On the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, the Global Fund for Women (GFW) looks back over the past year and celebrates some of the extraordinary victories won by women’s movements around the world. From progressive new national and international legislation to mass mobilizations for peace, we celebrate the hard work of our grantee partners. These 10 victories remind us that despite enormous odds, women are paving the way to a more just and equal world.
Domestic Workers to Win Workers’ Rights
Despite restrictive working conditions and limited infrastructure, domestic workers worldwide organized, advocated for, and won a victory in June that began the process through the International Labor Organization (ILO) to extend basic labor protections to millions of women employed in other people’s homes. More »
Domestic workers around the world, often employed as “nannies”, “servants” or “maids”, have long lacked any of the basic protections against exploitation that workers in other industries enjoy. This overwhelmingly female workforce is thus highly vulnerable to abuse, including working long hours without days off, unfair wages, sexual or physical abuse on the job, and little or no access to health care, job protection or maternity leave.
Undeterred, domestic workers began to organize and to advocate both locally and internationally for their rights. GFW is proud to celebrate the achievements of our grantee partner Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility (CARAM Asia), which was instrumental in pushing for domestic worker’s rights at the International Labor Organization (ILO)’s 2010 Conference. It was also a big year for Domestic Workers United, which led successful advocacy efforts to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in New York, the first such law to pass in the U.S. Next up, GFW grantee partners and others will be pushing for a Convention for Decent Work to be adopted at the 2011 ILO Conference. If they are successful, it will be the result of incredible organizing by this vibrant movement, considered by many the most exciting in the world.
Women and Girls Get a Strong Voice at the UN
In 2010, the women’s movement finally got a longstanding demand: the creation by the UN General Assembly of UN Women, or the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The superagency consolidates the four existing UN offices for gender equality and women’s rights into a single entity, with Undersecretary General Michelle Bachelet, former Chilean president, at the helm. At the official launch of UN Women in February, Bachelet said, “It took four years of hard work to realize the dream of millions of women and girls, to have a global “champion at the UN who can lead the efforts to translate their hopes of a better world into reality.” More »
The creation of UN Women was indeed the result of years of advocacy for reform within the UN by the Gender Equality Architecture Reform campaign (GEAR), which mobilized more than 300 women’s, social justice, and human rights groups to hold the General Assembly accountable to its promises for women’s equality and empowerment.
According to Charlotte Bunch, GFW Board Member and leader of GEAR, “Over the past 20 years, the Global Fund for Women has been a major funder for women's groups to monitor the UN and attend events like UN world conferences and the Commission on the Status of Women, which has been crucial to creating the ground work for UN Women.”
First Successful Use of CEDAW in Rape Case
In the Philippines, women won a historic victory when they successfully used the Optional Protocol of CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) to appeal a rape case. In the first rape case ever to be decided under CEDAW, a United Nations committee ruled that the Philippines government violated the rights of Karen Vertido, a female rape survivor, when a local court dismissed her rape allegations due to “gender-based myths and stereotypes.” The Women’s Legal Bureau of the Philippines, a longtime GFW grantee partner, appealed to CEDAW, and in collaboration with several other grantee partners in the Philippines and across the Asia Pacific region, secured this historic verdict for the survivor. More »
Vertido argued that her rights as a survivor of sexual violence were violated because the court arrived at its decision based on gender-based myths and stereotypes. Vertido powerfully asserted, “I claim every inalienable right and every right this country promised to me as its citizen, from protection of my body, my livelihood, to protection of my honor. I claim restitution for having been violated first by one depraved man, and then later by a society that says it is okay to rape women.”
The Philippine Government must now implement the recommendations made by CEDAW, including ensuring immediate measures in rape cases and impartial and fair legal procedures. CEDAW also urged the government to review its definition of rape and to train its judges, lawyers, law enforcement officers and medical personnel in a gender-sensitive manner to understand crimes of rape and other sexual offenses.
