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Power to women: my body, my rights

2015 is an important year in the fight for women’s rights. It marks 20 years since women around the world celebrated the Beijing Platform for Action at the United Nations’ ‘Fourth World Conference’. Yet, 20 years after Beijing, as the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said at the opening of Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York on 9 March, not a single country around the world has achieved gender equality.

Together with the anniversary of this agreement for action on Equality, Development and Peace, 2015 is also the European Year of Development – in which women’s rights are key, and the deadline of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 2015 is therefore a landmark year in the fight for gender equality. This includes the mainstreaming of issues such as sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Still a long way to go

Europe has often been considered the frontrunner in terms of gender equality and women’s rights, yet not only have we not achieved equality, but in many cases there has been a backlash against women’s rights. This is most striking on the issue of sexual and reproductive rights – for example in Spain, the current right-wing led government has been trying for over a year now to turn back the clock on existing abortion law. Some European countries such as Hungary, Poland, Ireland and Malta are struggling to implement laws that guarantee all women their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) while others, often under the pretext of the crisis – have cut funding to programmes and organisations that allow access to these rights.

This backlash is unacceptable for PES Women. It is unacceptable that in the 21st century not all European women have free choice, full rights and equal access to SRHR or that these rights and access would depend on the geographical or social status of women. This is why under the motto ‘My Body, My Rights’, PES Women has been calling for free choice and access for all women to SRHR. PES Women joined the civil society movement in Spain and across Europe that made the Spanish Minister of Justice resign and stop the proposal to amend the abortion law.

Equality beyond Europe

This back-pedalling on women’s rights is unfortunately not limited to Europe, but is happening across the world and at the recent CSW meetings and negotiations. Hence PES Ministers for Gender Equality adopted the declaration ‘Power to Women; My Body, My Rights’ in New York. This is a commitment towards SRHR as well as towards ensuring women’s economic, social and political empowerment. Full access to the SRHR and education will have positive spill-over effects on other areas.

The follow-up of the MDGs must have a strong gender dimension. PES Women welcomes the efforts at the global level of the European Union to guarantee that gender equality and women’s rights remains a stand-alone goal as part of the post-MDG process, but we need to ensure that a gender approach and investment in women’s rights is ingrained in all fields.

PES Women thus wants to underline with its motto, approach and demands of “My body, My Rights” that women are guaranteed their rights, and that they receive and seize the power to ensure that gender equality can be achieved in Europe and across the world.


Article originally published in the European Movement International website - European Year for Development blog

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