‘A New Sense of Urgency’: Preventing Rollback and Ensuring Gender Justice for All


Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), Center for Reproductive Rights, Observatory on the Universality of Rights (OURs), Room XXVI, Palais de Nations, Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland

A side event organized with the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women during the 38th Session of the Human Rights Council on 22nd June at 1pm.


In its pivotal report to the 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women in law and practice (WGDAW) highlights, among other things, progress made thus far in achieving rights related to gender, reproduction and sexuality, and emphasizes the central need for all to better address the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that reinforce and sustain each other to marginalize different groups of women and girls.

At the same time, the WGDAW boldly draws our urgent attention to the remaining gaps and obstacles that remain to the achievement of gender justice. Progressive and feminist activists working at the national, regional and international levels today face an environment of deadlocks, retrogressions and backlashes that undermines rights related to gender, reproduction and sexuality; opposes the universality of human rights; and aims to fragment, weaken and co-opt the human rights system.

The anti-rights actors and movements today threatening rights and fostering systemic discrimination flow from interlocked phenonema and oppressions. Rising authoritarianism in political governance; increasing inequality and corporate capture of the state; xenophobia and militarism; and rising (mis)use of culture, religion, tradition and nationalism to gain and bolster power now pose considerable challenges to the promotion, protection and fulfillment of human rights across the world. And gender justice and bodily autonomy and integrity is a key preoccupation and target of such anti-rights movements.

As the Working Group flags, this atmosphere of retrogressions extends across contexts, and into the international human rights system itself. It its seminal report, it observes how concepts such as “complementarity”, ‘equity” and “protection of the family” have been used to undermine women’s rights by challenging universal human rights to equality and non-discrimination; and that the concept of gender itself has been challenged, misunderstood and misused to tear away at the edifice of rights protections for women and girls worldwide.

We commend the Working Group for its innovative, progressive and brave work over the past six years and join in their call to all actors to unite in an effort to protect, promote and fulfil women’s rights, sexual and reproductive rights, and gender justice, while fighting against retrogressions. In doing so, an intersectional approach and strong coalition and institutional work is essential.


  • Foster mutual understanding of critical issues and challenges – analyze the current context of rising backlash and corrosion of women’s human rights – including rights related to gender, sexuality and reproduction – at the national, regional and international level.
  • Share information on and discuss civil society strategies to push back against anti-rights organizing and tactics that aim to undermine the universality of human rights.
  • Articulate and discuss key recommendations for UN officials, member states and civil society.

WATCH the live stream via AWID’s Facebook page

FOLLOW the live tweets via AWID’s Twitter account

JOIN the conversation using the hashtags #RightsAtRisk and #HRC38

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