Top 10 Wins for Women’s Movements

Women's rights defenders; courtesy Global Fund for WomenFor the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, my colleagues and I at the Global Fund for Women decided we needed to shake things up. On a daily basis, we are fed a heavy dose of bad news about the plight of women: one in three women are survivors of rape, domestic violence on the rise due to joblessness, and so on. Although women experienced some setbacks in 2010, they were also the drivers of major victories for women across the world. Here’s our list of top 10 picks:

10. Revolution by and for the People: Tunisia, Egypt, and Beyond

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt not only transformed gender relations as people began treating each other with greater dignity, the uprisings are inspiring social justice movements throughout the Middle East and around the world. The women’s movements in Egypt and Tunisia were instrumental in strengthening civil society, which was crucial for millions to be mobilized to take down the regimes.

9. Maternal Deaths Drop by 34 Percent

In 2010, major studies by the WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, and the World Bank found that the number of women dying annually during pregnancy or childbirth dropped by over a third in the last 30 years.

8. Argentina Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage, First for Latin America

Over 1,000 lesbian and gay couples have been legally married since July when Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. Article 2 of the Argentinean Civil Code now describes matrimony as a union between a “couple” versus between “man and woman,” giving same-sex couples equal rights, from parental rights to adoption and spousal rights to inheritance and pensions.

7. Nigerian Women Defeat Nudity Bill

The Nigerian women’s movement blocked a “Nudity Bill” that would have led to the fining or imprisonment of girls over aged 14 for showing too much of their neck or any parts of their belly, waist, or thighs. Their quashing of this bill sent a strong message to other African nations considering similar bills that they have another thing coming!

6. Nationality Laws Sweep Middle East

In Libya, Palestine, Tunisia, Yemen, and Lebanon, women’s groups won the passage of nationality laws that guarantee women married to a man of a different nationality the right to pass on their citizenship to their children, giving them access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, and employment. This was the result of a regional campaign led the Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action in Lebanon.

5. Mass March for Women and Peace in Congo

Last October, over 20,000 women and men marched across Bukavu in the eastern Congo against war and gender violence. Organized by the World March of Women, women from 41 countries claimed the streets with the Congolese people to bring international attention to government impunity. Their work is paying off: last month, a Congolese army colonel was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison for ordering his troops to attack and rape dozens of defenseless civilians.

4. Human Rights Court Rules Against Ireland’s Ban on Abortion

In December, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously ruled that abortion should be legalized in Ireland and that its ban violates the rights of pregnant women to receive proper medical care in life-threatening cases. This case was brought forward by the Irish Family Planning Association and sets significant legal precedence for women across Europe to challenge discriminatory laws through the European Court.

3. First Successful Use of CEDAW in Rape Case

Women in the Philippines succeeded in using the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to appeal a rape case, the first application ever of this important UN women’s rights treaty. The Women’s Legal Bureau brought the case forward on behalf of the rape survivor Karen Vertido and was backed by women’s groups all across Asia.

2. Women and Girls Get a Strong Voice at the UN

In 2010, the women’s movement finally won a longstanding demand: the creation by the UN General Assembly of UN Women. This superagency, also known as the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, consolidates the four existing UN offices for gender equality and women’s rights into a single entity, with Undersecretary General Michelle Bachelet, former Chilean president, at the helm. This was possible because of the thousands of women’s groups who monitor the UN and attend UN world conferences.

1. Domestic Workers to Win Workers’ Rights

For the top win, we turn to the origins of international women’s day, which was the right of women to assert and defend their rights as workers. Despite restrictive working conditions and limited infrastructure, domestic workers worldwide organized, advocated for, and won a victory in June that began the process through the International Labor Organization (ILO) to extend basic labor protections to millions of women working in other peoples’ homes as “nannies”, “servants,” or “maids.” Domestic workers are highly vulnerable to abuse, including working long hours without days off, unfair wages, sexual or physical violence on the job, and little or no access to health care, job protection, or maternity leave. Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility was among the many domestic worker groups worldwide pushing for domestic worker’s rights at the International Labor Organization’s 2010 Conference. Also last year, the New York-based Domestic Workers United won the first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in their state, a first in the United States.

These wins are a reminder that despite enormous odds, the global women movement’s tenacity, vision, and creativity is indeed leading to greater women’s consciousness, women’s rights, and the right to defend the dignity of all people.

Christine Ahn is a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus and a senior policy and research analyst at the Global Fund for Women in San Francisco, California.