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Throughout 2012, structural and institutional forces such as politics, religion, culture and inequality continued to impact women’s rights. Ongoing and increasing conflict and crises worldwide placed enormous pressure in particular on Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs).
Looking deeper, there is evidence of progress as well as setbacks for women’s rights, while women’s rights activists remained as determined as ever to overcome the barriers that prevent them from enjoying the full spectrum of rights they are entitled to.
Working together, women have achieved some significant gains in 2012, such as in the Philippines where - after almost 15 years in Congress - the Reproductive Health Bill, Republic Act No. 10354, was finally passed, giving millions of women access to contraception that has been out of their reach; and the UN General Assembly's human rights committee adopted a resolution against female genital mutilation (FGM) - a major victory for civil society organizations fighting for an end to the abusive traditional practice.
Other significant moments in 2012 that were progressive for women’s rights around the world include:
- Liberia: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated for a second term as President of Liberia. She became the first female president in Africa when she was elected in 2006.
- Libya: Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace (LWPP) welcomed the passage of a new electoral law guaranteeing women at least 40 seats on the 200-member Constituent Assembly drafting Libya's new constitution.
- Pakistan: Senate passed the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill making violence against women and children an offence carrying jail terms and fines.
- Burma: Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese opposition politician and chairperson of the National League for Democracy (NLD), was elected to the lower house of the Burmese parliament. Her party won 40 of the 45 vacant seats in the lower house.
- Malawi: Joyce Banda became the first female President of Malawi and the first in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
- AWID convened its largest Forum to date, bringing together 2,239 women’s rights activists, from 140 countries and six continents, urging stronger feminist engagement with issues of economic power and exploring feminist responses and alternatives.
- U.N. climate talks in Doha approved a "gender balance" goal that will increase women's participation in climate negotiations, with the hope of making climate change policy more responsive to women’s needs.
- Pakistan and UNESCO announced an initiative to get more girls into school. The Malala Plan -- named after Malala Yousufzai, the teenage schoolgirl who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for advocating education for girls -- will receive $10 million from Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
- During its 45th Session, the UN Commission on Population and Development (CPD) adopted a landmark resolution on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of adolescents and youth.
- The London Olympics was historic for women in sports - all participating countries included women on their teams, with Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia including female athletes for the first time. 34 countries sent more women than men and women collected the majority of medals for China, the U.S. and Russia.
Disappointing setbacks for women’s rights in 2012 have also occurred.
2012 saw ongoing and increasing attacks and violations against WHRDs, including criminalization, assassination, attempted assassination, death threats to themselves or their family, assault and harassment. In 2012 the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) took 198 actions in response to alerts received regarding violence against WHRDs in 44 countries. Some WHRDs lost their lives in 2012, whereas others survived assassination attempts and still others remain in detention.
The 20th session of the UN Human Rights Council held the first-ever panel discussion on WHRDs as part of its annual full-day discussion on women's human rights. In addition, Mexico adopted a law protecting human rights defenders and journalists - aimed at protecting life, integrity, liberty and security of those at risk because of their work defending and promoting human rights, or for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Much remains to be done however, for WHRDs in other countries such as in Honduras, for example, where violence against WHRDs continues with impunity.
Some significant moments in 2012 that were detrimental to women’s rights were:
- Afghanistan: The case of a 15-year-old child bride brutally tortured by her husband and his family for refusing to go into prostitution causes global outcry and raising questions about progress on women's rights more than a decade after the end of the Taliban's rule.
- Haiti: The UN was outraged by the sexual abuse of minors by U.N. peacekeepers - the third time in five years.
- Women’s rights organizations and gender equality advocates were deeply disappointed by the Rio+20 process and outcome document - most worryingly, the watering down of previous agreements and the omission of women’s sexual and reproductive rights from the final text.
- Russian Federation: Saint Petersburg passed a controversial law banning "homosexual propaganda", giving authorities the power to decide what constitutes propaganda, meaning LGBTI people risk being punished simply for their lifestyle.
- The 56th UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) session closed without any agreed conclusions, with some conservative member states undermining the multilateral system, questioning women's rights and gender equality.
- Uganda banned 38 NGOs it accused of undermining the national culture by promoting homosexuality. The country's ethics and integrity minister claimed the NGOs were receiving international support for homosexuals and "recruiting" young children into homosexuality.
- India: 23-year-old physical therapy student was gang raped on a bus in Delhi, and later died from her injuries, causing massive protests across India, saying enough is enough to sexual violence against women. In India a woman is raped every 22 minutes, and few see justice.
For a visual overview of some of 2012 events through a women's rights lens, watch AWID’s video here.
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