‘Let’s Make Herstory’: The UNHRC’s Fight for Women’s Rights

Vanessa Catenacci/The New York Times

This weekend, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) engaged in an intense debate on how to ensure international human rights for women. Over the past century, women have gained the right to vote, run for political office, go to school, and be considered a legal ‘persons’ in many countries. Yet despite the progress made, in many areas of the world women are still denied basic rights.

The UNHRC is comprised of over 50 countries that have come together to implement resolutions towards the advancement of equality for women. Through the discourse, it could be seen that the majority of countries were dedicated towards this goal. However, there were many different viewpoints on how to tackle the issue at hand.

Countries such as Iraq and Rwanda believed that education was the key to providing women with equal rights. They insisted that both education promoting respect towards women and ensuring women were able to go to school were highly important. The delegate from Rwanda pressed this issue, stating:

“Women themselves believe that they are less than men and they themselves believe that do not have the right to an education…we must make sure that women have the ability to go to school and want to go to school, as this will allow them to open themselves up to representation on a more political level.”

Yet many delegates disagreed with this approach. The delegate of Israel expressed the belief that religion lay at the root of the problem, citing that in some Middle Eastern countries the primary religion contradicted the equality that they were trying to achieve and the education that women would receive. 

Other countries expected a more immediate solution. The delegate of Sweden expressed that education was indeed vital to promoting equal rights, but also emphasized the need short-term initiatives. The delegate proposed the regulation of non-discriminatory practices in the workforce, as well as offering assistance to victims of sexual assault. 

Discourse continued for hours, each delegate arguing for their own approach to the issue. Finally, a working paper surfaced, presented by the delegate of Sweden. The working paper addressed the implementation of non-discriminatory practices towards women in the workforce and strict policies against sexual assault. It also recommended that the UNHRC subsidize nations to provide resources to women who had been victims of sexual assault or discriminated against. Finally, it proposed the implementation of economic sanctions against countries that would not support regulating non-discriminatory practices.

Initially, the paper was met with mixed reviews. The delegate of the UAE proposed the question as to who would determine what was unjust discrimination in reference to how workplace discrimination would be judged. Other delegates echoed this sentiment, noting the vagueness and subjectivity of the resolution.

Despite the dissident voices, the overwhelming majority of delegates supported the promise the resolution held. Germany firmly stated its support:

“This resolution allows for both long term and short terms solutions and increases accountability of countries in terms of discriminatory practices by proposing economic sanctions against those countries with inherent discrimination.”

Overall, after a few small amendments and hours of debate, the final working passed with over 2/3rd of the vote. The committee is now back to the drawing board, hoping to pass resolutions related to women’s education and domestic violence. With one day left in the meeting, there is still a lot of work to do, but the UNHRC’s progress is already beginning to make history.