HRC Advances Rights of Women and Girls

Published on July 06, 2015

The Sexual Rights Initiative welcomes the adoption by the United Nations Human Rights Council of three resolutions that advance gender equality, empowerment and the human rights of women and girls. These resolutions are entitled:
 

  1. Accelerating Efforts to Eliminate all Forms of Violence Against Women: Eliminating Domestic Violence
  2. Strengthening efforts to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage
  3. Elimination of discrimination against women
     

The resolution on Accelerating Efforts to Eliminate all Forms of Violence Against Women is an annual resolution run by Canada. This year, it focused on eliminating domestic violence, which has never been the focus of a resolution at the Council before now.

Through this resolution, adopted by consensus, and co-sponsored by 87 countries so far, the Council expresses grave concern over the prevalence of domestic violence, including intimate partner violence. It reiterates that States must eliminate harmful practices that women and girls are subjected to such as early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation, and cannot invoke custom, tradition, or religion to avoid doing so.

The Council calls upon States to penalise acts of domestic violence, including marital rape, partner violence, so-called “honour” crimes, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation. It also asks States to eliminate legislation and practices that discriminate against women and girls, ensure access to justice and remedies for domestic violence, train public officials, and empower women in the realm of decision-making, education, decent work, social services, financial resources, property and inheritance.

The Council calls for the access of women to comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services, and the promotion and protection of their reproductive rights and the right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality. It also urges States to support civil society initiatives aimed at promoting gender equality and addressing domestic violence, including those undertaken by women’s organizations and women human rights defenders.
 

This is the first ever UN resolution to use the terms ‘intimate partner violence’ and ‘comprehensive sexuality education’.

While the resolution as a whole was adopted by consensus, four tabled amendments were voted on.

1st amendment: replace ‘intimate partner violence’ with ‘spousal and non-spousal violence’ in paragraph PP 9

  • For – 13
  • Against – 24
  • Abstaining – 7

Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela did not vote

Amendment REJECTED

 

2nd amendment: replace ‘intimate partner violence’ with ‘spousal and non-spousal violence’ in paragraph OP 8(a)

  • For – 13
  • Against – 24
  • Abstaining – 7

Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela did not vote

Amendment REJECTED

 

3rd amendment: replace ‘comprehensive sexuality education’ with ‘comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education’ in paragraph OP 8(h)

  • For – 14
  • Against – 21
  • Abstaining – 9

Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela did not vote

Amendment REJECTED

 

4th amendment: replace ‘partner violence and marital rape’ with ‘spousal and non-spousal violence’ in paragraph OP 9(a)

  • For – 12
  • Against – 24
  • Abstaining – 8

Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela did not vote

Amendment REJECTED

 

The votes on amendments were followed by votes on the retention of two paragraphs of the tabled text, containing reference to partner violence and marital rape:

OP 8(a)

  • For – 29
  • Against – 5
  • Abstaining – 12

Venezuela did not vote

Paragraph RETAINED

 

OP 9(a)

  • For – 30
  • Against – 3
  • Abstaining – 14

Paragraph RETAINED

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The resolution on ‘Elimination of discrimination against women’ is an annual resolution run by Colombia and Mexico. The resolution this year focused on discrimination against women in cultural and family life, drawing upon the powerful annual report of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice. It was adopted by consensus, and co-sponsored by 60 countries so far.

Through this resolution the Council affirms that discriminatory, repressive and violent practices against women must be eliminated. It calls upon States to guarantee gender equality in cultural and family life through national legal frameworks, including nationality national laws, eliminate domestic violence, combat multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination faced by many women and girls, and provide gender equality training to public servants.

The Council calls upon States to oppose all forms of marriage that constitute a violation of women’s and girls’ rights, and to ensure equal rights in respect of marriage, dissolution, ownership of property, guardianship and adoption of children. It emphasized the need to ensure women’s and girls’ access to education, financial and social services, formal legal systems, justice and effective remedies.

The Council failed to recognize the importance of sexuality education in addressing gender inequalities; women’s and girls’ right to have control over one’s sexuality, sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights; and the need to repeal laws that criminalise adultery, or pardon marital rape and rapists who marry their victims. During negotiations on the resolution, a number of States strongly criticised the afore-mentioned report of the Working Group as well as parts of the text of the resolution for, in their view, representing culture and religion as problematic instead of interpretations and distortions of culture.

The resolution on Strengthening efforts to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage was run by 14 countries: Argentina, Canada, Ethiopia, Honduras, Italy, Maldives, Montenegro, Netherlands, Poland, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Uruguay, and Zambia.

The first resolution on this issue was adopted by the Council in September 2013, and led to the development of a report and a panel discussion. This year’s resolution was the first substantive resolution at the Council on the issue. It was adopted by consensus, and co-sponsored by 88 countries so far.

The Council, through this resolution, recognizes that child, early and forced marriage violates the human rights of girls and women, and is caused primarily by deep-rooted gender inequalities, norms and stereotypes. Accordingly, it emphasizes the importance of the empowerment of and investment in women and girls, informing them about their legal rights, and ensuring their participation in all levels of decision making. It also calls upon States to ensure women’s and girls’ reproductive rights, right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, and rights in marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, ownership of land and productive resources.

Crucially, this is the first ever UN resolution to make reference to the human rights of girls to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights. This is an advance from the 2014 UN General Assembly resolution on the same subject where girls were excluded from this reference.

Further, the Council calls upon States to enforce laws and policies to prevent the practice, and to remove provisions that enable perpetrators of rape, sexual abuse or abduction to escape prosecution and punishment by marrying their victims. It also urges States to provide a range of support services to girls, adolescents and women who have already been subjected to child, early and forced marriage.

The Council emphasizes the critical importance of ensuring women’s and girls’ access to justice, accountability mechanisms and remedies, education, training, decent work, social protection, sexual and reproductive health information, education and services. The importance of changing social norms and raising community awareness, including with adolescents, families, and community leaders is also emphasized. Finally, it requests the convening of an expert workshop to review existing strategies to address child, early and forced marriage and make recommendations for further action by States.