Organisation Internationale de Droit du Développement

Fighting the backlash against women

“Men and boys have to be there with us,” advocated IDLO’s Director-General, Irene Khan, during an event looking at ‘Fighting the backlash against women’, organized by the Overseas Development Institute to mark International Women’s Day. “We, women, need to make space to bring in the men,” she urged, “because if we want to win this battle, it is not a battle of exclusion, it is actually a strategy of inclusion, and inclusion means bringing in the men.”

If there were any doubts as to the extent of the struggle, we just need to look at the data, Ms. Khan asserted: “35% of women are victims of gender-based or sexual violence.” “The International Court of Justice – the highest court globally – has had 106 judges appointed in 72 years,” she continued, “of whom only four have been women.”

She went on to explain why the full spectrum of human rights matter to women in the quest for equality. “Women need political and civil rights, a voice for agency, a space to organize. But they need economic, social and cultural rights as well, the right to health, the right to education, to housing, to jobs” she explained, “and I emphasize them as rights, not needs… (because) unless they are seen as rights that women can claim, then I think women lose out.”

Referring more specifically to the work of IDLO, Ms. Khan made the case that while discrimination has to be fought, simply passing laws is insufficient. “One has to go behind laws to look at institutions, to see whether those laws are being implemented properly, whether policies are being put in place. Those very institutions - courts, legal systems, prosecutions systems - those are the ones, which are supposed to protect women, but very often actually fail them,” she told those gathered for the event.

Drawing attention to the many women without access to formal justice or courts, she called on practitioners not to ‘underestimate male-dominated community structures… how you work from inside communities, how you empower women and change the power structures is absolutely critical.’

In terms of approaching the empowerment of women, Ms. Khan also spoke of the resilience of women and reminded participants that ‘women are not victims, they are survivors and they are agents... and (we should) seek to empower, bring out the strength that women have… When women put that power collectively together, that’s when we see huge changes happening.’

Addressing the main theme of the discussion, Charlotte Bunch, Founding Director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University, argued that the current backlash against women was, in part, down to a resistance to women playing a different role, holding new positions of power and enjoying new ways of living. Many women are paying the price for this, she suggested, being held back by those who do not want them to succeed. In her view, the new factor today is the way in which these issues are also linked to diversity and distress over globalization by those left out. Fear has led those left behind, she said, to pinpoint women as the problem.

Echoing this view, Greta Schettler, Vice President of WEConnect International, acknowledged the huge achievements made towards gender equality, but agreed that there is always going to be push-back against change. From her experience, she said, the solution was to consider how we bring everyone into the conversation, understand their concerns and ensure they understand change, the answer lies in education. Men want to be engaged, she suggested, but are not sure they have a place at the table nor of their role.

She used to think the backlash against women and girls was Africa-focussed but now she sees it as global, acknowledged Marieme Jamme, digital entrepreneur and Co-Founder of Africa Gathering. Calling for the people on the ground to be better listened to, she also made the case for the momentum of International Women’s Day to be maintained throughout the year, not just for one day.

Find out more on IDLO's contribution to International Women's Day 2017 here.


Panel Discussion                                                                                                                                        Q&A Session


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