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|Women in society|
Women's rights are the rights and entitlements claimed for women and girls of many societies worldwide. In some places, these rights are institutionalized or supported by law, local custom, and behavior, whereas in others they may be ignored or suppressed. They differ from broader notions of human rights through claims of an inherent historical and traditional bias against the exercise of rights by women and girls, in favour of men and boys.
Issues commonly associated with notions of women's rights include, though are not limited to, the right: to bodily integrity and autonomy; to vote; to hold public office; to work; to birth control; to have an abortion; to be free from rape; to fair wages or equal pay; to own property; to education; to serve in the military or be conscripted; to enter into legal contracts; and to have marital or parental rights.
- 1 History
- 2 Natural rights
- 3 Equal employment rights for women and men
- 4 Right to vote
- 5 Property rights
- 6 Modern movements
- 7 Right to education
- 8 Reproductive rights
- 9 Human rights
- 10 Violence against women
- 10.1 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women
- 10.2 Istanbul Convention
- 10.3 Rape and sexual violence
- 10.4 Recognition of forced marriage as a practice similar to slavery
- 10.5 The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 Sources
- 14 External links
Although males seem to have dominated in many ancient cultures, there are some exceptions. For instance in the Nigerian Aka culture women may hunt, even on their own, and often control distribution of resources. Ancient Egypt had female rulers, such as Cleopatra.
The status of women in China was low, largely due to the custom of foot binding. About 45% of Chinese women had bound feet in the 19th century. For the upper classes, it was almost 100%. In 1912, the Chinese government ordered the cessation of foot-binding. Foot-binding involved alteration of the bone structure so that the feet were only about 4 inches long. The bound feet caused difficulty of movement, thus greatly limiting the activities of women.
Due to the social custom that men and women should not be near to one another, the women of China were reluctant to be treated by male doctors of Western Medicine. This resulted in a tremendous need for female doctors of Western Medicine in China. Thus, female medical missionary Dr. Mary H. Fulton (1854–1927) was sent by the Foreign Missions Board of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to found the first medical college for women in China. Known as the Hackett Medical College for Women (夏葛女子醫學院), this College was located in Guangzhou, China, and was enabled by a large donation from Mr. Edward A.K. Hackett (1851–1916) of Indiana, USA. The College was aimed at the spreading of Christianity and modern medicine and the elevation of Chinese women's social status.
During the Republic of China (1912–49) and earlier Chinese governments, women were legally bought and sold into slavery under the guise of domestic servants. These women were known as Mui Tsai. The lives of Mui Tsai were recorded by American feminist Agnes Smedley in her book Portraits of Chinese Women in Revolution.
In May 1950 the Peoples Republic of China enacted the New Marriage Law to tackle the sale of women into slavery. This outlawed marriage by proxy and made marriage legal so long as both partners consent. The New Marriage Law raised the legal age of marriage to 20 for men and 18 for women. This was an essential part of countryside land reform as women could no longer legally be sold to landlords. The official slogan was "Men and women are equal; everyone is worth his (or her) salt". 
The status of women in ancient Greece varied form city state to city state. Records exist of women in ancient Delphi, Gortyn, Thessaly, Megara and Sparta owning land, the most prestigious form of private property at the time.
In ancient Athens, women had no legal personhood and were assumed to be part of the oikos headed by the male kyrios. Until marriage, women were under the guardianship of their father or other male relative. Once married, the husband became a woman's kyrios. As women were barred from conducting legal proceedings, the kyrios would do so on their behalf. Athenian women had limited right to property and therefore were not considered full citizens, as citizenship and the entitlement to civil and political rights was defined in relation to property and the means to life. However, women could acquire rights over property through gifts, dowry and inheritance, though her kyrios had the right to dispose of a woman's property. Athenian women could enter into a contract worth less than the value of a “medimnos of barley” (a measure of grain), allowing women to engage in petty trading. Slaves, like women, were not eligible for full citizenship in ancient Athens, though in rare circumstances they could become citizens if freed. The only permanent barrier to citizenship, and hence full political and civil rights, in ancient Athens was gender. No women ever acquired citizenship in ancient Athens, and therefore women were excluded in principle and practice from ancient Athenian democracy.
By contrast, Spartan women enjoyed a status, power, and respect that was unknown in the rest of the classical world. Although Spartan women were formally excluded from military and political life they enjoyed considerable status as mothers of Spartan warriors. As men engaged in military activity, women took responsibility for running estates. Following protracted warfare in the 4th century BC Spartan women owned approximately between 35% and 40% of all Spartan land and property. By the Hellenistic Period, some of the wealthiest Spartans were women. They controlled their own properties, as well as the properties of male relatives who were away with the army. Spartan women rarely married before the age of 20, and unlike Athenian women who wore heavy, concealing clothes and were rarely seen outside the house, Spartan women wore short dresses and went where they pleased. Girls as well as boys received an education, and young women as well as young men may have participated in the Gymnopaedia ("Festival of Nude Youths").
Plato acknowledged that extending civil and political rights to women would substantively alter the nature of the household and the state. Aristotle, who had been taught by Plato, denied that women were slaves or subject to property, arguing that "nature has distinguished between the female and the slave", but he considered wives to be "bought". He argued that women's main economic activity is that of safeguarding the household property created by men. According to Aristotle the labour of women added no value because "the art of household management is not identical with the art of getting wealth, for the one uses the material which the other provides".
