Womens’ Rights: What is To be Done?

* Natasha Phillips
* 2004-04-25


Women do two-thirds of the world’s work for only five percent of the income, according to
Unifem, the United Nations Development Fund for women. Today young women across the world grow up to
expect less educational, economic and political power than their male counterparts.

Half the world’s citizens, women in the 21st century still only represent a tiny minority in
democratic assemblies. Domestic violence, civil wars and international conflicts continue to
destroy women’s freedom, power and security in particular. And yet women find themselves
systematically excluded from international diplomacy and peace discussions. Women’s rights may be
enshrined in human rights declarations and egalitarian constitutions around the world, but in global terms of
power and independence they are second class citizens.

The finer points of realising gender equality are of course important. How, for example, can
goals for women’s rights be weaved through inequalities of class, ethnicity or culture? But such
considerations shouldn’t detract from the challenge of urgently redressing women’s exclusion from
the fruits of equal citizenship. To ensure the 21st century is one of progress, I propose the
following key goals to secure women’s rights in both principle and practice.

Goal List

Women’s right to the vote

  1. Women to have the right to vote in every country of the world by 2010 [In 2004
    the only
    outstanding country is Kuwait; the Kuwait Parliament rejected female suffrage in 1999]

Women’s right to political representation

  1. Women’s equal representation in governments must be established through
    positive measures such as
  2. Proportion of women in national Parliaments should be raised from 15.1% (world
    average, 2003) to at
    least 20% globally by 2010

    • In the UK: establish 40% quota for the House of Commons by 2010 (2004
    • In the EU: raise quota to 25% average across the EU 2010 Local
      elected councillors: 40% of
      local councillors to be women by 2010 (1964: 10%; 2003: 28%)

Women’s right to decision-making power

  1. Raise the world average of proportion of women in government posts from 14.5%
    (2002) to 30% by

    • In the UK: 45% of public appointments to be women by 2006 ; currently in the
      UK it is 33% [source:
      WNC, Women in Public Life report 2002]
    • In the EU: Women to have 30% of public appointments in
      all EU countries by 2010
  2. Guarantee equal numbers of men and women contributing to formal debate about
    reform of national

    • In the UK: Constitutional convention for 2nd chamber, 50% of women on the
      convention committee
    • In the EU: Equal numbers of men and women involved in drafting/redrafting
      ratification of EU constitution
  3. Guarantee equal participation of women in peacekeeping and post-conflict
    reconstruction [UN
    Resolution 1325 mandated this]
  4. Increase the number of women on company executive boards

    • In the UK: 2004 9% of FTSE 100 board
      members are women; goal to increase this to 25% by 2010 …Key reports on means [links on WEU
      site]interesting doc: [Cranfield School of Management “Female FTSE” reports]

Women’s right to decision-making power

  1. Legal provision against gender discrimination at work in all countries (to
    include right to equal
    pay for equal work; equal treatment at work)

    • In the UK: pay gap to be reduced from 18% to 10%
      by 2010
  2. Government schemes to help women return to work after having children
  3. International measures to ensure women have resources in old age (in the
    UK in 1997, women’s private pensions were only 10% of men’s)
  4. Government provision for maternity and paternity leave and pay
  5. Government provision of childcare for working women

Women’s right to education

  1. Right to free state education to age 15

    • Globally: URGENT goal to have 75% of girls in Africa enrolled in primary school [in 2004 in Subsaharan Africa and Pakistan this figure was under 50% of girls – UN stats]
  2. State syllabuses to include education on equal rights of men and women,
    compulsory sex education
  3. Childcare for teenage mothers to enable them to complete education
  4. Free government-funded literacy/language education for new immigrant women

Women’s right to be protected from violence by the law

  1. Female genital mutilation to be outlawed globally
  2. Marital rape to be recognised in law
  3. The increasing of rates of rape convictions should be made a government priority globally
  4. Creative approaches to protecting women from domestic violence, eg. safe houses, injunctions
    against perpetrator [In the UK, one in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime,
    BCS 2000; 37% of female homicides are by partner or former partner; 23% of all violent crime is
    domestic violence]

Women’s right to a full independent legal identity and equal treatment before the

In particular this should be guaranteed in relation to:

  1. Sexual offences and sexual ‘impropriety’
  2. Homicide of partner or former partner;’honour killing’ to be no defence in law

Women’s rights for equality of treatment within the family context

  1. Right of married women to freedom of decision-making: All adult women should be able to carry
    out all legal and administrative transactions as an individual, without husband’s or father’s
    permission and should be able to travel abroad without the permission of family members.
  2. Where the state of marriage reduces legal independence, it should do so equally for both man and
  3. Married, widowed and single women to be able to hold property in their own name
  4. Right to have marital rape recognised in law
  5. Forced marriages to be made illegal

Women’s rights to abortion and contraception

  1. Right to abort a foetus (as distinct from the free provision of this by the state) for social or
    economic reasons

    • In the EU by 2020
  2. Right to use contraception
  3. Government sponsorship of the development of male contraception methods (non-barrier)

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