There’s a now famous-saying: “women’s rights are human rights.” Yet, around the world, women and girls are still denied rights, even basic ones, because of their gender. Rights such as the right to be educated; to vote; to earn an equal and livable wage; to own property; to choose if and when they bear children; to live free of slavery, genital mutilation, or forced marriage; and to live free from violence.
Many groups of women also face additional forms of discrimination based on their religion, sexual preference, ethnicity, age, nationality, education, disability, and socioeconomic status, among others. These intersecting forms of discrimination against women need to always be taken into account when we look at ways to combat violence and discrimination against women and girls.
Women’s Rights are Human Rights
When we talk about women’s rights being human rights, it means that winning rights for women goes beyond giving opportunities to certain women and girls. The benefits are for everyone. Equal rights change how countries and our communities work together. Every woman deserves to live free of violence and discrimination, no matter her sexuality or identity. Changing laws and policies, investing in women’s movements, organizations and rights, and supporting these movements will help create stronger, happier, more sustainable and successful communities.
Although we have come a long way with women’s rights in recent years, there are still huge disparities between genders. For instance, worldwide, girls are more likely than boys to be out of school, especially at the secondary level. Only 21.8% of politicians and parliamentarians are women. 1 in every 3 girls and woman has experienced sexual or physical assault. Girls and women continue to face threats of violence and abuse in every country.
Women who are already marginalized in society based on intersecting forms of discrimination remain at the most risk. For instance, transgender people face much greater risks of physical attacks, employment barriers, difficulty accessing healthcare and mental health support, and other discrimination.
20% of all trans Ontarians have been physical or sexually assaulted simply for being trans, with another 24% having been verbally threatened or harassed (Egale). Trans and gender diverse Indigenous persons face even greater threats of violence, with 73% having experienced some form of violence due to transphobia.
Indigenous Human Rights
Indigenous Canadians’ rights should also be paramount to human rights’ work, yet our country is failing the original inhabitants of this land. This can be seen in a multitude of ways and areas:
• The murder rate of Indigenous women compared to other women in Canada is at least 4.5 times higher (Amnesty International)
• 48% of children in foster care are Indigenous (Statistics Canada)
• 99 First Nations communities have had a boil water advisory in place for more than a year
• Suicide rates among Inuit youth are some of the highest in the world, and 11 times our national average (Government of Canada)
Worldwide, Indigenous peoples face serious human rights abuses every day, from violence brutality, to forced removal, to assimilation policies, to large-scale land development. Indigenous women are also much more likely to face violence, with some estimates showing one in three Indigenous women have been raped during their lifetime. These numbers are unacceptable.
Pandemic Exposing Cracks
Human rights crisis’ and socioeconomic inequalities have been sharply exposed during the covid-19 pandemic. We’ve seen protests break out, calls for action from government officials, and more.
The reality remains that those who were already most at risk continue to be. For instance, people of colour are much more likely to lose their lives due to the virus itself. Women who are at risk of domestic abuse face greater threats with lockdowns and isolation. Promises to ensure Indigenous communities have access to clean water have been cast aside. Access to healthcare, counselling, and mental health supports have been reduced, at a time when these systems are needed now more than ever. Black people continue to be subjected to police brutality. Women continue to be murdered.
The positive aspect of exposing the inequalities around the world is that people are waking up. We have witnessed a mass rejection of systems of oppression and the racial inequality that plagues people everywhere. We have seen calls for action to help support the many women and children who are victims of abuse. Hopefully, we have reached an understanding that until we all have the same rights, we must continue fighting. This means fighting for the rights of women everywhere, for Indigenous lives, for Black lives, for trans rights, and for our children.
A fair and equal society is not only right, it benefits everyone. As we look back at all of the human rights issues exposed during this past year, let’s move toward 2021 with a renewed focus for fighting for human rights and equality. Whether we’re beginning in our own homes or neighbourhood, or advocating for change at a governmental level, there’s something we can all do to ensure we are supporting the rights of everyone.
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