Contrary to these views, the Stoic philosophers argued for equality of the sexes, sexual inequality being in their view contrary to the laws of nature. In doing so, they followed the Cynics, who argued that men and women should wear the same clothing and receive the same kind of education. They also saw marriage as a moral companionship between equals rather than a biological or social necessity, and practiced these views in their lives as well as their teachings. The Stoics adopted the views of the Cynics and added them to their own theories of human nature, thus putting their sexual egalitarianism on a strong philosophical basis.
Freeborn women of ancient Rome were citizens who enjoyed legal privileges and protections that did not extend to non-citizens or slaves. Roman society, however, was patriarchal, and women could not vote, hold public office, or serve in the military. Women of the upper classes exercised political influence through marriage and motherhood. During the Roman Republic, the mother of the Gracchus brothers and of Julius Caesar were noted as exemplary women who advanced the career of their sons. During the Imperial period, women of the emperor's family could acquire considerable political power, and were regularly depicted in official art and on coinage. Plotina exercised influence on both her husband, the emperor Trajan, and his successor Hadrian. Her letters and petitions on official matters were made available to the public —an indication that her views were considered important to popular opinion.
A child's citizen status was determined by that of its mother. Both daughters and sons were subject to patria potestas, the power wielded by their father as head of household (paterfamilias). At the height of the Empire (1st–2nd centuries), the legal standing of daughters differs little if at all from that of sons. Girls had equal inheritance rights with boys if their father died without leaving a will.
In the earliest period of the Roman Republic, a bride passed from her father's control into the "hand" (manus) of her husband. She then became subject to her husband's potestas, though to a lesser degree than their children. This archaic form of manus marriage was largely abandoned by the time of Julius Caesar, when a woman remained under her father's authority by law even when she moved into her husband's home. This arrangement was one of the factors in the independence Roman women enjoyed relative to those of many other ancient cultures and up to the modern period: although she had to answer to her father in legal matters, she was free of his direct scrutiny in her daily life, and her husband had no legal power over her. When her father died, she became legally emancipated (sui iuris). A married woman retained ownership of any property she brought into the marriage. Although it was a point of pride to be a "one-man woman" (univira) who had married only once, there was little stigma attached to divorce, nor to speedy remarriage after the loss of a husband through death or divorce. Under classical Roman law, a husband had no right to abuse his wife physically or compel her to have sex. Wife beating was sufficient grounds for divorce or other legal action against the husband.
Because she remained legally a part of her birth family, a Roman woman kept her own family name for life. Children most often took the father's name, but in the Imperial period sometimes made their mother's name part of theirs, or even used it instead. A Roman mother's right to own property and to dispose of it as she saw fit, including setting the terms of her own will, enhanced her influence over her sons even when they were adults. Because of their legal status as citizens and the degree to which they could become emancipated, women could own property, enter contracts, and engage in business. Some acquired and disposed of sizable fortunes, and are recorded in inscriptions as benefactors in funding major public works.
Roman women could appear in court and argue cases, though it was customary for them to be represented by a man. They were simultaneously disparaged as too ignorant and weak-minded to practice law, and as too active and influential in legal matters—resulting in an edict that limited women to conducting cases on their own behalf instead of others'. Even after this restriction was put in place, there are numerous examples of women taking informed actions in legal matters, including dictating legal strategy to their male advocates.
The first Roman emperor, Augustus, framed his ascent to sole power as a return to traditional morality, and attempted to regulate the conduct of women through moral legislation. Adultery, which had been a private family matter under the Republic, was criminalized, and defined broadly as an illicit sex act (stuprum) that occurred between a male citizen and a married woman, or between a married woman and any man other than her husband. That is, a double standard was in place: a married woman could have sex only with her husband, but a married man did not commit adultery when he had sex with a prostitute, slave, or person of marginalized status (infamis). Childbearing was encouraged by the state: the ius trium liberorum ("legal right of three children") granted symbolic honors and legal privileges to a woman who had given birth to three children, and freed her from any male guardianship.
Stoic philosophies influenced the development of Roman law. Stoics of the Imperial era such as Seneca and Musonius Rufus developed theories of just relationships. While not advocating equality in society or under the law, they held that nature gives men and women equal capacity for virtue and equal obligations to act virtuously, and that therefore men and women had an equal need for philosophical education. These philosophical trends among the ruling elite are thought to have helped improve the status of women under the Empire.
Rome had no system of state-supported schooling, and education was available only to those who could pay for it. The daughters of senators and knights seem to have regularly received a primary education (for ages 7 to 12). Regardless of gender, few people were educated beyond that level. Girls from a modest background might be schooled in order to help with the family business or to acquire literacy skills that enabled them to work as scribes and secretaries. The woman who achieved the greatest prominence in the ancient world for her learning was Hypatia of Alexandria, who taught advanced courses to young men and advised the Roman prefect of Egypt on politics. Her influence put her into conflict with the bishop of Alexandria, Cyril, who may have been implicated in her violent death in the year 415 at the hands of a Christian mob.
