Ahead of International Women’s Day 2020, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović issued the following statement today:
“As we celebrate International Women’s Day and the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, it is saddening to note that most of the challenges identified 25 years ago are still present in Europe today. In some areas progress has stalled due to persistent structural obstacles and an increasing backlash, combined with the lack of a sufficient and robust state response.
Violence against women as a serious human rights violation remains a bitter reality for too many women in all Council of Europe member states. Notwithstanding the recent movements against sexual violence, huge challenges still lie along the path towards obtaining justice for women victims who have the courage to speak out. They may even face disbelief and stigmatisation by the very people who should be providing them with assistance and protection. With the rising popularity of social media platforms, sexist hate speech has acquired a worrying dimension, providing a new breeding ground for violence against women. Furthermore, the backlash against women’s rights, upheld by ultra-conservative movements, is particularly disturbing as it endangers the progress towards gender equality that has been achieved so far. This has a particularly negative impact on girls’ and women’s autonomous and informed decision-making about their bodies, health and sexuality and hinders their access to affordable, safe and good-quality reproductive health services. We have to remain vigilant to prevent any such rolling back of women’s rights. Special attention should also be given to the protection and promotion of the rights of girls and women who may experience multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination, such as women living in poverty, rural women, migrant women, Roma women, women with disabilities and LBTI women.
This dark picture is, however, brightened by the image of thousands of women of all ages and backgrounds who, regardless of the attacks, the threats and the harassment they may face, stand up against violence and for the full realisation of gender equality. Vigilance against stagnation and retrogression in women’s rights is ensured by their mobilisation as they peacefully demonstrate throughout Europe. I firmly stand by them and salute their courage and determination. In this respect, I reiterate the essential role played in the upholding of women’s rights by women human rights defenders, who are often at the core of such mobilisation. Not only do they provide assistance and shelter to victims of gender-based violence and combat discrimination against women, they also constantly monitor the situation, while holding authorities accountable for fulfilling their human rights obligations.
However, the fight for the realisation of women’s rights also relies on each of us. I invite society as a whole, from youth to the elderly, women and men, all acting together, to speak up against violence and discrimination. We all have a key role to play as agents of change.
Whilst I perceive society’s mobilisation as vital, we should not forget that citizens’ initiatives cannot in themselves remedy the continuous lack of a strong and official response by state authorities to the challenges currently affecting the full enjoyment of women’s rights. Council of Europe member states have the primary obligation to effectively uphold women’s rights. Against this background, I urge member states to support this civic mobilisation by taking concrete action. To this end they should: firstly, ensure the ratification and full and effective implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention); secondly, promote gender equality and combat sexism in all spheres of life; and thirdly, provide an enabling environment for all women human rights defenders by removing all obstacles to their work. We should all strongly advocate for the full realisation of women’s rights and rise to the challenge of making a world where gender equality is a reality. Fighting for women’s rights is fighting for everybody’s human rights and benefits society as a whole.”