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Women's Universal Human Rights No. 473

Amended 2001
Amended 2003
Reaffirmed 2005
Amended 2006
Reaffirmed 2007

Despite years of work to secure equal treatment and equal status for women everywhere in the world, women continue to live in a condition of extreme deprivation. Women, like many men are regularly and systematically denied basic human needs and human rights. Women, unlike their male counterparts, also face gender-specific burdens, abuses, and even torture, with limited legal or practical recourse. Effective local and international laws protecting women's human rights are scarce. Laws that do exist internationally often depend upon voluntary compliance, local cultural, social and political reservations and restrictions.

Recently there has been a resurgence of inter- and transnational human rights groups working to reconfigure standards and legislation to take into account the experiences of women. These efforts are continually meeting with an unwelcome or uninterested reception from most nations. There is a significant deficiency of strong commitment and leadership in these new efforts to alleviate the suffering of women across the world. Coinciding with this lack of interest is a misunderstanding of the devastating implications of women's inequality on the quality of life for all peoples.

In many African countries, women's legal and social impotence in determining their own sexual interactions (within and outside of marriage alike) and protective measures against disease and unwanted pregnancies is highly consequential for an exploding birth rate and astronomical percentages of HIV/AIDS infection. Single Child policies in China combined with the social forces of son preference (the perpetuation of which is rooted in economic, legal, and social norms) are leading to a readily apparent inequality in the population, making women further absent from many areas of life and from decision-making bodies. In developed countries, such as the U.S., and less developed nations, there is substantial discrimination against girls and women who are lesbian, bi-sexual or transgendered, or who do not otherwise conform to male expectations of female behavior. Female Genital Mutilation continues to be widely practiced, due to the weighty social and legal consequences for women and families who do not submit to mutilation practices. These horrors are not isolated in some far off land, but are present even in the United States within some immigrant populations. Militaries the world over (the United States included) pose a great threat to women. Rape is frequently a weapon against women at home and abroad, and is even prevalent within military ranks. Exploitation of women surrounding military bases perpetuates similar structures in civilian life. Women workers the world over are often worked like beasts without legal recourse.

The sites of these tremendous abuses are diverse. No nation is exempt from responsibility, nor is the global community as a whole. Women's global human rights must be recognized, enabled, enforced, and protected by every nation, as set out by existing Human Rights standards and by emerging new standards and legislation that take better account of specific Human Rights abuses of women. The United States has a unique opportunity to lead in this area.

Americans for Democratic Action calls upon the government of the United States to take strong action, in its international and domestic policies to support further research into and development of new standards and methods for improving the lives of women throughout the world. Such action may include, but not be limited to:

  1. Providing financial support for organizations addressing women's human rights;
  2. Ratifying (or passing) and adhering to, and enforcing, all new and existing legislation protected women's universal human rights, such as the Beijing Plus Five Conference, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Equal Rights Amendment;
  3. Providing adequate, effective, and affordable options which will allow women to escape abusive domestic or workplace situations, and ensure continued support to those women in their efforts to permanently protect themselves against violence. Fully implementing the measures outlined by Congress in the Violence Against Women (VAW) Act and thereby giving the Office greater visibility and independence would contribute to this;
  4. Supporting legislation to protect women from trafficking, and support victims of such crimes in efforts to rebuild their lives;
  5. Prosecuting offenses against women within and surrounding military life and action, including recognizing sexual assault committed by soldiers during war as crimes of war and submitting such cases to the authority of the International War Crimes Tribunal;
  6. Recognizing the specific damaging effects on women of certain free trade agreements and economic restructuring programs (such as those determined by the World Bank, the IMF, NAFTA, or FTAA). The disproportionate impact of such programs on women's lives must be given an appropriately high priority in the United State's decisions to participate in them. Labor rights should be made part of the agreements;
  7. Renegotiating, reconfiguring and rejecting, if necessary, international agreements, treaties, and programs supported by the United States' government where they fail to safeguard against atrocities or worsening conditions for women;
  8. Considering the condition of women within countries with whom the United States maintains diplomatic or trade relations, in determining U.S. policy toward that country and the nature of that relationship.
  9. Americans for Democratic Action urges bold, comprehensive, and far-reaching actions in order to affect the lives of women. Actions must not fall short of achieving actual change by deferring to cultural or political institutions and customs that oppress women. Women's freedom to fully enjoy their human rights requires legal, political, social, and economic change. It requires every nation to consider whether each of its foreign, military, economic, and domestic decisions may adversely impact women disproportionately due to existing structural inequalities. Americans for Democratic Action charges the United States government to take the lead in eliminating gender-based inequality and in alleviating the suffering of more than half the world's population.


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No. 473
Foreign and Military Policy Commission