1. Critical gains despite backlash
Joint statement by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Sexual Rights Initiative, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, Plan International, Choice for Youth and Sexuality, ARROW, Coalition of African Lesbians, Federation for Women and Family Planning, IPPF, RFSU and AWID on the outcome of the 41st session of the Human Rights Council.
The undersigned organizations applaud the Human Rights Council for upholding the strongest standards of women’s and girls’ rights through the adoption of resolutions on violence against women and girls, discrimination against women and girls, and child, early and forced marriage.
Despite concerted opposition by some States and anti-rights organizations who tried to undermine the existing legal framework on women’s and girls’ rights and on sexual and reproductive health and rights, the Council stood strong and delivered, under the leadership of principled core groups, strong resolutions that highlight critical human rights abuses facing women and girls.
Standards on the right to sexual and reproductive health, women’s and girls’ full, effective and meaningful participation, substantive equality, bodily autonomy and comprehensive sexuality education were upheld and reinforced, despite numerous amendments against them that were defeated across these three resolutions.
Moreover, this session provided an opportunity to consider the impact criminalization has on the lives and rights of women and girls. The resolution on discrimination against women and girls calls upon States to repeal all laws that exclusively or disproportionately criminalize the actions or behavior of women and girls, and laws and policies that discriminate against them, based on any grounds, including any custom, tradition or misuse of culture or religion. The resolution on child, early and forced marriage recognizes that the criminalization of child, early and forced marriage alone is insufficient when introduced without complementary measures and support programs and may instead contribute to the marginalization and loss of livelihood for the families affected and have the unintended effect of increasing the practice of informal unions or unregistered marriages.
This focus on the impact of criminalization echoes calls from civil society organizations (CSOs) to move away from a criminalization framework that disproportionately harms women and girls, especially those facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, towards frameworks focused on addressing root causes, and patriarchal social norms that enable discrimination and violence against women and girls, as well as accountability measures and access to reparations and remedies.
The resolution on DAWG, this year focusing on women’s and girls’ deprivation of liberty, recognizes, inter alia, the prohibition of gender-based discrimination within international human rights law and that the right to liberty is a human right recognized in international instruments that is inextricably linked to other human rights, including to the right to sexual and reproductive health….
The resolution was also successful in renewing the mandate of the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and in Practice under its new name of Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls, thus giving the Working Group a firm and official mandate to make discrimination against girls visible and to look closely at the intersections of forms of gender and age-based discrimination….
These gains were achieved in a highly politically charged environment, with conservative States and CSOs alike trying to instrumentalize women’s and girls’ rights as a means to create rifts between human rights organizations and progressive States. Conservative States are dissociating themselves from paragraphs in these resolutions focusing on sexual and reproductive health and rights and on the autonomy and participation of girls in a bid to weaken the consensual nature of these texts, all the while using cultural relativism as their main rationale.
In the midst of these political dynamics, now more than ever is the time to re-emphasize the universality, interdependence, indivisibility and interrelatedness of human rights, and to create global solidarity across movements. The backlash against the rights of women and girls is only just beginning, and our movements are only as strong as our unity. We commend the leadership of the core groups leading on these resolutions and the refusal of the Human Rights Council to yield to retrogressive pressures. We call on States to build on the significant normative advances contained in these resolutions and to continue and increase their collaboration with human rights and women’s and girl’s rights organizations as well as feminist groups and youth-led organizations.
2. Joint Statement on Adolescents & Youth by 300 Civil Society Organizations
Through the Vienna Declaration and numerous regional and international commitments, member states agreed to respect, protect, and fulfil the human rights of adolescents and young people, including their rights to life, bodily autonomy, education including comprehensive sexuality education, survival, and development. However, many member states are hesitant to recognise the role of adolescents and young people’s sexuality beyond links to reproduction.
Human rights violations affecting adolescents and youth must be located within the context of multiple and intersecting oppressions. Millions of them, especially girls, are coerced into unwanted sex or marriage (UNICEF), putting them at risk of unwanted or early pregnancies, unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV, and life-threatening childbirth (ARROW). Indeed, pregnancy and childbirth-related complications are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15-19 years worldwide WHO.
Across the globe, restrictive laws and third party authorisation and parental consent requirements continue to hinder adolescents and young people’s full realisation of their sexual and reproductive rights. With the largest global youth population ever, millions of today’s young people will be failed if the human rights violations affecting us are not effectively addressed and redressed.
We urge the Human Rights Council to recognise and reaffirm the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all adolescents and young people through its resolutions, dialogues, debates, and Universal Periodic Reviews. Further, we urge member states to respect, protect, and fulfil the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all adolescents and young people, with particular attention to those facing multiple and intersecting forms of oppression, including through full recognition of their legal capacity to access comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services autonomously. Furthermore, states should put in place effective measures to prevent and eliminate violations of adolescent girls’ sexual and reproductive rights, including actions aiming to control girls’ sexuality, harmful practices, and coerced or denied medical interventions, as well as to effectively combat widespread impunity, and provide adolescents and youth, in particular girls, with effective reparations, access to justice and redress, and guarantees of non-repetition in cases of violation and denial of their bodily rights.