Chair of Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls flags States’ failure to adequately prioritise sexual

OHCHR

Council Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Chair of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls.  It also concluded its interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Melissa Upreti, Chair of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, noted that, during the last year and a half, some countries had restricted access to specific reproductive health services, deeming them non-essential.  The report identified five interrelated sets of actions to enable progress: 1) Prioritise sexual and reproductive health rights; 2) Eliminate discriminatory laws, policies and practices; 3) Institutionalise and strengthen monitoring and accountability for violations of sexual and reproductive health rights; 4) Ensure women’s and girls’ participation in decision-making processes while promoting male accountability; and 5) Push back against conservative and anti-human rights ideologies.  She also talked about the country visit to Romania.

Romania took the floor as a country concerned.

In the ensuing dialogue, speakers expressed concern at the fact that crisis situations disproportionately affected women and girls, as the report had found.  A change was required to properly tackle gender discrimination at an intersectional level, speakers agreed.  Other speakers expressed regret that the report contained certain controversial elements that did not reflect universally agreed language – the Working Group should avoid sweeping generalisations in subsequent reports.  It was important to ensure that all women and girls had access to all services, whether educational or medical, that ensured the protection of their sexual and reproductive rights. 

Speaking were the European Union, Mexico on behalf of a group of countries, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Denmark on behalf of a group of countries, Slovenia, France, Israel, Ecuador, United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Australia, Switzerland, Cuba, Brazil, Luxembourg, Angola, Japan, Iraq, Armenia, Togo, Syria, China, India, Morocco, Netherlands, Iran, Venezuela, United Nations Population Fund, United States, Kenya, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Botswana, Namibia, Malaysia, South Africa, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Ireland, Peru, Belgium, Italy, Georgia, United Kingdom, Mauritania, UN Women, Russian Federation, Panama, Tunisia, Malawi, Cameroon, and Cambodia.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Centre for Reproductive Rights, Inc., Federation for Women and Family Planning, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Action Canada for Population and Development, Plan International, Inc., British Humanist Association, Right Livelihood Award Foundation, International Lesbian and Gay Association, International Service for Human Rights, and Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Speakers pledged to combat discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people.  They criticised laws banning so-called lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex + “propaganda,” which were used as a pretext to restrict freedom of expression and assembly rights.  Expressing support for the Independent Expert’s approach to gender theory, they said it could have crucial and far-reaching implications, and positively reverberate on the overall protection of human rights.  They welcomed the report’s contribution to a better understanding of the existing connection between the equal enjoyment of human rights by women, girls, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, gender diverse and intersex persons.

In his concluding remarks, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, expressed hope that the interactive dialogue would enrich the work of the mandate, and described his position as “active listening”.  He said his report was, fundamentally, a study of international human rights law, how law approached human diversity, and had increasingly been able to capture it in the past decade.  There was nothing further away from this mandate than any attempts at vilifying any party.  However, a distinction must be drawn between respectful discourse that valued others in their humanity, and hate speech.  In conclusion, he called for a world where gender diversity based on self-identification was a fundamental tool to combat violence and injustice. 

Speaking were Venezuela, United States, Greece, Nepal, Uruguay, South Africa, Austria, Ireland, Georgia, United Kingdom, Viet Nam, UN Women, Tunisia, Albania, Malawi, Ukraine, and the United Nations Populations Fund.     

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: International Lesbian and Gay Association, Associacao Brasileira de Gays, Lesbicas e Transgeneros, Swedish Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights – RFSL, Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie Van Homoseksualiteit – COC Nederland, British Humanist Association, Asociacion HazteOir.org, European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Federation, International Service for Human, and Genève pour les droits de l’homme : formation internationale.

Ukraine, Armenia, China, Turkey, Indonesia, and Brazil took the floor in right of reply.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-seventh regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet on Monday, 28 June at 10 a.m. to hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The interactive dialogue with Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, started in the morning meeting and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Speakers pledged to combat discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people.  They criticised laws banning so-called lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex “propaganda,” which were used as a pretext to restrict freedom of expression and assembly rights.  Expressing support for the Independent Expert’s approach to gender theory, they said it could have crucial and far-reaching implications, and positively reverberate on the overall protection of human rights.  They welcomed the report’s contribution to a better understanding of the existing connection between the equal enjoyment of human rights by women, girls, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, gender diverse and intersex persons.  Urging support for women in all their diversity, speakers underscored that rigid gender norms oppressed human potential by reinforcing patriarchal systems of privilege and power.

Historically, human rights were about the rights of men – thanks to years of feminist action, this now included women and persons of all genders, and they could now recognise that gender was a social construct.  Trans and lesbian women had contributed to this movement from the very beginning.  Some governments, however, continued to endorse hate speech, making the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex activists and individuals more and more difficult.  Speakers were confident, however, that the Independent Expert’s report would contribute to a safer environment worldwide, despite the current vulnerability experienced by trans and gender diverse people in particular.  The struggle for equality and inclusion united persons of diverse gender identity and sexual orientation together with women in all their diversity.  Some speakers championed the human right to freedom of religion or belief.  However, they said persons experiencing distress over their sexual orientation or gender identity should not be exposed to coercive, medically discredited practices, even religious ones such as exorcisms and “healing prayer”.

