My Equality Declaration
Statement from the White Ribbon Alliance
at the 64th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women
The White Ribbon Alliance is a global alliance and movement driven by advocates for reproductive health and rights for women and girls everywhere. Our movement includes National Alliances in fifteen countries, a broad base of membership at the country and global level, and committed citizens and champions at the local, state, national, and global levels of change-making processes. We recognize that global convenings, such as the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), are an opportunity to be mutually inspired by the commitment and passion of our peers, to build new partnerships and strategies, and to recommit to or revise shared principles and plans for action. But we also know that we must take action and speak up with or without an in-person platform to do so, and especially when the stakes for women’s and girls’ equality are so high.
Amidst a rising backlash against women’s rights across the globe, it is critical for our goals, declarations, and strategic platforms for action to continue to reach beyond preservation of the status quo. The Beijing Declaration in 1995 set forth one of the most progressive agendas using strong, unapologetic rhetoric on women’s rights and power. Yet, 25 years later, we are witnessing a draft political declaration that provides an inhibited pledge to action in the final decade of commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and a disappointingly watered-down call for women’s rights.
While the world would call for us to be satisfied that there are no explicit retractions on the platform committed to in 1995, we know that true change can only be achieved through ambitious agendas, targeted commitments, and the integration of gender equality goals and strategies across all global mechanisms, institutions, and development programming.
If we could write a declaration that was unabashedly committed to achieving gender equality in the next decade, it would include the following:
1. Women’s Evidence and Data: Governments and other actors should seek and incorporate women’s and girls’ lived experiences and voices as valid evidence and data. When global institutions seek data on issues affecting women and girls, those institutions often reach conclusions that reflect gaps and needs that women have actively identified all along. Furthermore, until women are heard, trusted, and involved in designing the strategies for their own lives, we will never be able to fully close the evidence gap in determining our progress along the path towards gender equality.
2. Women’s Agency: Women should not be seen merely as “beneficiaries” but as agents of their own equality. Women should be at the center of and leading the development of laws, policies, and programs that would benefit them. Women and girls should drive the systematic evaluation to ensure that the design, intent, and implementation of those laws, policies, and programs do not create and reinforce inequalities and marginalization. The Beijing Declaration set the standard for inclusive “participation [of women] in the decision-making process and access to power, [as] fundamental for the achievement of equality, development, and peace,” and we have the opportunity to set forth an agenda to achieve this goal.
3. Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: Women need comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare, information, and services so that the world can reach equality in health outcomes for women and girls, including a reduction in preventable maternal deaths. The original Beijing Declaration made unwavering statements on women’s rights as human rights and the “explicit recognition and reaffirmation of the right of all women to control all aspects of their health, in particular their own fertility, is basic to their empowerment.”
Given increasing global efforts, currently led by the United States, to limit women’s and girls’ reproductive rights and bodily autonomy, the omission of a commitment and pledge to securing the right to choice and healthcare – including the explicit right to abortion care and reproductive care – almost certainly guarantees that these rights will not be protected in the platform for action for gender equality. It is time to acknowledge that without realizing women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, neither the Beijing Declaration nor the Sustainable Development Goals will be met.
4. Ending Violence Against Women in Pregnancy: Women’s rights are not forfeited at the door of a health facility, in interactions with health providers, nor at the moment of labor and delivery. We call for a multi-sectoral approach to supporting the safety of women across the continuum of health and care, particularly when they are at that moment unique to women when they are bringing life into this world, in a physical state of simultaneous power and vulnerability. Governments and other actors also need to acknowledge and address the violence and disrespect faced by midwives, many of them women themselves, serving women in a uniquely gendered situation.
The Beijing Declaration calls for the prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls. 25 years later, the current Political Declaration neglects to set forth pledges that incorporate new evidence about the violence that women endure during childbirth. Women, and particularly women that identify with other marginalized identities, already face barriers to receiving accessible healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth, but we now have overwhelming evidence of the violence and abuse they face during childbirth.
