Women's Rights


Discrimination by gender is prohibited in the United States, and American women have come a long way since winning the right to vote in 1920. While the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s opened many doors for women, substantial and stubborn barriers to full equality remain. 

The barriers all women face fall particularly hard on Black, Latina, and Asian Pacific Islander women as well as women who are immigrants, poor, elderly, lesbian, transgender or members of other racial or ethnic groups.  

 Violence is a major concern for women at every age and from every background. Each year millions of women and girls are victims of physical assault or sexual violence by an intimate partner. The United States reauthorized and expanded the Violence Against Women Act in 2013, but it expired and has not been reauthorized.  Law-enforcement responses and other support services for violence against women continue to be  woefully inadequate.

Women’s wages continue to be well below those of men, making it hard for women to support their families and afford quality childcare. Women make up the majority of employees in the lowest-paying jobs including caretaking, food service, cleaning, clerical and retail work.  Women of color and immigrant women in particular are relegated to low-wage jobs, which rarely provide employee benefits such as health care, paid sick or family leave time.  Women in the workplace continue to experience sexual harassment and face discrimination as a result of stereotypes that conform to what are considered appropriate roles for women. 

Changing these practices means challenging the fact that women remain vastly underrepresented at the tables where decisions are made: men still hold the positions of power in most public and private institutions in America -- from the military and corporations to congregations and Capitol Hill.  This especially affects a woman’s access to health care, particularly reproductive health care, which is highly politicized and overwhelming legislated by men.  US women lag far behind other countries in terms of maternal mortality and life expectancy, with evidence of significant racial and ethnic disparities in women’s overall health. The US government’s failure to ratify the important UN Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has created another roadblock to gender equality.

External Resources

Tanzania: Court to Rule on Education Ban for Pregnant Students

(Nairobi) - A landmark case on Tanzania’s discriminatory ban against students who are pregnant, married, or are mothers at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights could impact the rights of girls across Africa, the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa, Women’s Link Worldwide, and Human Rights Watch said today. The three human rights organizations submitted a joint amicus curiae brief to the court on June 17, 2022.

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Judge Tries to Block Abortion for 11-Year-Old-Rape Survivor in Brazil

“Do you want to choose the baby’s name? Would the baby’s father agree to give it up for adoption? Would you bear it [the pregnancy] a little longer?”
These are questions a Brazilian judge asked a 11-year-old-rape survivor during a hearing. She tried to convince the girl to continue a pregnancy against her will and sent her to a shelter to prevent her from having an abortion. The excruciating dialogue was captured on video and published by The Intercept.

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US: Abortion Access is a Human Right

Reproductive rights, including the right to access abortion, are grounded in internationally recognized human rights.

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US Supreme Court Topples Roe v. Wade in a Blow to Rights

In a predicted but nonetheless stunning opinion issued today, the United States Supreme Court overturned the constitutional guarantee of abortion access in the United States, reversing half a century of court protection for this fundamental right.

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Horror Behind Closed Doors of Polish Residential Institution

“My child’s nightmare lasted around a year and a half. She was beaten and locked in a caged bed, sometimes for the entire day or even two days.”
This is how a mother described the ordeal her daughter Kasia (pseudonym) went through in a residential institution for girls and women with intellectual disabilities in Jordanów, a small town in southern Poland.

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US States Should Protect Youth Abortion Access

As people in the United States prepare for the Supreme Court’s likely overturning of Roe v. Wade, lawmakers in many US states are moving to safeguard abortion access. Removing barriers young people face in accessing abortion care should be a top priority.

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In Ukraine, Women Should Be Protected from Violence in War and Peace

After more than a decade of advocacy by women’s rights groups, and amid an armed conflict following Russia’s full-scale invasion, as well as a bid for European Union membership, on Monday Ukraine’s parliament took an important step in combating violence against women and girls

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Feminist and LGBT Rights Activist on Trial in Russia

A prosecutor has called for Russian activist Yulia Tsvetkova to serve three years and two months in prison during a closed trial over absurd “pornography” charges.

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Africa: End Rights Abuses Against Girls

African governments should not tolerate or legally permit child marriage, denial of education, or other human rights abuses against girls, Human Rights Watch said today on the African Union’s Day of the African Child.

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Recognized Yet Limited: Abortion Rights in Nepal

Following the deaths of countless women who had undergone unsafe abortions, Nepal legalized the procedure in 2002. In 2018, Nepal’s government went further to protect women, enacting legislation that recognizes seeking abortion as a fundamental human right.

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South Korea’s Constitutional Right to Abortion

Abortion was decriminalized in South Korea by court order in 2021, and millions of women breathed sighs of relief.

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Tougher Steps Needed Against Afghanistan’s Taliban

Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August, a grave human rights crisis has been unfolding, especially for women and girls. Many governments have spoken out against the abuses; the Taliban’s March 23 decision to continue their ban on girls’ secondary schooling may be the first time a rights violation prompted near simultaneous condemnation.

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Chained Woman Has Become the Face of Bride Trafficking in China

The Chinese government has launched a year-long campaign to stem trafficking of women and children. The decision was prompted by a public uproar over its longstanding failure to tackle bride trafficking.

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Speak Up on Behalf of Afghan Women

When the Taliban announced on May 7 that women and girls should not leave their homes unless necessary and should do so only with their whole bodies including their faces covered, some people were surprised. Others were not.

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As US States Restrict Abortion Access, Mexican States Expand It

Guerrero’s expansion of abortion rights comes while access is under threat in the United States, with the Supreme Court possibly moving to reverse Roe v. Wade, and the US state of Oklahoma passing a law to ban nearly all abortions.

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