Human Rights Court Rules Against Ireland’s Ban on Abortion
In a groundbreaking decision, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unanimously ruled that abortion, in certain cases, should be legalized in Ireland and that its ban violates the rights of pregnant women to receive proper medical care in life-threatening cases. This case also set precedence for women in other countries to challenge discriminatory laws through the ECHR, which makes legally binding decisions on human rights issues in the 47-member Council of Europe. More »
This legal victory was due to the to the persistence of the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), a GFW grantee, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of three women who argued that Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws threatened their health and wellbeing because it forced them to travel abroad for abortion. IFPA’s successful strategy argued that reproductive rights are human rights.
GFW funding helped IFPA research and bring this case before the ECHR, as well as leverage other funding for costly litigation. A huge victory for reproductive rights in Ireland, this case also established the ECHR as a defender of reproductive rights and inspired women across the region to legally challenge other violations of women’s rights.
Mass March for Women and Peace in Congo
For three days in October, 220 women from 41 countries gathered in Bukavu, in eastern Congo to peacefully march in solidarity with 20,000 Congolese women and men against war and gender violence. The gathering was organized by GFW grantee partner World March of Women (WMW) in cooperation with local Congolese groups working to end violence against women. More »
“We believe that women should not be made prisoners in their own homes,” said Celia Alldridge of the WMW. By reclaiming the streets—a public space—marchers made visible violence against women. Women proudly proclaimed, “we are all survivors, we’re still here, and we’re marching together for the women of the Congo,” and in doing so brought global attention to the mass rapes committed by multiple armies and militias.
GFW supported several grantees to participate in the march, including the Arab Women's Movement in Support of Victims of Sexual Assaults from Israel and the local Congolese group Voices of those without Voice nor Liberty (VOVOLIB). With other women’s rights groups, GFW grantees used the march as an opportunity to organize public debates and conduct advocacy to end government impunity from sexual violence. As a result, Congolese women are seen less as victims and more as survivors actively engaged in an effort to rebuild their lives and hold their government accountable. Their work is paying off: in February, a Congolese army colonel was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison for ordering his troops to attack and rape dozens of defenseless civilians in the village of Fizi on New Years Day.
Nationality Laws Sweep Middle East space
Women’s quest for equality took a giant leap forward with the passage of nationality laws in Libya, Palestine, Tunisia and Yemen and with initial steps taken in Lebanon. Nationality laws grant women equal treatment under the law and ensure that even if they marry a man of a different nationality, their children will not be denied citizenship in their own country. This legal guarantee is also critical to ensuring women and children’s access to basic resources, like education, health care and employment. More »
In July 2010, Libya passed Law 24, in which Article 11 grants children the right to receive their mother’s nationality. In October, Yemen amended Article 3 of its Nationality Law giving Yemeni women married to non-Yemenis the right to automatically pass their citizenship on to their children. The Palestinian Authority passed Law 42 allowing a Palestinian mother to register and pass citizenship to her children under age 16. In Tunisia, women’s right to citizenship was expanded and is now absolute without conditionality. Meanwhile Lebanon’s Parliament passed Decree 4186 granting Lebanese women’s husbands and children three-year residency terms that can be renewed.
Since 2001, GFW grantees have engaged in research, advocacy, media reform, and protests to support women’s full citizenship across nine countries - Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen. These victories were the outcome of the “Arab Women’s Right to Nationality” regional campaign led by our grantee partners with regional coordination by the Collective for Research and Training on Development in Action (CRTD-A) in Lebanon. With democratic uprisings sweeping the Middle East, the struggle towards equal citizenship continues and grows.
Nigerian Women Defeat Nudity Bill space
Amid a rising tide of religious fundamentalism and cultural conservatism, Nigerian women’s groups succeeded last year in defeating the so-called Nudity Bill, introduced in 2008, which would have imposed state control over girl’s and women’s bodies. More »
Under the Nudity Bill, women over age 14 would be punished for wearing necklines lower than two inches or clothing that exposed any parts of their belly, waist, or thighs. If passed, violators would have to pay a fine between $65 and $325 or serve up to six-months in prison. The bill also would have lowered the age of marriage consent from 18 to 14 years.
