Women’s rights continue to be violated and disrespected disproportionately due to social norms, legal discrimination, and economic inequality around the world. Here are four human rights that women are still deprived of disproportionately.
Article 4: Freedom from Slavery
Despite being outlawed around the world, slavery is still very prevalent today. According to a recent report prepared by the Walk Free Foundation, the International Labor Organization and the International Organization for Migration, there are an estimated 40.3 million people living in slavery globally and 71% of them are women and girls. Modern day slavery is broken into six categories by the organization End Slavery Now, domestic servitude, sex trafficking, forced labor, bonded labor, child labor, and forced marriage.
This is particularly topical issue for Yezidi women in Iraq who are being kidnapped, enslaved, and raped. There are an estimated 3,500 Yezidi women forced into sex slavery by ISIS today. Freedom from slavery is a natural human right, and nobody deserves to have that right taken away.
Article 5: Freedom from Torture and Degrading Treatment
Torture and degrading treatment includes a spectrum of abuse. It can include torture enforced by governments, war crimes such as rape as a weapon of war, physical and sexualized violence at home, and much more. According to the United Nation’s Population Fund, one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Violence against women occurs all over the world and is often intensified during war and conflict when women’s bodies are used as an extension of the battlefield through which the fabrics of communities are broken. Violence against women remains incredibly prominent all over the world violating millions of women’s natural human rights. Many of the women served by Women for Women International are survivors of violence.
In parts if Afghanistan there is a tradition called Baad in which young girls are traded in order to settle family disputes. Zhagona was only six years old when she was given to her uncle to settle such a dispute. She was taken to her uncle’s home where he stabbed her, abused her, and would not let her leave the house. Zhagona was trapped in her uncle’s home, she was so depressed that she jumped out of a third floor window in a suicide attempt, but she was not freed until her uncle died when she was 18.
Cultural practices such as Baad degrade women to the point at which they are seen as nothing more than property. Women are tortured and degrade to point where they no longer have a will to live. While Zhagona was trapped in her uncle’s house she missed out on the opportunity to get an education and to socialize with children her own age. The emotional trauma that she received from this experience stayed with her long after her uncle’s passing. Zhagona was tortured and degraded when she was traded like a piece of property to her uncle in order to settle a family dispute. Her human rights were violated and so are many other women’s across the globe.
Article 17: Right to Own Property
There are 35 countries that do not have equal land rights for all women, and even in the countries that do, many cultural practices surrounding inheritance and dowries, deny women the opportunity to own land. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, women own less than 20% of the worlds land. This is an issue because owning land can contribute greatly to both social and economic empowerment. A part of the problem is lack of awareness among families. Even if the laws of a country allow women’s land ownership, lack of awareness can prevent women from seeking that right and men from respecting it. Such is the case in Afghanistan where Women for Women International’s rights training includes a land ownership section.
Mahjan and Sakina are sister were in a feud for almost five years over property rights. Mahjan’s daughter married Sakina’s son. Sakina’s son encouraged Mahjan’s daughter to ask for her inheritance. Mahjan and her step-sons handed over her part of the property, but not without disagreement. After the transaction, Mahjan cut off all contact with her daughter and sister. That is until Mahjan and Sakina ended up in the same class at Women for Women International. In the course, they were learning about property rights. Mahjan realized that her daughter had the right to ask for her inheritance. Mahjan felt terrible for trying to deny her daughter her rights, and immediately reconciled with her sister and the rest of her family.
Without the right to property it is harder for impoverished women to lift themselves and their families out of poverty and protecting everyone’s legal right to own property is an essential part of ensuring human rights.
Article 27: Right to Participate in the Cultural Life of Community
Many women are denied the right to participate in the cultural life of their communities. This isolation is often due to conflict, household responsibilities, or cultural norms. With many of our participants, we find that WfWI is so valuable to them because it gives them a community that they never had before.
Camila, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, felt very isolated after the war ended in 1995 and she sent her two daughters back to school. In her community, it was customary that women stay at home, and that they only leave the house when they are with their family. Camila fell into depression because she felt alone, so when she heard of WfWI she joined the core program right away in the hopes of learning skills and finding friends. With the help of the women she met through WfWI, she was able to gain self-confidence and a sense of community. She is now the president of her local association and takes immense pride in being a role model for her children.
Being able to participate in the community is a natural human right. It gave Camila a new purpose in life and connected her to support systems that gave her the confidence. Forced isolation is a form of violence and can be particularly dangerous when a woman is experiencing violence or abuse at home and has no support system to turn to.
We cannot have human rights without women’s rights. This is why Women for Women International helps marginalized women empower themselves. Through our programs in eight different countries, we teach women about their rights; health and nutrition; and business, numeracy and vocational skills so they can have agency over their own lives. At the beginning of our year long program, 25% of participants report having knowledge of their rights. Upon graduation 94% of these same women report knowing their rights. And, 91% report talking to other women about their rights after graduation, this is compared to just 28% at the beginning of the program.
International Human Rights Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on the rights developed in the wake of the travesties of World War II. These universal human rights set baseline goals for the global community, but we cannot forget that since the time of its ratification we have seen genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sudan, Iraq, and many more. And in times of conflict, women often bear the brunt of the violence. While great strides have been taken in order to combat injustices, achieving universal human rights is a long way away. Our work is far from done, but we will not give up.