Roman law recognized rape as a crime in which the victim bore no guilt. Rape was a capital crime. The right to physical integrity was fundamental to the Roman concept of citizenship, as indicated in Roman legend by the rape of Lucretia by the king's son. After speaking out against the tyranny of the royal family, Lucretia killed herself as a political and moral protest. Roman authors saw her self-sacrifice as the catalyst for overthrowing the monarchy and establishing the republic. As a matter of law, rape could be committed only against a citizen in good standing. The rape of a slave could be prosecuted only as damage to her owner's property. Most prostitutes in ancient Rome were slaves, though some slaves were protected from forced prostitution by a clause in their sales contract. A free woman who worked as a prostitute or entertainer lost her social standing and became infamis, "disreputable"; by making her body publicly available, she had in effect surrendered her right to be protected from sexual abuse or physical violence. Attitudes toward rape changed as the empire came under Christian rule. St. Augustine and other Church Fathers interpreted Lucretia's suicide as perhaps an admission that she had encouraged the rapist and experienced pleasure. Under Constantine, the first Christian emperor, if a father accused a man of abducting his daughter, but the daughter had given her consent to an elopement, the couple were both subject to being burnt alive. If she had been raped or abducted against her will, she was still subject to lesser penalties as an accomplice, "on the grounds that she could have saved herself by screaming for help."
"If he marries another wife, he is not to reduce her food, clothing or marital rights." (Exodus 21:10) from the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) (So from ancient times women have had has a right to sex with their husbands, in addition to being fed and clothed by them.)
However, before and during Biblical times, the roles of women were almost always severely restricted.
The Qur'an, revealed to Muhammad over the course of 23 years, provided guidance to the Islamic community and modified existing customs in Arab society. From 610 and 661, known as the early reforms under Islam, the Qur'an introduced fundamental reforms to customary law and introduced rights for women in marriage, divorce, and inheritance. By providing that the wife, not her family, would receive a dowry from the husband, which she could administer as her personal property, the Qur'an made women a legal party to the marriage contract.
While in customary law, inheritance was limited to male descendants, the Qur'an introduced rules on inheritance with certain fixed shares being distributed to designated heirs, first to the nearest female relatives and then the nearest male relatives. According to Annemarie Schimmel "compared to the pre-Islamic position of women, Islamic legislation meant an enormous progress; the woman has the right, at least according to the letter of the law, to administer the wealth she has brought into the family or has earned by her own work."
The general improvement of the status of Arab women included prohibition of female infanticide and recognizing women's full personhood. Women generally gained greater rights than women in pre-Islamic Arabia and medieval Europe. Women were not accorded with such legal status in other cultures until centuries later. According to Professor William Montgomery Watt, when seen in such historical context, Muhammad "can be seen as a figure who testified on behalf of women's rights."
The Middle Ages
According to English Common Law, which developed from the 12th century onward, all property which a wife held at the time of marriage became a possession of her husband. Eventually English courts forbade a husband's transferring property without the consent of his wife, but he still retained the right to manage it and to receive the money which it produced. French married women suffered from restrictions on their legal capacity which were removed only in 1965. In the 16th century, the Reformation in Europe allowed more women to add their voices, including the English writers Jane Anger, Aemilia Lanyer, and the prophetess Anna Trapnell. English and American Quakers believed that men and women were equal. Many Quaker women were preachers. Despite relatively greater freedom for Anglo-Saxon women, until the mid-19th century, writers largely assumed that a patriarchal order was a natural order that had always existed. This perception was not seriously challenged until the 18th century when Jesuit missionaries found matrilineality in native North American peoples.
18th and 19th century Europe
Starting in the late 18th century, and throughout the 19th century, rights, as a concept and claim, gained increasing political, social, and philosophical importance in Europe. Movements emerged which demanded freedom of religion, the abolition of slavery, rights for women, rights for those who did not own property, and universal suffrage. In the late 18th century the question of women's rights became central to political debates in both France and Britain. At the time some of the greatest thinkers of the Enlightenment, who defended democratic principles of equality and challenged notions that a privileged few should rule over the vast majority of the population, believed that these principles should be applied only to their own gender and their own race. The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for example, thought that it was the order of nature for woman to obey men. He wrote "Women do wrong to complain of the inequality of man-made laws" and claimed that "when she tries to usurp our rights, she is our inferior".
The efforts of Dorothea von Velen—mistress of Johann Wilhelm, Elector Palatine—led to the abolition of couverture in the Electoral Palatinate in 1707, making it an early beacon of women's rights. The Palatinate was the first German state to abolish couverture, but it was briefly re-instated by Karl III Philipp, Johann Wilhelm's successor. Dorothea protested from exile in Amsterdam. She published her memoirs, A Life for Reform, which were highly critical of Karl III Philipp's government. To avoid a scandal, Karl III Philipp yielded to Dorothea's demands, and couverture was once again abolished.
In 1791 the French playwright and political activist Olympe de Gouges published the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, modelled on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789. The Declaration is ironic in formulation and exposes the failure of the French Revolution, which had been devoted to equality. It states that: “This revolution will only take effect when all women become fully aware of their deplorable condition, and of the rights they have lost in society”. The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen follows the seventeen articles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen point for point and has been described by Camille Naish as “almost a parody...of the original document”. The first article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen proclaims that “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be based only on common utility.” The first article of Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen replied: “Woman is born free and remains equal to man in rights. Social distinctions may only be based on common utility”. De Gouges expands the sixth article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which declared the rights of citizens to take part in the formation of law, to:
“All citizens including women are equally admissible to all public dignities, offices and employments, according to their capacity, and with no other distinction than that of their virtues and talents”.
