Women′s Human Rights at the United Nations
The 1993 Vienna Conference on International Human Rights was a turning point for the international women’s movement in that it introduced the concept of women’s human rights into the UN processes.
While the Declaration of Human Rights, which the UN ratified in 1948, addressed the violation of rights experienced in the public field, it showed no specific concern for the human rights violations that women faced simply by virtue of being a woman. The Declaration of Human Rights not only failed to approach human rights from a gender-equality perspective, but it also overlooked the many human rights violations that women experience in the personal sphere, such as the home and the workplace. Yet it was evident that women suffered various human rights violations that men did not, such as being deprived of schooling, forced marriage, prohibition from work, domestic violence, and honor crimes, including killing. Denying this reality left most women out of the scope of protective measures introduced by the Declaration of Human Rights (e.g. being eligible for refugee status).
Deciding that the 1993 Conference was a good opportunity to inform the international community that women’s rights were also human rights, the women of the world mobilized a massive Women’s Human Rights campaign that included women’s organizations and independent women from all over the globe. As a result of this successful campaign, the state-level International Human Rights Conference acknowledged that “human rights of women and the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights.” Human rights violations that, until then, had been considered beyond state jurisdiction because they took place within the private realm were finally put on the agendas of official international conferences by the international women’s movement.
In December 1993, the UN General Assembly ratified the Declaration Against Violence Toward Women, which is the first human rights document to specifically address violence against women
In 1994, a decision was passed to include women’s rights in the UN Human Rights mechanism and to assign a special rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Commission on the subject of violence against women
The process continued with the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo in 1994, the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, and with the Beijing+5 UN Special Session, held in New York in 2000.
After a decade of effort, the international women’s movement caused a permanent transformation in the scope of human rights by challenging the distinction between the private-public realms in the traditional approach to human rights. Thus, domestic violence, mass rape, violations of a woman’s physical integrity, and violations of women’s sexual and reproductive rights started to make their way into UN decisions and international conventions as human rights violations. Yet, one must also mention that conservative and reactionary forces are very actively working to exclude issues related to violations of a woman’s physical integrity, and violations of women’s sexual and reproductive rights from the human rights framework.