Women around the world continue to challenge misogynist and sexist discourses and policies

9 March 2020, 14:04 UTC |

In view of the disturbing global trend of misogynist messages currently disseminated by some political and religious leaders, and the increase in oppressive and sexist policies and practices, women around the world are joining forces to consolidate and protect the rights and freedoms achieved to date. The women’s movement seeks to ensure that, far from restricting rights, further progress is made in combating the inequalities persisting in many corners of the planet. Millions of women are challenging discourses that demonize them and attempt to jeopardise the feminist movement, as well as advocates of women’s rights, gender equality and sex education.

A discourse defending traditional values and a specific definition of the family is gaining ground and promoting an agenda that denies equality as a women’s right, the need to implement specific policies to address gender violence, their right to make decisions with regard to their bodies and to their sexual and reproductive health. This reactionary standpoint is also targeting defenders and activists for being who they are and for doing the work they do. It is a discourse that runs counter to the international agreements already recognised by the United Nations at the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing, which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary, and which have been ratified by a large number of countries.

“We are concerned that this type of discourse is part of the political agenda in what appears to be a global strategy against women’s rights. It is not by chance that buses with the same messages against diversity, or denying the existence of violence against women, have made appearances in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Chile, Colombia or Kenya. That is why women are reacting more energetically than ever, the feminist movement is becoming stronger and the younger generations are becoming increasingly involved in the struggle,” said Ana Rebollar, deputy director of Amnesty International Spain.

Violence against anonymous women

Women suffer violence due to the very fact of being women. It exists in every country. In Spain, from 1 January 2003 to 2 March 2020, 1,046 women were killed by their partners or former partners. After years of political consensus to take specific measures against a scourge that increasingly affects younger women, some political parties are attempting to conceal this type of violence within the broader concept of domestic violence that camouflages and denies the existence of the structural inequality that is at the root of violence against women. This is despite the international consensus on the existence of specific violence based upon discrimination against women (1979 United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, ratified by 189 countries).

In Mexico, where 10 women are killed every day, women have taken to the streets to protest against this violence, which is not considered from a gender perspective by the Attorney General’s office, and in view of the images coming to light of brutally murdered women. Ninety percent of the cases of femicide go unpunished in Mexico.

Veto on equal education

However, one of the main sticking points in different parts of the world is education on equality, diversity, and addressing gender-based violence. With the argument that no one can make this kind of decision in relation to their own children, countries such as Paraguay and Brazil prohibit sexual and reproductive education, as well as material relating to gender equality and non-discrimination. A similar law is currently awaiting approval in the Polish Parliament that could control this type of education. Countries such as Spain are making progress in this direction in some regional autonomies.

“The freedom of families cannot outweigh the right of children and adolescents to receive tools enabling them to identify and combat situations of discrimination in their lives; to know and live freely and without fearing their own identity; and to acquire knowledge to deal with their sexuality whilst freely deciding about their own bodies”.

The president of Paraguay promised to burn books with this type of content, Brazil supported sexual abstinence campaigns, and Poland might punish those who teach this kind of content to children under 18 with up to three years in prison. However, societies are clearly responding; Paraguayan students are mobilizing to demand comprehensive sex education from their government; in countries like Peru, pressure from civil society, including Amnesty International, has led the Supreme Court to bring a lawsuit against the unjustified gender focus in students’ academic content.

Control over women’s bodies

While attempts are made to limit sexual and reproductive health education for minors, even in countries with high rates of teenage pregnancy, laws still exist that can put women in prison for up to 10 years, as is the case in Honduras, or even for decades in countries such as El Salvador. This happened to Evelyn Hernandez, sentenced to 30 years in prison for a miscarriage; despite being found innocent in a court of law, the prosecution has appealed the sentence.

Organizations such as Open Democracy have reported that in some countries, including Mexico, Ecuador or Costa Rica, where voluntary termination of pregnancy is regulated in some cases, conservative groups are providing “false and distorted” information to women who attempt to terminate their pregnancies. They intimidate them with false claims of greater cancer risk, claiming that their partners will become gay, or that they are more likely to physically abuse other children.

In view of this, in countries such as Slovakia, thanks to social pressure, Parliament voted against forcing women to see ultrasound scans of the foetus before terminating the pregnancy. This measure constituted an attempt to deter the reproductive rights of the women, undermining their privacy and autonomy.

Harassment of activists and politicians

Women’s rights defenders in particular are being victimised by this sexist trend. Once again, in all parts of the world, those who raise their voices continue to be subjected to aggression, threats, intimidation, criminalization, and even murder. They are subjected to smear campaigns, they are insulted and their lifestyles and even the way they dress are questioned.

Amnesty International continues to denounce cases such as: Ebtisam El Saegh of Salam for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, who was sexually assaulted and brutally beaten for her human rights work. In Iran, Yasaman Aryani and her mother Monireh Arabshahi were sentenced to 9 years and 7 months in prison for distributing flowers to other women and promoting the non-obligatory use of the veil. The Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who defended the rights of these women, was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes. They were all accused, among other things, of “disturbing public order”, “committing a sinful act by appearing in public without a hijab”, and even “inciting corruption and prostitution”.

Activists such as Carola Rackete, the captain of the Sea-Watch 3, after rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean, was insulted by the Italian Minister of the Interior, and acts of sexual violence against her were encouraged within different political and social spheres. Moreover, she was attacked for being a woman and for her appearance. A similar fate befell 14 Polish women activists, who unfurled an anti-fascist banner during a demonstration in which people displayed racist and fascist symbols. They were called “bitches”, “left-wing scoundrels”, “whores” and were assaulted. They were finally tried for obstructing a peaceful demonstration; however, the mobilization of citizens secured their acquittal.

Women who participated in the Green March for the legalization of abortion in Argentina were also targeted and harassed on social media. One in three women suffered violence on social media and were accused of “murdering”, “baby killing” and of being “feminazis”. In India, one in five women parliamentarians and politicians are attacked for their work; they suffer sexist remarks in reference to their appearance, their marital status, whether or not they have children, and regarding their ethnic and religious background.

The strength of the feminist movement

Nonetheless, the pressure from women’s movements cannot be underestimated. When countries like Saudi Arabia wish to whitewash their image, tainted by reports of human rights violations, they do so by publicizing advances in women’s rights, such as being able to drive, despite the continued imprisonment of activists such as Loujain al-Hathloul, who was jailed in May 2018 for posting a video of her driving and claiming this right for the women of her country.

The Chilean women’s anthem against sexual assault, A Rapist in Your Path, has been sung on all five continents, and has even reached parliaments, like in Turkey, where female members of the secular opposition sang it in protest against the arrest of seven women who chanted this anthem in a mobilization in the streets of Istanbul. According to Amnesty International’s analysis, only 9 out of 31 European countries have laws that define rape on the basis of absence of consent. But determined women, survivors and activists have been bringing about change country by country. In 2018 alone, Iceland and Sweden became the seventh and eighth countries in Europe to adopt new legislation in line with international law and standards, followed by Greece in 2019.  Spain could become the 10th country in Europe to clearly define rape as sex without consent, following the recent announcement by the government of a new bill on comprehensive responses to sexual violence.Amnesty International will participate in the mobilizations on 8th March, International Women’s Day, in different countries around the world, with the intention of showing more than ever our support for women’s movements, and of echoing their voices in all their diversity and in the fight for recognition of all their rights.