De Gouges also draws attention to the fact that under French law women were fully punishable, yet denied equal rights.
Mary Wollstonecraft, a British writer and philosopher, published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792, arguing that it was the education and upbringing of women that created limited expectations. Wollstonecraft attacked gender oppression, pressing for equal educational opportunities, and demanded "justice!" and "rights to humanity" for all. Wollstonecraft, along with her British contemporaries Damaris Cudworth and Catharine Macaulay started to use the language of rights in relation to women, arguing that women should have greater opportunity because like men, they were moral and rational beings.
"We are continually told that civilization and Christianity have restored to the woman her just rights. Meanwhile the wife is the actual bondservant of her husband; no less so, as far as the legal obligation goes, than slaves commonly so called."
Then a member of parliament, Mill argued that women deserve the right to vote, though his proposal to replace the term "man" with "person" in the second Reform Bill of 1867 was greeted with laughter in the House of Commons and defeated by 76 to 196 votes. His arguments won little support amongst contemporaries but his attempt to amend the reform bill generated greater attention for the issue of women's suffrage in Britain. Initially only one of several women's rights campaigns, suffrage became the primary cause of the British women's movement at the beginning of the 20th century. At the time, the ability to vote was restricted to wealthy property owners within British jurisdictions. This arrangement implicitly excluded women as property law and marriage law gave men ownership rights at marriage or inheritance until the 19th century. Although male suffrage broadened during the century, women were explicitly prohibited from voting nationally and locally in the 1830s by the Reform Act 1832 and the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst led the public campaign on women's suffrage and in 1918 a bill was passed allowing women over the age of 30 to vote.
Women's rights activism in Canada during the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on increasing women’s role in public life, with goals including women’s suffrage, increased property rights, increased access to education, and recognition of women as "persons" under the law. The Famous Five were five Canadian women - Emily Murphy, Irene Marryat Parlby, Nellie Mooney McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards - who, in 1927, asked the Supreme Court of Canada to answer the question, "Does the word 'Persons' in Section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, include female persons?" in the case Edwards v. Canada (Attorney General). After Canada's Supreme Court summarized its unanimous decision that women are not such "persons", the judgment was appealed and overturned in 1929 by the British Judicial Committee of the Imperial Privy Council, at that time the court of last resort for Canada within the British Empire and Commonwealth.
17th century natural law philosophers in Britain and America, such as Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke, developed the theory of natural rights in reference to ancient philosophers such as Aristotle and the Christian theologist Aquinas. Like the ancient philosophers, 17th century natural law philosophers defended slavery and an inferior status of women in law. Relying on ancient Greek philosophers, natural law philosophers argued that natural rights were not derived from god, but were "universal, self-evident, and intuitive", a law that could be found in nature. They believed that natural rights were self-evident to "civilised man" who lives "in the highest form of society". Natural rights derived from human nature, a concept first established by the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium in Concerning Human Nature. Zenon argued that each rational and civilized male Greek citizen had a "divine spark" or "soul" within him that existed independent of the body. Zeno founded the Stoic philosophy and the idea of a human nature was adopted by other Greek philosophers, and later natural law philosophers and western humanists. Aristotle developed the widely adopted idea of rationality, arguing that man was a "rational animal" and as such a natural power of reason. Concepts of human nature in ancient Greece depended on gender, ethnic, and other qualifications and 17th century natural law philosophers came to regard women along with children, slaves and non-whites, as neither "rational" nor "civilised". Natural law philosophers claimed the inferior status of women was "common sense" and a matter of "nature". They believed that women could not be treated as equal due to their "inner nature". The views of 17th century natural law philosophers were opposed in the 18th and 19th century by evangelical natural theology philosophers such as William Wilberforce and Charles Spurgeon, who argued for the abolition of slavery and advocated for women to have rights equal to that of men. Modern natural law theorists, and advocates of natural rights, claim that all people have a human nature, regardless of gender, ethnicity or other qualifications, therefore all people have natural rights.
Equal employment rights for women and men
Employment rights for women include non-discriminatory access of women to jobs and equal pay. The rights of women and men to have equal pay and equal benefits for equal work were openly denied by the British Hong Kong Government up to the early 1970s. Leslie Wah-Leung Chung (鍾華亮, 1917–2009), President of the Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants' Association 香港政府華員會 (1965–68), contributed to the establishment of equal pay for men and women, including the right for married women to be permanent employees. Before this, the job status of a woman changed from permanent employee to temporary employee once she was married, thus losing the pension benefit. Some of them even lost their jobs. Since nurses were mostly women, this improvement of the rights of married women meant much to the Nursing profession. In some European countries, married women could not work without the consent of their husbands until a few decades ago, for example in France until 1965 and in Spain until 1975. In addition, marriage bars, a practice adopted from the late 19th century to the 1970s across many countries, including Austria, Australia, Ireland, Canada, and Switzerland, restricted married women from employment in many professions. 
