March 23, 2018

The Commission on the Status of Women, the largest UN gathering focused on achieving gender equality and women’s human rights, concluded today with strong and concrete commitments that address the realities of women and girls in rural areas.

“This victory for millions of women and girls comes following hard-fought negotiations that brought progress on many fronts,” said Shannon Kowalski, advocacy and policy director at IWHC. “At a time when the world is coming to grips with the entrenched discrimination, violence, and restrictions faced by women, this outcome makes clear that governments are starting to heed the call for justice.”

Rural women make up more than a quarter of the world’s population and face similar obstacles in developed and developing countries. Throughout the world, women and girls in rural areas disproportionately experience exclusion and poverty. At the same time, rates of modern contraceptive use, use of prenatal and postnatal care, and skilled attendance during delivery are much lower in rural areas, while rates of maternal mortality across the globe are on average two and a half times higher.

The Commission rightly recognized that women and girls in rural areas often face disparate reproductive health outcomes due to a lack of agency over their own lives and a lack of access to health care services. It noted that these disparities are exacerbated by multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. Governments committed to address these barriers by addressing health care worker shortages, ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, information and education, and protecting women’s reproductive rights and right to control their sexuality.

A recognition of child, early and force marriage as a barrier to girls’ education was coupled with promised efforts to empower women and girls, and to work with local communities to combat negative social norms which condone such practices. These are significant steps given that adolescent girls in rural areas are three times more likely to become pregnant and up to twice more likely to become child brides than their urban peers.

The 62nd CSW also reaffirmed commitments to provide comprehensive sexuality education to all adolescents and young people, in keeping with recognized best practice. They agreed that pregnant and parenting adolescents must continue their education and receive comprehensive support to do so; that violence and harassment of girls at school must be addressed and committed to take effective measures to improve menstrual health and remove the stigma related to menstruation.

A week after Marielle Franco was killed in Brazil, governments further recognized the need to protect women human rights defenders as they do their critical work. “This CSW outcome represents a defeat for a handful of regressive governments that aimed to water down the agreement in attempts to keep women restrained, subservient, and with few rights,” said Kowalski. “Women will no longer be held back. We are powerful and this outcome shows that the world is with us.”

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Photo: UN Women / Ryan Brown