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Women’s rights (III), in practice

Non-discrimination. Third and final article which reviews the development and consolidation of legal and social frameworks for eliminating all forms of discrimination against women.

The success of the last International Women’s Day demonstrations means people are talking about women’s rights, perhaps more than ever. However, that has not, necessarily, led to more knowledge or dissemination in the legal sphere.

It seems that rights are treated as if they were innate conditions and not laws written in treaties that states have to apply.  For example, in 2019 there should be more emphasis on celebrating the 40th anniversary of the “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women” (CEDAW), one of the major legal landmarks when it comes to women’s rights.

And it is from that perspective that we are going to conclude the series of three articles on women’s rights. Following on from what was said in the first two articles, in this third article we will review the issues that affect women’s rights by referring to which law and which international treaty is intended to protect each right.


The following summary of recognised basic women’s rights specifies the precise scope of each one and their reference in international law (especially in the CEDAW).

We use the following acronyms:
CEDAW – Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
UDHR – Universal Declaration of Human Rights
ICCPR – International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)
ICESCR – International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

1) Right to life
A right that includes above all the eradication of violence against women. Other aspects too, such as reducing the maternal death rate and access to free information on planning their sexual and reproductive health, and to dual contraceptive methods for controlling childbearing or sexually transmitted diseases.

We place special emphasis on this right because, in fact, all the CEDAW rights seek to tackle violence against women, and cover the public and private spheres. It is based on the idea that violence against women constitutes an act of discrimination and is a violation of human rights. Violence puts women’s lives and health at risk, and violence committed in the family is considered harmful. Moreover, traditional attitudes subordinate women and give them stereotyped roles, reproducing and maintaining practices that lead to violence.

Other legal reference standards are: UDHR Art,19; ICCPR Art.6, Art. 19.

2) Right to freedom and personal safety
Includes sexual and reproductive rights with the aim of achieving women’s sexual and reproductive independence.

The legal reference standards are: CEDAW Art. 11, 12; UDHR Art. 3; ICESCR
Art. 12.

3) Right not to suffer torture, nor cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
Includes things like prostitution, trafficking women and exploitation for sexual reasons. It also takes into account that poverty and unemployment, which have a bigger effect on women, increase the possibility of trafficking and prostituting women, putting them at risk of becoming victims of violence.

Furthermore, this right includes the elimination of practices that are especially harmful for the health and integrity of young and teenage girls, for example, female genital mutilation.

The legal reference standard is: CEDAW Art. 6

4) Right to political and public life
Includes things like the right of women to elect and be elected (active and passive suffrage), take part in and formulated public policies, occupy public posts and representative posts in government.

The legal reference standards are: CEDAW Art. 7 and 8)

5) Right to education on equal terms between men and women
Includes various issues. One of them is access to studies, to vocational training and to study and skills acquisition programmes, by providing grants and subsidies.

It includes the fight against absenteeism and dropping out of school, more common among girls than boys, as well as the right to rural and urban education.  Furthermore, it includes a gender-sensitive education based on eliminating stereotypes.

The legal reference standards are: CEDAW Art. 10; UDHR Art. 26; ICESCR Art.13.

6) Right to satisfactory and fair working conditions
Includes a series of rights which are:

Right to choose a profession.
Right to vocational training.
Right to stable employment and suitable working conditions.
Right to receive the same salary as men.
Right to social and unemployment benefits.
Sanctions for dismissal for reasons of pregnancy or maternity
Right to work-life balance.
Right to paid maternity leave.
Right to protection during pregnancies.

The legal reference standard is: CEDAW Art. 11

7) Right to access to high health standards
Refers to improving access to good sexual and reproductive health services for women, among other aspects.

That includes free access without charge to family planning, as well as adequate care services during pregnancy, giving birth and after, including adequate nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This improvement could include, for example, practices such as obstetric cures that avoid maternal mortality.

It also calls for government to integrate an analysis of improvements in sexual and reproductive health the reduction in poverty in their policies and data collection.

On the other hand this right includes combating infectious sexual diseases and the HIV virus, by facilitating access to adequate services and also prevention services. It calls on governments to attach importance to education on preventing sexually transmitted diseases.

The legal reference standards are: CEDAW Art. 11, 12, 13, 14; UDHR Art. 25, 27; ICESCR Art. 9, 11, 12, 15.

8) Right to economic and social benefits
Includes the right to sign contracts and administer property, as well as obtain bank loans and mortgages.

The legal reference standard is: CEDAW Art. 13

9) Right of rural women
Special importance is given to rural women with their participation in development plans, to benefit from social security programmes and to participate in communal activities (credits, marketing, access to land).

The legal reference standard is: CEDAW Art. 14

10) Equality before the law and in civil matters
A right that seeks the legal recognition of women in various aspects, for example, the same legal capacity as men when it comes to signing contracts and administering property. It also seeks to give women the same treatment in courts of justice and before tribunals.

In addition that due recognition be given to the right of women to circulate freely and to choose where they would like to live.

The legal reference standard is: CEDAW Art. 15

11) Right to free choice in matrimony and equal rights in the family
A basic right that includes various aspects such as the following:

Free choice in marriage and a ban on forced marriages.
Combating early marriages and establishing a minimum marriage age.
Choosing the number of children and the time between pregnancies, as well as equal rights and equal responsibilities regarding children.
Right to choose a surname, profession and occupation.
Equal right to family planning and access to contraceptive methods.
Equal right to property, to family purchases, property and asset management.

The legal reference standards are: CEDAW Art. 11, 12, 14, 16; UDHR Art.12; ICCPR Art.17

Content produced by the Human Rights Resources Centre

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