Right to vote
During the 19th century some women began to ask for, demand, and then agitate and demonstrate for the right to vote - the right to participate in their government and its law making. Other women opposed suffrage, like Helen Kendrick Johnson, whose prescient 1897 work, Woman and the Republic, contains perhaps the best arguments against women's suffrage of the time. The ideals of women's suffrage developed alongside that of universal suffrage and today women's suffrage is considered a right (under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women). During the 19th century the right to vote was gradually extended in many countries, and women started to campaign for their right to vote. In 1893 New Zealand became the first country to give women the right to vote on a national level. Australia gave women the right to vote in 1902.
A number of Nordic countries gave women the right to vote in the early 20th century – Finland (1906), Norway (1913), Denmark and Iceland (1915). With the end of the First World War many other countries followed – the Netherlands (1917), Austria, Azerbaijan, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Georgia, Poland and Sweden (1918), Germany and Luxembourg (1919), and the United States (1920). Spain gave women the right to vote in 1931, France in 1944, Belgium, Italy, Romania and Yugoslavia in 1946. Switzerland gave women the right to vote in 1971, and Liechtenstein in 1984.
In Latin America some countries gave women the right to vote in the first half of the 20th century – Ecuador (1929), Brazil (1932), El Salvador (1939), Dominican Republic (1942), Guatemala (1956) and Argentina (1946). In India, under colonial rule, universal suffrage was granted in 1935. Other Asian countries gave women the right to vote in the mid 20th century – Japan (1945), China (1947) and Indonesia (1955). In Africa, women generally got the right to vote along with men through universal suffrage – Liberia (1947), Uganda (1958) and Nigeria (1960). In many countries in the Middle East universal suffrage was acquired after the Second World War, although in others, such as Kuwait, suffrage is very limited. On 16 May 2005, the Parliament of Kuwait extended suffrage to women by a 35–23 vote.
During the 19th century some women in the United States and Britain began to challenge laws that denied them the right to their property once they married. Under the common law doctrine of coverture husbands gained control of their wives' real estate and wages. Beginning in the 1840s, state legislatures in the United States and the British Parliament began passing statutes that protected women's property from their husbands and their husbands' creditors. These laws were known as the Married Women's Property Acts. Courts in the 19th-century United States also continued to require privy examinations of married women who sold their property. A privy examination was a practice in which a married woman who wished to sell her property had to be separately examined by a judge or justice of the peace outside of the presence of her husband and asked if her husband was pressuring her into signing the document.
||The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (December 2010)|
In the subsequent decades women's rights again became an important issue in the English speaking world. By the 1960s the movement was called "feminism" or "women's liberation." Reformers wanted the same pay as men, equal rights in law, and the freedom to plan their families or not have children at all. Their efforts were met with mixed results.
The International Council of Women (ICW) was the first women's organization to work across national boundaries for the common cause of advocating human rights for women. In March and April 1888, women leaders came together in Washington D.C. with 80 speakers and 49 delegates representing 53 women's organizations from 9 countries: Canada, the United States, Ireland, India, England, Finland, Denmark, France and Norway. Women from professional organizations, trade unions, arts groups and benevolent societies participate. National Councils are affiliated to the ICW and thus make themselves heard at international level. The ICW worked with the League of Nations during the 1920s and the United Nations post-World War II. Today the ICW holds Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, the highest accreditation an NGO can achieve at the United Nations. Currently, it is composed of 70 countries and has a headquarters in Lasaunne, Switzerland. International meetings are held every three years.
In the UK, a public groundswell of opinion in favour of legal equality had gained pace, partly through the extensive employment of women in what were traditional male roles during both world wars. By the 1960s the legislative process was being readied, tracing through MP Willie Hamilton's select committee report, his equal pay for equal work bill, the creation of a Sex Discrimination Board, Lady Sear's draft sex anti-discrimination bill, a government Green Paper of 1973, until 1975 when the first British Sex Discrimination Act, an Equal Pay Act, and an Equal Opportunities Commission came into force. With encouragement from the UK government, the other countries of the EEC soon followed suit with an agreement to ensure that discrimination laws would be phased out across the European Community.
In the USA, the National Organization for Women (NOW) was created in 1966 with the purpose of bringing about equality for all women. NOW was one important group that fought for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). This amendment stated that "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex." But there was disagreement on how the proposed amendment would be understood. Supporters believed it would guarantee women equal treatment. But critics feared it might deny women the right be financially supported by their husbands. The amendment died in 1982 because not enough states had ratified it. ERAs have been included in subsequent Congresses, but have still failed to be ratified.
Women for Women International (WfWI) is a nonprofit humanitarian organization that provides practical and moral support to women survivors of war. WfWI helps such women rebuild their lives after war’s devastation through a year-long tiered program that begins with direct financial aid and emotional counseling and includes life skills (e.g., literacy, numeracy) training if necessary, rights awareness education, health education, job skills training and small business development. The organization was co-founded in 1993 by Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi American who is herself a survivor of the Iran–Iraq War and Salbi’s then-husband Amjad Atallah. Since June 2012, WfWI has been led by Afshan Khan, a long-time former executive with UNICEF who became WfWI’s first new CEO since founder Zainab Salbi stepped down to devote more time to her writing and lecturing.
