Women’s Rights Are Human Rights

Across the world, women face discrimination and violence. They earn less than men for doing the same work, are more likely to experience violence at home or in the workplace, and have fewer rights to make their own choices about health, education, employment, and family size. Getting more people on board with the idea that women’s rights are human rights improves progress on all those fronts.

When the term “women’s rights” first entered popular use in the mid-90s, it was controversial. Even in countries that had ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, it was still rare for people to see women’s rights as intrinsically connected to other human rights. Now, the concept is almost universally accepted.

The last half century has seen huge advances in women’s lives, but there is still much to do. Globally, women have three-quarters of the legal rights men enjoy; in sub-Saharan Africa, only 27% of countries treat women equally with men. Many harmful patriarchal traditions persist – including child marriage and female genital mutilation – which deprive girls of a good education, lead them into an early life of unrest and poverty, and place them at higher risk of death or injury during pregnancy and childbirth. Women are also more likely to live in poverty than men – especially in low and middle-income countries – because they don’t own land, are restricted by restrictive laws about how and where they can work, and are not protected from sexual harassment or assault.

When countries treat women unequally, it affects everyone. It’s a sign of autocracy and erodes democracy, whether the government tells women where they can or must go, whom they can marry, what they should wear, or when they can become pregnant. It’s also a sign of incompetence and neglect, because women have a strong connection to their communities, and they can offer critical insights on how to better their economy, protect their health, and build a better future.

In the United States, most people have a positive view of how far their country has come in giving women equal rights with men. But the question is how to move forward – about 40% of adults say they think America has not yet gone as far as it should.

Those who have a positive view are mostly Democratic men and women and Republicans. They want the federal government to do more on a range of issues, from providing more health care to families with children and boosting economic opportunities for women and girls, to curbing climate change and other environmental risks that disproportionately affect them. They’re also interested in improving equality between black and white women, as well as reducing the pay gap between women and men. These improvements are interconnected and have a profound impact on people’s lives. For example, advancing women’s economic equality will help all Americans by addressing problems like climate change, natural disasters, and financial crises. It’s up to each of us to ensure that happens.