Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice: Report to the Human Rights Council

16 April 2016The Secretariat has the honour to transmit to the Human Rights Council the report of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice pursuant to Council resolutions 15/23 and 26/5. In its report, the Working Group addresses the issue of discrimination against women with regard to health and safety. The instrumentalization of women’s bodies lies at the heart of discrimination against women, obstructing the achievement of their highest attainable standard of health. The Working Group highlights in particular the health and safety situation of women who experience discrimination on multiple and intersectional grounds. Women’s non-discriminatory enjoyment of the right to health must be autonomous, effective and affordable and the State has the primary responsibility to respect, protect and fulfil women’s right to health in law and in practice, including where health services are provided by private actors…

  1. Instrumentalization of women’s bodies
  2. The Working Group recommends that States:

(a) Take measures to combat and eliminate, in legislation and policies, cultural practices and social stereotypes, all forms of instrumentalization of women’s bodies and biological functions;(b) Eliminate harmful gender stereotypes, which could lead to anorexia and bulimia and invasive cosmetic procedures;(c) Prevent exclusion from the public space during menstruation or breastfeeding and prevent discrimination in relation to menopause in the workplace;(d) Take and implement strong and efficient measures to prevent female genital mutilation and other harmful practices;(e) Decriminalize sexual and reproductive behaviours that are attributed exclusively or mainly to women, including adultery and prostitution, and termination of pregnancy;(f) Combat stereotyping and empower girls to take care of their own health and safety from a young age, both at school and at home, and inform and empower women regarding their own bodies at all stages of their lives;(g) Regulate birthing facilities to ensure respect for women’s autonomy and privacy and human dignity, including respect for women’s choice regarding home deliveries provided there are no specific medical contraindications;(h) Prevent instrumentalization of women in the birthing process and ensure that penalties are incurred for gynaecological or obstetrical violence, including performing abusive caesarean sections, refusing to give women pain relief during birth or surgical termination of pregnancy and performing unnecessary episiotomies;(i) Use educational and social work alternatives instead of custodial or punitive measures to prevent injury to the fetus as a result of drug or alcohol consumption by addicted pregnant women;(j) Monitor and prevent the use of mental health to institutionalize women unnecessarily as a social control mechanism. 

  1. In relation to reproductive and sexual health care, the Working Group recommends that States:

(a) Abolish bans on contraception, including emergency contraceptives, and provide access to affordable modern contraceptives;(b) Repeal restrictive laws and policies in relation to termination of pregnancy, especially in cases of risk to the life or health, including the mental health, of the pregnant woman, rape, incest and fatal impairment of the fetus, recognizing that such laws and policies in any case primarily affect women living in poverty in a highly discriminatory way;(c) Recognize women’s right to be free from unwanted pregnancies and ensure access to affordable and effective family planning measures. Noting that many countries where women have the right to abortion on request supported by affordable and effective family planning measures have the lowest abortion rates in the world, States should allow women to terminate a pregnancy on request during the first trimester or later in the specific cases listed above;(d) Discontinue the use of criminal law to punish woman for ending a pregnancy and provide women and girls with medical treatment for miscarriage and complications of unsafe termination of pregnancy;(e) Eliminate discriminatory barriers to access to legal termination of pregnancy that not based on medical needs, such as waiting periods for implementation of the decision to terminate a pregnancy, authorization requirements for reproductive health clinics and staff, and unduly restrictive interpretations of legal grounds for termination of pregnancy.Report to the Human Rights Council, Thirty-second session, Agenda item 3 – A/HRC/3/44, 16 April 2016WEBCAST: Interactive Dialogue at the Human Rights Council, 17 June 2016PHOTO: US Human Rights Network, 2015