The National Council of Women of Canada (Conseil national des femmes du Canada), is a Canadian advocacy organization based in Ottawa aimed at improving conditions for women, families, and communities. A federation of nationally organized societies of men and women and local and provincial councils of women, it is the Canadian member of the International Council of Women (ICW). The Council has concerned itself in areas including women's suffrage, immigration, health care, education, mass media, the environment, and many others. Formed on October 27, 1857 in Toronto, Ontario, it is one of the oldest advocacy organizations in the country.
The Association for the Protection and Defense of Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia is a Saudi Non-governmental organization founded to provide activism for women's rights. It was founded by Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia Al-Uyyouni, and grew out of a 2007 movement to gain women the right to drive. The association is not officially licensed by the government of Saudi Arabia, and has been warned not to mount demonstrations. In a 2007 interview, al-Huwaider described the goals: "The association will consist of a number of leagues, with each league pursuing a different issue or right... representation for women in shari'a courts; setting a [minimum] age for girls' marriages; allowing women to take care of their own affairs in government agencies and allowing them to enter government buildings; protecting women from domestic violence, such as physical or verbal violence, or keeping her from studies, work, or marriage, or forcing her to divorce..."
In Ukraine, FEMEN was founded in 2008. The organisation is internationally known for its topless protests against sex tourists, international marriage agencies, sexism and other social, national and international social illnesses. FEMEN has sympathisers groups in many European countries through social media.
United Nations and World Conferences on Women
In 1946 the United Nations established a Commission on the Status of Women. Originally as the Section on the Status of Women, Human Rights Division, Department of Social Affairs, and now part of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Since 1975 the UN has held a series of world conferences on women's issues, starting with the World Conference of the International Women's Year in Mexico City. These conferences created an international forum for women's rights, but also illustrated divisions between women of different cultures and the difficulties of attempting to apply principles universally. Four World Conferences have been held, the first in Mexico City (International Women's Year, 1975), the second in Copenhagen (1980) and the third in Nairobi (1985). At the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995), The Platform for Action was signed. This included a commitment to achieve "gender equality and the empowerment of women". In 2010, UN Women is founded by merging of Division for the Advancement of Women, International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, Office of the Special Adviser or Gender Issues Advancement of Women and United Nations Development Fund for Women by General Assembly Resolution 63/311.
Regions where women's rights are less developed have produced interesting local organisations, such as:
- IIDA Women's Development Organisation, a Somali non-governmental organisation, created by women in order to work for peacebuilding and women’s rights defence in Somalia, a country deprived of state structures and security since 1991,
- the All Pakistan Women's Association, a civil society organisation founded in 1949, which develops a range of programmes in the field of health, nutrition, education, birth control and legal aid.
Right to education
The right to education is a universal entitlement to education. The Convention against Discrimination in Education prohibits discrimination in education, with discrimination being defined as "any distinction, exclusion, limitation or preference which, being based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic condition or birth, has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing equality of treatment in education". The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states at Article 3 that "The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights set forth in the present Covenant", with Article 13 recognizing "the right of everyone to education". While women's right to access to academic education is recognized as very important, it is increasingly recognized that academic education must be supplemented with education on human rights, non-discrimination, ethics and gender equality, in order for social advancement to be possible. This was pointed out by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who stressed the importance of human rights education for all children: "What good was it to humanity that Josef Mengele had advanced degrees in medicine and anthropology, given that he was capable of committing the most inhuman crimes? Eight of the 15 people who planned the Holocaust at Wannsee in 1942 held PhDs. They shone academically, and yet they were profoundly toxic to the world. Radovan Karadžić was a trained psychiatrist. Pol Pot studied radio electronics in Paris. Does this matter, when neither of them showed the smallest shred of ethics and understanding?" There has been increased attention given in recent decades to the raising of student awareness to the importance of gender equality.
Reproductive rights are legal rights and freedoms relating to reproduction and reproductive health. Reproductive rights were endorsed by the twenty-year Cairo Programme of Action which was adopted in 1994 at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, and by the Beijing Declaration and Beijing Platform for Action in 1995.
In the 1870s feminists advanced the concept of voluntary motherhood as a political critique of involuntary motherhood and expressing a desire for women's emancipation. Advocates for voluntary motherhood disapproved of contraception, arguing that women should only engage in sex for the purpose of procreation and advocated for periodic or permanent abstinence.
In the early 20th century birth control was advanced as alternative to the then fashionable terms family limitation and voluntary motherhood. The phrase "birth control" entered the English language in 1914 and was popularised by Margaret Sanger, who was mainly active in the US but had gained an international reputation by the 1930s. The British birth control campaigner Marie Stopes made contraception acceptable in Britain during the 1920s by framing it in scientific terms. Stopes assisted emerging birth control movements in a number of British colonies. The birth control movement advocated for contraception so as to permit sexual intercourse as desired without the risk of pregnancy. By emphasizing control, the birth control movement argued that women should have control over their reproduction, an idea that aligned closely to the theme of the feminist movement. Slogans such as "control over our own bodies" criticised male domination and demanded women's liberation, a connotation that is absent from the family planning, population control and eugenics movements. In the 1960s and 1970s the birth control movement advocated for the legalisation of abortion and large-scale education campaigns about contraception by governments. In the 1980s birth control and population control organisations co-operated in demanding rights to contraception and abortion, with an increasing emphasis on "choice".
