Whilst women’s national level formal political participation is important, it is at the local level that many of the decisions that affect women’s rights take place. It is this context that makes the prioritisation of women’s participation at both national and local level so crucial. The Labour Party has an excellent track record of supporting women’s participation through all-women shortlists and has committed to a 50-50 cabinet on entering Number 10 – we therefore have both the legitimacy and experience to take forward women’s participation domestically and internationally.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights are a critical part of women’s rights. The ability of all women, including young women and adolescent girls, to exercise their reproductive rights to make free and informed choices about their fertility, and about whether and when to have children is a central component of gender equality. Access to contraception, based on informed choice, empowers women and girls to decide when to have children and can transform their position in the household, community, school, the labour force, political sphere and wider society. Pregnancy, unsafe abortion and childbirth remain the leading causes of death and disability among women of reproductive age in many countries today. Almost 800 women die every day in pregnancy and childbirth, largely from preventable causes. The Labour Party has long taken a right-based approach to development – this approach is critical to the achievement of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, including access to safe abortion.

There is a growing body of research demonstrating that women’s rights organisations and women’s rights movements are important catalysts in interventions to promote greater gender equality, realise women’s rights and prevent violence against women and girls. Women’s rights organisations are particularly well placed to increase women’s consciousness and agency and have pioneered a range of effective models for mobilising and empowering women to come together to know and claim their rights. Despite their enormous value add, many women’s rights organisations are struggling to survive in the current aid environment marked by changed aid modalities, increasing competition for funding, and the heavy demands of the ‘results agenda’. The Association of Women’s Rights in Development’s (AWID) found in its global survey of 1119 women’s organisations from over 140 countries that 35% of organisations sampled experienced a significant budget shortfall, with one-fifth of organisations facing the threat of closure; and only 28% of women’s rights organisations surveyed received core funding and nearly half had never received core funding. We have a history of recognising the innovation, knowledge and experience of civil society organisations. A new Labour government can build on this recognition by providing flexible, core and long-term funding for women’s rights organisations.

2015 is a year of opportunity for women’s rights and it is a Labour government which can champion and secure the commitments needed to secure a future where gender equality is a reality for women and girls across the world

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