UN Special Rapporteurs call on states to invest in women and girls to ensure gender equality and prevent violence against women


On the occasion of International Women’s Day (8 March), the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Yakin Ertürk; the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Miloon Kothari; and the Independent Expert on the effects of economic reform policies and foreign debt on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, Bernards Mudho, issued the following statement:

“On the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 15 years after the Vienna Human Rights Conference, the reality of women around the world is still far from the ideal of rights. Furthermore, civil and political rights are still perceived to be the foundation of rights without due consideration of the equal importance of economic, social and cultural rights. In this respect, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, “Investing in Women and Girls” is a timely reminder that women’s access to sources of finance, participation in decision making processes on macro economic and fiscal policies, and entitlements for sustainable livelihoods are paramount towards bridging the gap between universal human rights standards and the realities of the majority of the world’s women.

Economic policy and management continues to be seen as a neutral and technical process, insulated from the prevailing power dynamics, including gender relations, on which societies are based. The neo-liberal economic approach, which has become a strong policy framework applied in the context of globalization, has favoured the primacy of markets over human development concerns. Current economic conditions bear upon women’s welfare directly, by transforming their family and community on the one hand, and often prodding them to become providers of cheap and flexible labour for the globalizing markets on the other. In the past two decades the participation of women in the labour force has experienced considerable growth. In some cases, this has resulted in greater autonomy for women; however, the process has also in many cases increased the vulnerability of women and girls to unchecked exploitation, abuse and violence.

Trade and fiscal policies largely privileging property rights and investors’ interests over human rights, privatisation, and the exploitation of natural resources by businesses, without appropriate regulatory and monitoring mechanisms by Governments, have in many cases resulted in loss of livelihood, dispossession from homes and lands, impoverishment and a widening of the gap between the rich and the poor and women and men. Despite the growing commitment on the part of States and other actors to combat violence against women, increased poverty and marginalisation and lack of protective mechanisms fuel violence, make women and girls easy targets for abuses such as trafficking and erode women’s enjoyment of their rights.

In this regard, the announcement by the Secretary General on 25 February 2008 of a United Nations campaign to end violence against women is a most welcome initiative. While such a campaign promoted by the highest authority of the United Nations demonstrates the much needed leadership that will give momentum to the anti-violence efforts of the past decades, its success will ultimately be determined by the allocation of sufficient funds for its implementation.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we call on States, bilateral and multilateral donor agencies and business enterprises to step up efforts to respect, protect and fulfill women’s civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, and allocate adequate resources towards addressing discrimination and violence against women. It must also be borne in mind that investing in women and girls has a multiplier effect on productivity, efficiency and sustained economic growth. Women must be empowered to claim the full range of their human rights, and cannot do so until they are liberated from charitable dispensations and the vagaries of the market”.