Birth control has become a major theme in United States politics. Reproductive issues are cited as examples of women's powerlessness to exercise their rights. The societal acceptance of birth control required the separation of sex from procreation, making birth control a highly controversial subject in the 20th century. In the United States birth control has become an arena for conflict between liberal and conservative values, raising questions about family, personal freedom, state intervention, religion in politics, sexual morality and social welfare. Reproductive rights, that is rights relating to sexual reproduction and reproductive health, were first discussed as a subset of human rights at the United Nation's 1968 International Conference on Human Rights.
Reproductive rights represents a broad concept, that may include some or all of the following rights: the right to legal or safe abortion, the right to control one's reproductive functions, the right to access quality reproductive healthcare, and the right to education and access in order to make reproductive choices free from coercion, discrimination, and violence. Reproductive rights may also be understood to include education about contraception and sexually transmitted infections. Reproductive rights are often defined to include freedom from female genital mutilation (FGM), and forced abortion and forced sterilization. The Istanbul Convention recognizes these two rights at Article 38 – Female genital mutilation and Article 39 – Forced abortion and forced sterilisation.
Reproductive rights are understood as rights of both men and women, but are most frequently advanced as women's rights.
Women's reproductive rights may be understood as including the right to easy access to a safe and legal abortion. Women's access to legal abortion is restricted by law in most countries in the world. Where abortion is permitted by law, women may only have limited access to safe abortion services. Some countries still prohibit abortion in all cases, but in many countries and jurisdictions, abortion is permitted to save the pregnant woman's life, or if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.
According to Human Rights Watch, "Abortion is a highly emotional subject and one that excites deeply held opinions. However, equitable access to safe abortion services is first and foremost a human right. Where abortion is safe and legal, no one is forced to have one. Where abortion is illegal and unsafe, women are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term or suffer serious health consequences and even death. Approximately 13% of maternal deaths worldwide are attributable to unsafe abortion—between 68,000 and 78,000 deaths annually." According to Human Rights Watch, "the denial of a pregnant woman's right to make an independent decision regarding abortion violates or poses a threat to a wide range of human rights."
The Catholic Church and many other Christian faiths, particularly those considered the Christian right, and most Orthodox Jews, however, regard abortion not as a right, but as a moral evil and a Mortal sin.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, enshrines "the equal rights of men and women", and addressed both the equality and equity issues. In 1979, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) for legal implementation of the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Described as an international bill of rights for women, it came into force on 3 September 1981. The UN member states that have not ratified the convention are Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Tonga, and the United States. Niue and the Vatican City, which are non-member states, have also not ratified it.
The Convention defines discrimination against women in the following terms:
Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.
It also establishes an agenda of action for putting an end to sex-based discrimination for which states ratifying the Convention are required to enshrine gender equality into their domestic legislation, repeal all discriminatory provisions in their laws, and enact new provisions to guard against discrimination against women. They must also establish tribunals and public institutions to guarantee women effective protection against discrimination, and take steps to eliminate all forms of discrimination practiced against women by individuals, organizations, and enterprises.
Women's rights in marriage, divorce and family law
"(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State."
Article 16 of CEDAW stipulates that, "1. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations [...]". Among the rights included are a woman's right to freely and consensually choose her spouse; to have parental rights to her children irrespective of her marital status; the right of a married woman to choose a profession or an occupation, and to have property rights within marriage. In addition to these, "The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect".
Polygamous marriage is a controversial practice, prevalent in some parts of the world. The General recommendations made by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, state at General Recommendation No. 21, Equality in marriage and family relations "14.[...] Polygamous marriage contravenes a woman's right to equality with men, and can have such serious emotional and financial consequences for her and her dependents that such marriages ought to be discouraged and prohibited."
"27. In giving effect to recognition of the family in the context of article 23, it is important to accept the concept of the various forms of family, including unmarried couples and their children and single parents and their children and to ensure the equal treatment of women in these contexts (General Comment 19 paragraph 2 last sentence). Single parent families frequently consist of a single woman caring for one or more children, and States parties should describe what measures of support are in place to enable her to discharge her parental functions on the basis of equality with a man in a similar position."
Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action
The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, also known as VDPA, is a human rights declaration adopted by consensus at the World Conference on Human Rights on 25 June 1993 in Vienna, Austria. This declaration recognizes women's rights as being protected human rights. Paragraph 18 reads:
"The human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights. The full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life, at the national, regional and international levels, and the eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex are priority objectives of the international community".
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325
On 31 October 2000, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, the first formal and legal document from the United Nations Security Council that requires all states to respect fully international humanitarian law and international human rights law applicable to the rights and protection of women and girls during and after the armed conflicts.
The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, better known as the Maputo Protocol, was adopted by the African Union on 11 July 2003 at its second summit in Maputo, Mozambique. On 25 November 2005, having been ratified by the required 15 member nations of the African Union, the protocol entered into force. The protocol guarantees comprehensive rights to women including the right to take part in the political process, to social and political equality with men, and to control of their reproductive health, and an end to female genital mutilation.
