The UN human rights chief has praised movements around the world by women to “reclaim public spaces”, including in India, but warned the gains made over the years were fragile and should not be taken for granted. “It is heartening that women are mobilising in massive numbers to call for their rights to be respected,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said, as the world marks the International Women’s Day on March 8. Al Hussein praised women’s movements in Argentina, Poland and Saudi Arabia, where women and men are taking to the streets to demand change, marching against legislative proposals to criminalise some sexual and reproductive rights and fighting femicide.
“In India, we have seen women’s protests against sexual violence and movements to reclaim public spaces,” he said in a statement. “It is time to come together to protect the important gains of the past and maintain a positive momentum,” he said.
The UN high commissioner, however, termed “extremely troubling” the recent rollback of fundamental legislations in Bangladesh, Burundi and Russia, which weakens women’s rights against child marriage, marital rape and domestic violence.
He said such rollbacks are “underpinned by the renewed obsession” to control and limit women’s decisions over their bodies and lives, and by views that a woman’s role should be essentially restricted to reproduction and the family.
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“We need to be alert – the advances of the last few decades are fragile and should nowhere be taken for granted,” Al Hussein said. He noted the “fierce resistance” in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua to political and civil society efforts to open up access to sexual and reproductive rights.
“With the world’s young population concentrated in developing nations, retrogressive measures denying women and girls access to sexual and reproductive health services will have a devastating effect,” Al Hussein said.
He said denying women’s their rights would lead to “a generation without choices and a collective failure to deliver on the promises of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” referring to the internationally-agreed action plan for eradicating poverty while assisting all people and maintain the health of the planet.