Women’s Rights and Peace

Two decades ago, the United Nations issued a landmark document called “The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.” The Declaration, which is now an international human rights treaty, set out a path to gender equality. Since then, defenders of women’s rights have seen progress made in several areas, but a lot remains to be done.

When the issues of women’s rights were first raised, they were often controversial. Women could not be educated without the permission of a man, could not work outside the home, and could not cast votes in national elections. Women’s rights advocates fought to make it possible for women to go to college, hold jobs for pay that did not involve family or household chores, and even play sports. Today, women are in thousands of occupations that would have been scandalous or unthinkable just a few generations ago—dentist, bus driver, airline pilot, and phone installer, to name just a few.

The fight for women’s rights has taken many forms, including litigation and advocacy. The ACLU Women’s Rights Project fights discrimination against women through a combination of litigation, advocacy, and public education. In addition, we work to advance structural changes in institutions that perpetuate discrimination against women, focusing on the areas of workplace discrimination and violence against women.

A comprehensive effort to promote women’s rights is vital to achieving peaceful societies that are capable of reaching their full potential. Gender equality is a human right and, as studies have shown, also leads to economic growth and development that benefits both men and women.

In addition, research has shown that countries that protect the rights of their women are less likely to engage in violent conflict. And peace negotiations that include women’s representatives result in agreements that are between 20 and 35% more durable.

Gender equality also means that women are able to exercise their reproductive choices—to choose how many children to have, when to have them, and when to end a pregnancy. This is a key to sustainable population growth that helps preserve the environment, reduces poverty and hunger, and allows women to live in safety and dignity.

Despite the gains, most American adults say that our country has not yet reached gender parity—with more than 64% of Democratic women and 57% of Republican women saying this. However, 76% of Americans believe that it is very or somewhat likely that women will eventually have equal rights with men. This view is even more pronounced among younger Americans. For example, 85% of young women and 84% of young men think that gender equality is important. This is a significant increase from the 80% of young people who felt this way in 2007.