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

Poland: Lawmaker Faces Charges for Pro-Choice Protest

Poland’s government should immediately drop charges against a member of parliament who participated in a pro-choice protest and stop targeting reproductive rights activists, Human Rights Watch said today.

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US Environmental Agency Needs a Reproductive Justice Hero

The science is piling up on how environmental crises negatively affect reproductive health. The US government needs to include reproductive justice in its response to marginalized communities hit hardest by the climate crisis, air pollution, and other hazards.

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Women’s Rights as a Weathervane for Democracy

The promotion of women's rights to a permanent feature of public and political life is a clear achievement of feminist movements. The extent to which those rights are respected or violated is far less clear. Whether a woman actually enjoys her rights depends on many variables: whether she is indigenous, from a rural or urban area, lesbian, transgender, or has other diverse identities. Another key factor is whether she lives in a country where the rule of law and fundamentals of democracy are respected.

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Five Years On, Justice Still a Dream for Cabo Delgado Victims

Aisha has fled violence twice since her house was reduced to ashes during a massive attack in 2018 on her village in Macomia, northern Mozambique, by an armed group locally called Al-Shabab or Mashababos. She sought refuge in another town, where two years later an alleged Al-Shabab fighter beheaded her 14-year-old son in front of her, prompting her to flee by boat to the provincial capital, Pemba. Aisha, whose full name I am not using for her protection, knows her son’s killer, and she says she will identify him for the authorities if they assure her that justice will be done.

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Egypt: Sexually Abused Refugees Find No Justice

The Egyptian authorities have failed to protect vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers from pervasive sexual violence, including by failing to investigate rape and sexual assault. Not only are refugee women and girls in Egypt living in vulnerable situations at risk of sexual violence, but the authorities seem to have no interest in protecting them or investigating the incidents, let alone bringing the rapists to justice.

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Iranian Women’s Demands for Freedom Must Be Heard

The current protests gripping Iran show no signs of abating. More than forty days since the death of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini–who died after being arrested by Iran’s morality police for breach of the country’s strict dress code–the wave of fury unleashed at compulsory hijab laws, security forces’ brutality, and wider government repression continues to rage.

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Qatar: Rights Abuses Stain FIFA World Cup

The FIFA World Cup from November 20 to December 18, 2022, will be played following years of serious migrant labor and human rights abuses in Qatar, Human Rights Watch said today, publishing a “Reporters’ Guide” to support journalists covering the Qatar World Cup.

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Malaysia: Rights Agenda for Next Government

Political parties in Malaysia’s November 19, 2022 general elections should commit to a strong human rights agenda for the country

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Tunisia Tramples Gender Parity Ahead of Parliamentary Elections

A new electoral law introduced by Tunisian President Kais Saied on September 15 eliminated the principle of gender parity in elected assemblies, and could, in turn, result in Tunisia’s parliament being led almost exclusively by men. The country’s next parliamentary elections are set to take place on December 17.

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India’s Top Court Bans Degrading ‘Two-Finger’ Rape Test

On October 31, India’s Supreme Court ruled that anyone who conducts the “regressive and invasive” two-finger test on survivors of sexual assault or rape will be guilty of misconduct. The judgment brings hope that the justice system will finally stop using this unscientific process.

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South Africa Needs to Step Up Fight Against Gender Based Violence

The second Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) this week in South Africa presents an opportunity to reflect on the successes and challenges in tackling widespread GBVF in the country.

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Sweden’s New Government Abandons Feminist Foreign Policy

Sweden’s landmark feminist foreign policy set a precedent for the entire international community. Its abandonment is a step in the wrong direction.

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Decree on Libyan Women’s Non-Citizen Children Fails Discrimination Test

Without Libyan nationality, non-citizen children of Libyan women face difficulties including in obtaining identity documents. Their civil and political rights are severely limited, preventing them from voting in elections, and shutting them out of public sector jobs.

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US: Protect the Right to Vote

Election officials in the United States have human rights obligations to ensure that everyone entitled to vote in the November 8, 2022 elections is able to do so freely and without fear of intimidation or violence. A new Q&A describes the human rights imperatives, guided by international law, to protect the right to vote and the integrity of elections in the United States.

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Afghanistan: Women Protesters Detail Taliban Abuse

Three Afghan women detained for protesting Taliban abuses described torture and other severe mistreatment in custody. The women said they were wrongfully detained with their families, including small children, and experienced threats, beatings, dangerous conditions of confinement, denial of due process, abusive conditions of release, and other abuses.

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