A network of women’s organizations, including GFW grantee partners Alliances for Africa, CIRDDOC, and the Nigerian Feminist Forum, spearheaded the campaign that eventually quashed the Bill in 2010. They organized advocacy actions during the UN CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) review for Nigeria and at the state and federal levels in Nigeria. Their successful strategy also emphasized the real and urgent issues facing Nigeria, which are not necklines but the four million Nigerians living with HIV/AIDS and the extremely high rates of maternal mortality, among others. The network widely disseminated information to the public and actively engaged religious groups in their work. Over 500 women activists attended the packed public hearing that killed the bill and their energy has motivated similar efforts to quash repressive bills in other African countries.
Argentina Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage, First for Latin America
On July 22, Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. Article 2 of the Argentinean Civil Code now describes matrimony as a union between a “couple” versus between “man and woman.” Under the new legislation, same-sex couples have the same social rights as heterosexual couples, including parental rights to adopt, the right to their partner’s inheritance and pensions, among other rights. To date, some 1,000 lesbian and gay couples have been married. More »
GFW has been proud to support the tireless efforts of lesbian rights groups in Argentina over the past two decades to achieve equality. Several GFW grantee partners, including Lesbianas a la Vista, Desalambrando, and Colectiva Feminista la Revuelta, used a variety of strategies to contribute significantly to the achievement of this legal victory. The LBTQI movement in Argentina conducts awareness-raising campaigns and convenes annual encuentros (gatherings) where they strategize on advocacy, research and legal action. This work increased public acceptance of LGBTQI equality and paved the way for this critical legal victory. Next up is Peru, where, inspired by the success in Argentina, same-sex marriage has already become a topic in the 2011 presidential debates.
Maternal Deaths Drop by 34 Percent space
In 2010, major studies by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and the World Bank revealed that the number of women dying annually during pregnancy or childbirth has dropped by more than one-third over the last 30 years. GFW is proud to have played a role in the global movement to save mothers' lives. Since 1987, it has provided over $17.6 million in grants to 950 women-led organizations to improve access to and the quality of maternal and reproductive health care in 121 countries. More »
While we celebrate this significant progress, it is still too slow. Pregnancy-related causes remain a leading cause of death for women of reproductive age in many countries, including India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Through its programmatic area, Advancing Women’s Health and Sexual and Reproductive Rights, GFW continues to make this issue a top priority. Currently, over 200 GFW grantee partners are working to save women’s lives and improve their reproductive health in myriad ways. In Bangladesh, where only 18 percent of births are attended by a skilled medical professional, our grantee partner Narigrantha Prabartana trains traditional birth attendants and has formed a network of midwives who collectively purchase and distribute portable technology and medical equipment. A grantee in rural Nigeria, Gender Development Organization (GDO), supports women suffering from fistulae developed as a complication of childbirth by transporting them to the regional hospital, paying for their treatment and surgery, and helping them reintegrate into their families after they have healed.
Revolution by and for the People: Tunisia, Egypt and Beyond
The year leading up to the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day closed with revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, which hold the possibility of transforming women’s lives and which have inspired social justice movements globally. More »
Women have been central to these revolutions. In Tunisia, groups supported by GFW for over fifteen years, including the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD), were at the forefront of the uprisings. After the ouster of Ben Ali, women’s groups demanded that a women’s rights agenda and human rights law serve as the foundation for the new democracy. In Egypt, millions were swiftly mobilized following years of trust building across different sectors by civil society groups, such as GFW grantee partner the Nadim Center who represented victims of torture and published reports on Egypt’s repressive prison conditions. Numerous GFW grantees were in Tahrir Square for weeks running makeshift clinics, transporting medical supplies, giving legal aid and documenting abuses.
The revolutions not only opened opportunities for women to engage politically, they sparked the beginning of a transformation in gender relations. Men and women, across class and religions, worked and slept on the sidewalks side by side. And as men and women demanded respect and freedom from their government, they began treating each other with more dignity and viewing the well-being of their countries and its peoples as everyone's responsibility.
These revolutions have now similarly awakened people in Bahrain, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Yemen. The world is witnessing ordinary people’s desire for democracy and dignity, and realizing that their direct action can actually lead to real political and social change.