|Top Ten Wins for Women's Health and Rights in 2009|
Each year, the International Women's Health Coalition issues the "Top Ten Wins for Women's Health and Rights."
Scroll down to view the list, and click on the title of any item to learn more:
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:
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.
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) WORLD GOVERNMENTS REAFFIRM COMMITMENT 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.
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.