Violence against women
United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women
The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women was adopted by the United Nations in 1993. It defines violence against women as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life." This resolution established that women have a right to be free from violence. As a consequence of the resolution, in 1999, the General Assembly declared the day of 25 November to be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Article 2 of the The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women outlines several forms of violence against women:
Violence against women shall be understood to encompass, but not be limited to, the following:
- (a) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation;
- (b) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution;
- (c) Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State, wherever it occurs.
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, is the first legally binding instrument in Europe in the field of domestic violence and violence against women, and came into force in 2014. Countries which ratify it must ensure that the forms of violence defined in its text are outlawed. In its Preamble, the Convention states that "the realisation of de jure and de facto equality between women and men is a key element in the prevention of violence against women". The Convention also provides a definition of domestic violence as "all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur within the family or domestic unit or between former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the victim". Although it is a Convention of the Council of Europe, it is open to accession by any country.
Rape and sexual violence
Rape, sometimes called sexual assault, is an assault by a person involving sexual intercourse with or sexual penetration of another person without that person's consent. Rape is generally considered a serious sex crime as well as a civil assault. When part of a widespread and systematic practice, rape and sexual slavery are now recognised as a crime against humanity as well as a war crime. Rape is also now recognised as a form of genocide when committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a targeted group.
Rape as an element of the crime of genocide
In 1998, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda established by the United Nations made landmark decisions that rape is a crime of genocide under international law. The trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu, the mayor of Taba Commune in Rwanda, established precedents that rape is an element of the crime of genocide. The Akayesu judgement includes the first interpretation and application by an international court of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Trial Chamber held that rape, which it defined as "a physical invasion of a sexual nature committed on a person under circumstances which are coercive", and sexual assault constitute acts of genocide insofar as they were committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a targeted group. It found that sexual assault formed an integral part of the process of destroying the Tutsi ethnic group and that the rape was systematic and had been perpetrated against Tutsi women only, manifesting the specific intent required for those acts to constitute genocide.
Judge Navanethem Pillay said in a statement after the verdict: “From time immemorial, rape has been regarded as one of the spoils of war. Now it will be considered a war crime. We want to send out a strong message that rape is no longer a trophy of war.” An estimated 500,000 women were raped during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
Rape and sexual enslavement as crime against humanity
The Rome Statute Explanatory Memorandum, which defines the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, recognises rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, "or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity" as a crime against humanity if the action is part of a widespread or systematic practice. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action also condemn systematic rape as well as murder, sexual slavery, and forced pregnancy, as the "violations of the fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law." and require a particularly effective response.
Rape was first recognised as a crime against humanity when the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia issued arrest warrants based on the Geneva Conventions and Violations of the Laws or Customs of War. Specifically, it was recognised that Muslim women in Foca (southeastern Bosnia and Herzegovina) were subjected to systematic and widespread gang rape, torture, and sexual enslavement by Bosnian Serb soldiers, policemen, and members of paramilitary groups after the takeover of the city in April 1992. The indictment was of major legal significance and was the first time that sexual assaults were investigated for the purpose of prosecution under the rubric of torture and enslavement as a crime against humanity. The indictment was confirmed by a 2001 verdict by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia that rape and sexual enslavement are crimes against humanity. This ruling challenged the widespread acceptance of rape and sexual enslavement of women as intrinsic part of war. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia found three Bosnian Serb men guilty of rape of Bosniac (Bosnian Muslim) women and girls (some as young as 12 and 15 years of age), in Foca, eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina. Furthermore, two of the men were found guilty of the crime against humanity of sexual enslavement for holding women and girls captive in a number of de facto detention centres. Many of the women subsequently disappeared.
Recognition of forced marriage as a practice similar to slavery
The 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery defines "institutions and practices similar to slavery" to include:
c) Any institution or practice whereby:
- (i) A woman, without the right to refuse, is promised or given in marriage on payment of a consideration in money or in kind to her parents, guardian, family or any other person or group; or
- (ii) The husband of a woman, his family, or his clan, has the right to transfer her to another person for value received or otherwise; or
- (iii) A woman on the death of her husband is liable to be inherited by another person;
The Istanbul Convention requires countries which ratify it to prohibit forced marriage (Article 37) and to ensure that forced marriages can be easily voided without further victimization (Article 32).
The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children
The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (also referred to as the Trafficking Protocol or UN TIP Protocol) is a protocol to the Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. It is one of the three Palermo protocols. Its purpose is defined at Article 2. Statement of purpose as: "(a) To prevent and combat trafficking in persons, paying particular attention to women and children; (b) To protect and assist the victims of such trafficking, with full respect for their human rights; and (c) To promote cooperation among States Parties in order to meet those objectives."
- Female education
- Gender apartheid
- History of feminism
- Index of feminism articles
- Legal rights of women in history
- List of civil rights leaders
- List of feminists
- List of suffragists and suffragettes
- List of women's rights activists
- List of women's rights organizations
- Men's rights
- Pregnant patients' rights
- Simone de Beauvoir Prize
- Sex workers' rights
- Timeline of women's rights (other than voting)
- Timeline of women's suffrage
- UN Women
- Women's Property Rights
- Women's Social and Political Union
- Women's rights in 2014
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