Women’s rights are human rights: Views from CARE and partners

By Howard Mollett, Senior Policy Advisor at CARE International UK


Ahead of the global refugee summits on 19 and 20 September, CARE and Women for Refugee Women hosted an evening of refugee women’s testimonies in London on 13 September 2016. (Photo: Chandra Prasad/CARE)


Human Rights Day happens 10 December every year to commemorate the day in 1948 that governments of the world adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations. Human Rights Day also marks the end of the yearly 16 Days of Activism on Violence Against Women and Girls, which is an important moment in which activists around the world mobilise to raise awareness on women’s rights issues.

Disrespect for basic human rights continues to be widespread all around the world. Some armed groups and governments subject people to horrific violence. In almost every country, there are some politicians and sections of the media spreading messages of hatred and division. At the same time, people in every country in which CARE works are standing up for the dignity and humanity of others.

Here are some thoughts from staff of CARE’s partner organisations and activists on human rights and their experience or work on the ground:


Marzia Jamili, Melissa Network and a 15-year old Afghan refugee girl currently located in Greece:

Being a refugee is terrible. I found this out only once I became a refugee myself, I was insulted and became the subject of contempt. I became small in my own eyes. Am I not human? So where is my human right?


Dima (name changed for protection reasons), Syrian humanitarian aid worker with Syria Relief and Development:

Human rights, particularly those of women, are not up for negotiation. It is every Syrian woman and girl’s basic right to access essential sexual and reproductive health services without fear of violence that is physical, psychological or sexual. This constant fear in the lives of Syrian women has impacted the health of an entire generation of mothers and children.

The blatant and continued attacks on medical infrastructure in Syria have created a widespread notion among women and men alike that the chances of death at a medical facility from these attacks far outweighs the importance of accessing health care services. This disheartening reality demonstrates the irony of how life-saving facilities now represent places of inevitable death, but not due to medical conditions, rather from attacks.


Rose (name changed for protection reasons), women’s rights activist in South Sudan:

If you ask me about how women’s rights and human rights are connected, then right now in South Sudan there is so much violence, it is hard to describe and unpick. Both men and women, boys and girls, all suffer of course. Children affected will be marked for the rest of their lives.

Some parts of the country have been spared the violence. There, if I think longer-term, then there are underlying social and cultural norms that create so many disparities – across education, access to productive assets, roles in agriculture and so on. Legal and policy frameworks are also supportive of women’s rights on paper. So we need efforts to translate those into reality.


Zrinka Bralo, Chief Executive of Migrants Organise, UK:

When I fled the war in Bosnia in 1993 and sought protection in Britain, I was able to work, study and gradually rebuild my life and recover from the worst atrocities Europe has seen since World War II. I used to say that I was lucky not have been raped or tortured in Bosnia or detained on arrival in the UK. Recently I realised how sad it is that I should feel 'lucky' not have been raped or detained.

I realised that today our expectations for protection are so low, that we, refugees, and women in particular, no longer know what human rights look like. It is as if we are no longer human.

People fleeing war and seeking protection are forced into the hands of traffickers. And if they make it to the UK, they get treated with suspicion - not allowed to work, study, claim welfare benefits or even volunteer. The privileged world’s obsession with border control has stripped refugees of their basic human rights and dignity. We must not allow for this to continue for the sake of our democracy and humanity.


Helen Pankhurst, Senior Adviser for CARE International UK:

On Human Rights Day, we need to recognise how women’s rights and human rights are indivisible. It sounds like a theoretical point, but it is real and experienced. It means understanding that women face specific threats.

Look at the refugee crisis. When young girls are married off at a heartbreakingly young age to much older men because it’s seen as their greatest chance of survival; or when pregnant refugee women flee the bombs and fighting to reach the shores of Europe and are detained, these are women’s rights offences and human rights offences. The world is currently a darker place, our humanity weaker, for allowing basic human rights guarantees to unravel.


Lyndall Stein, Programme Director, CARE International UK:

On International Human rights day – the different lives of women, all over the world, have a common thread: inequality, injustice and stigma is often experienced as harsher, more painful and more damaging because of negative attitudes to women, but women also have great endurance, courage and inventiveness and will continue to fight for freedom, fairness and human rights.