These are difficult days for the women’s movement: a daily barrage of news reminds us of the rampant sexism and inequality that many women and girls still face worldwide. The election of Donald Trump in the United States spells unprecedented setbacks for domestic reproductive rights and the global women’s movement.
While it can be difficult to reflect on our gains, the women’s movement has achieved great successes globally, and highlighting these achievements will be essential for the fight ahead. From Poland and Argentina to Cameroon and Pakistan, the work of the International Women’s Health Coalition confirms one thing: we are stronger when we work together.
Women Everywhere Held the Line Against Harmful Legislation and Anti-Choice Attacks
Women took to the streets en masse and demonstrated their power to defeat outdated and oppressive attacks on their human rights. Groups supported by IWHC were at the forefront of these efforts:
In August, the Supreme Court in Argentina’s Tucumán Province finally released the young woman known as Belén, who had been imprisoned and accused of homicide for inducing an abortion (even though she had experienced a miscarriage). In partnership with Argentina’s unstoppable feminists, our grantee partner Catholics for the Right to Decide organized countless protests, extensive media coverage, and the legal defense for Belén.
In October in Poland, after thousands of women protested over many days, the government abruptly withdrew a bill to ban abortion under all circumstances and imprison women and doctors. Groups like IWHC grantee partner the Astra Network helped lead protests and a women’s strike.
In November in Turkey, women’s groups, including an IWHC grantee partner, Women for Women’s Human Rights, mobilized to protest a law that would allow men who raped or sexually abused underage girls to serve no jail time if they married their victims. After national protests and international outrage, the government withdrew the law—an important win for activists who have faced mounting repression and crackdowns since a failed coup attempt last July.
The World’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Moved into Action
The landmark passage of the Sustainable Development Goals by 193 countries in 2015 acknowledged that gender equality and women’s human rights are essential to development. In 2016, IWHC took action to ensure implementation of the strategy. Alongside Plan International, KPMG, the ONE Campaign, Women Deliver, and Data2X, IWHC is holding key decision-makers and governments accountable for their promises to achieve true equality for girls and women by 2030. In funding and sustaining the women’s movement, IWHC knows that it is community-based women’s groups at the front lines that are best-equipped to press their governments to move this progressive agenda forward.
Girls’ Rights Came Front-and-Center on the Global Stage
Several countries, including the United States, committed to protecting girls’ rights in 2016. After many years of advocacy by IWHC and others, the United States government launched its first comprehensive strategy to empower adolescent girls worldwide. The strategy represents the diversity of issues uniquely facing girls, including access to education and safety, and the power to choose if, when, and who to marry. IWHC partnered with US-based groups to host Girl Summit 2016 to press the government to uphold its promise to girls. We are closely watching the US government’s strategy on adolescent girls as the new administration takes its place.Several countries in Africa also signed on to the African Union’s “End Child Marriage Now” campaign, including Cameroon, which also passed its own groundbreaking law in July that bans the practice. IWHC’s partners in Cameroon—AVLF and APAD—have played a key role in community-led efforts to end child marriage.
As governments seek to end HIV and AIDS by 2030, IWHC is making sure the response includes a strong focus on girls’ sexual and reproductive rights. At the International AIDS Conference in South Africa this July, we organized a high-level panel to focus on the disproportionate impact of HIV on girls and the need for comprehensive sexuality education to break cycles of abuse and infection.
Women Led the Fight for a Zika Response in Brazil
After a dismal response to the growing Zika threat from a crumbling and dysfunctional Brazilian government, local women’s groups moved to fill the void and provide much-needed information and services to combat the fear, stigma, and misinformation facing Brazil’s poorest women and girls.
To bolster these efforts, IWHC rapidly deployed funds to two groups—Grupo Curumim and ANIS-Institute for Bioethics—to support their frontline work to provide women with support. ANIS is now at the helm of a pioneering casebefore Brazil’s Supreme Court to grant women affected by Zika the access to information, contraception, abortion, and protective services they need. The Court is set to rule on a preliminary injunction this month.
And the fight continues! We wish you strength and resilience in the New Year.