5. No Discrimination: Women should not be discriminated against on the basis of their gender nor because of their multiple and intersecting identities. Women need governments to support legal, safe abortion to allow women to fully realize their right to bodily autonomy, and for international aid to no longer impose restrictions which discriminate against women, hinder their rights, and weaken civil society. These policies not only discriminate against women’s and girls’ bodily autonomy and reproductive health and rights, but also particularly discriminate against marginalized women of lower socio-economic classes, persons with disabilities, or ethnic and religious minorities.
6. The Right to Maternity Protections and Entitlements: Maternity protection is a fundamental human right and an essential component of gender equality that helps improve the health of mothers and their children while playing an important role in economic growth and the reduction of poverty. Protections and entitlements must also extend to women who have experienced stillbirth and the loss of their child during pregnancy or childbirth. Expectant and nursing mothers require special protection to prevent harm to their or their child’s health, and they need adequate time to give birth, to recover, and to nurse their children. At the same time, they also require non-discrimination protections to ensure that they will not lose their job simply because of pregnancy or maternity leave.
7. Women Lead in Humanitarian Settings: Women are leading efforts to respond to crisis and support long-term relief building efforts. With escalating incidences of conflict and movement across borders resulting from climate change migration, ongoing wars, and economic insecurity, the current Political Declaration should call for employing participatory funding for crises responses and prevention and providing flexible, long-term funding to women-led organizations based in crises-hit communities.
Shifting away from a top-down funding model for humanitarian responses – a model which lacks transparency, is unable to ground its strategies in local needs, and neglects women’s unique needs and disadvantaged positions of power – to a participatory approach builds resilience against future emergencies. When women-led organizations are provided with direct funding rather than diluted and short-term funds, they not only ensure that the most marginalized and impacted communities are supported on the long road to post-crisis recovery but are also included in planning and prevention thereafter.
8. Our United Nations: It is time to push for gender parity at the leadership levels of all United Nations organs, agencies, and affiliated organizations. In addition, ensuring integration and incorporation of gender equality across all UN principal organs, agencies, and affiliates should not be the mission of just UN Women but all UN agencies. While UN Secretary General António Guterres has set a strong example of having equal representation in his senior management group, it is time for the rest of the United Nations family and other global institutions to self-reflect in a revolutionary way to ensure that women’s voices, interests, and leadership are incorporated across all functions and at all levels.
9. A Central Role for Women’s Groups and Civil Society: Global institutions continue to struggle in moving beyond token involvement of civil society and women’s groups in the movement for gender equality. Despite evidence that overwhelmingly proves that efforts at peace, conflict resolution, and social development are less likely to fail with participation and leadership from civil society groups, there continues to be limited space for these voices at the table.
Whether ensuring a central role for these groups and actors in the achievement of gender equality means equal representation on all relevant Beijing+25 decision-making bodies or even a more concerted effort to make these platforms more accessible to the Global South in terms of choice of meeting locations and financial accessibility, it is clear that the global community needs to set forth parameters and criteria for true engagement of women’s groups and civil society.
10. Power that Cannot be Given: Finally, the Beijing Declaration and current Political Declaration continues to refer to the idea of “empowerment” of women and girls. White Ribbon Alliance firmly poses that the continued use of “empowerment” rhetoric suggests that it is up to men and/or governments, institutions, or organizations to “give” power to women and girls.
Women and girls are imbued with inherent power and cannot be bestowed it by others. Indeed, the patriarchy and its supporting infrastructure can only enact laws, policies, and barriers that prevent women and girls from exercising and realizing their full power.
Let us recognize in our declarations and actions the innate POWER of women and girls and leave the idea of “empowerment” behind.
Get in touch with the authors, two of WRA women’s and girls’ power and rights advocates:
Elena Ateva, Advocacy Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nisha Singh, Advocacy Officer, email@example.com