Concluding Remarks

VICTOR MADRIGAL-BORLOZ, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, expressing hope that the interactive dialogue would enrich the work of the mandate, described his position as “active listening”.  His report was, fundamentally, a study of international human rights law, and how law approached human diversity and had increasingly been able to capture it in the past decade.  There was nothing further away from this mandate than any attempts at vilifying any party.  However, a distinction must be drawn between respectful discourse that valued others in their humanity, and hate speech.  In conclusion, he called for a world where gender diversity based on self-identification was a fundamental tool to combat violence and injustice.

Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls

Reports

The Council has before it the reports of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls (A/HRC/47/38) on women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights in crisis and (A/HRC/47/38/Add.1) on the visit to Romania

Presentation of Reports

MELISSA UPRETI, Chair of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, introducing the Working Group’s thematic report on women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights in crisis, noted that the report examined key factors and trends that undermined and threatened the sexual and reproductive health and autonomy of women and girls, before and during a crisis.  The focus on an “event” in the understanding of a situation of crisis may divert attention from key underlying factors that made a given situation ‘critical’ for different populations, especially for women and girls.  While many sexual and reproductive health harms were experienced in the form of a personal crisis, the causes were often systemic and linked to structural discrimination.  Concerning the failure to prioritise sexual and reproductive health rights, the report noted that the life-saving value of many vital sexual and reproductive health services was not recognised, and services were deprioritised or not provided at all.  States’ failure to adequately prioritise the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls was reflected in the lack of gender budgeting and financial investment. 

During the last year and a half, some countries had restricted access to specific reproductive health services, deeming them non-essential.  The report identified five interrelated sets of actions to enable progress: 1) Prioritise sexual and reproductive health rights; 2) Eliminate discriminatory laws, policies and practices; 3) Institutionalise and strengthen monitoring and accountability for violations of sexual and reproductive health rights; 4) Ensure women’s and girls’ participation in decision-making processes while promoting male accountability; and 5) Push back against conservative and anti-human rights ideologies. 

Regarding the visit to Romania, the Working Group was pleased to observe that notable progress had been made by Romania to establish a legal, institutional, and policy framework for the promotion and protection of women’s and girls’ human rights.  On the other hand, Roma women and girls often encountered racial discrimination when accessing health care and other public services.

Statement by Country Concerned

Romania, speaking as a country concerned, reiterated its full commitment to promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms in all fields of life and said it attached great importance to the work of the Special Procedures.  At the national level, the authorities had taken important steps in promoting equal opportunities, non-discrimination and combatting violence against women, both as human rights objectives and premises for social justice, development and peace.  Romania thanked the Working Group for its activity and for the substantive effort of presenting an outcome report which included a broad range of recommendations covering very specific fields related to how to better fight discrimination against women and girls.  The outcome report represented a valuable resource for the Romanian authorities, in their continuous effort to bridge the equality gap and improve the overall situation of women and girls, including those in most vulnerable situations.

Discussion

Speakers expressed concern at the fact that crisis situations disproportionately affected women and girls, as the report had found.  A change was required to properly tackle gender discrimination at an intersectional level, speakers agreed.  Other speakers expressed regret that the report contained certain controversial elements that did not reflect universally agreed language – the Working Group should avoid sweeping generalisations in subsequent reports.  It was important to ensure that all women and girls had access to all services, whether educational or medical, that ensured the protection of their sexual and reproductive rights.  The pandemic had led to a disappointing regression of international norms and standards that threatened to rollback years of progress on sexual and reproductive rights.  Some speakers outlined their efforts to support women and girls at the international level.  States were duty bound to promote a culture shift by garnering their support for sexual and reproductive rights.  Some speakers were surprised that the Working Group claimed that abortion was an agreed human right – there was no such unanimous agreement.  

Interim Remarks

MELISSA UPRETI, Chair of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, stressed that sexual and reproductive health rights were enshrined in international standards, and had been reaffirmed in consensus documents.  Human rights being inter-related and interdependent, discrimination against women and girls in the area of sexual and reproductive health had an effect across a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.  An intersectional approach was fundamental to identify and eradicate multiple forms of discrimination against women.

Discussion

Speakers noted with regret that pandemic lockdowns had made women and girls more vulnerable to domestic violence, unplanned and teenage pregnancies, as well as increased maternal mortality due to unassisted home births.  International human rights law required investigations into violations, and fully applied during conflicts – the provision of sexual and reproductive services must therefore be an integral part.  Emphasising that legal abortions should be accessible to all, speakers requested the restoration of general debates for all the Council’s sessions and deplored the so-called “efficiency” measures that had led to their suspension in the June session.  Several speakers stressed that these general debates were critical for civil society organizations to engage with the Council.  Criticising the invocation of conscientious objections to deny access to abortion, speakers said it should be limited to military service.  Some speakers noted that the report failed to mention lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people, even though their sexual and reproductive rights were disproportionately affected by the crisis.

Concluding Remarks

MELISSA UPRETI, Chair of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, noted that she supported the right to freedom of religion, but it could not be used as a pretext to justify discrimination against women.  She reiterated that women’s and girls’ enjoyment of sexual and reproductive rights was crucial to their survival and well-being.  Failure to ensure those rights was discriminatory.  The right to a safe prevention and termination of unwanted pregnancies must be fully recognised and supported at all times.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/06/afternoon-chair-working-group-discrimination-against-women-and

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