7 things to look out for this Human Rights Council Session
This June-July session of the Human Rights Council (HRC38), as every year, focuses on issues of gender and sexuality.
This means an annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women which will be held in two sessions (21 June at 16:00-18:00 and 22 June 10:00-12:00), as well as a number of anticipated resolutions relevant to gender equality and women’s rights. There are also a range of events and reports being presented at this session that will be of interests to feminists.
If you’re not going to be in Geneva, you can follow online, as parts of the agenda will be streamed live on UN Web TV. We’ll also be sharing updates on our Twitter handle @AWID and streaming events live from our Facebook page.
With a jam-packed session you might be wondering where to start, so we have put together a list of some key things to look out for (and even an unexpected papal appearance!).
Resolutions on Violence Against Women and Discrimination Against Women are anticipated, with the VAW resolution addressing online violence and the DAW resolution focussing on gender discrimination in the workplace and economic sphere.
Other resolutions of interest will be one on Civil Society, and another on Peaceful Protest. Follow our social media accounts to hear more on protections for WHRD organizing: progress or continued state push-back?
Also, the African Group (a bloc of 54 African states) is sponsoring a resolution on the eradication of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which looks like it may become a focus of culturally relativist anti-rights efforts.
Vietnam, Bangladesh and the Philippines are tackling the key issue of climate change, human rights and the impact on women in a resolution this session as well.
A strong report from the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice condemns the misuse of religion, culture and tradition
One big thing to look out for is the report being released by the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women (WGDAW). The report looks back at the past six years for the departing working group members, as a new set of members takes up the mandate.
It’s a bold and forward-looking parting statement, pulling no punches in calling out “movements opposing the universality of women’s rights, contributing to fragmenting and weakening the human rights system.”
What’s particularly powerful is the direct calling out of the discourses used by anti-rights actors, including within the Council itself.
“The Working Group has observed 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.”
“The concept of gender itself has been challenged, misunderstood and misused [...] Conservative groups argue that international law prohibits only sex discrimination, denying that the term “gender” has been used in international norms and standards since the 1970s.”
Their warnings echoes many of the key issues we raised with the OURs initiative in our Rights At Risk report.
Unsurprisingly given the content, it is anticipated that the report will be met with significant backlash in some quarters. Meanwhile, feminist and women’s rights organizations have come together to welcome the report, issuing a statement saying:
We endorse the Working Group’s concerns around the instrumentalization of the family and of concepts such as ‘complementarity’ and ‘equity’ as part of a strategy aiming to challenge long-standing women and girls’ universal human rights to equality and non-discrimination, supported by international human rights law.
AWID will also be co-sponsoring an event (on June 22 at 1pm) with the WGDAW and our partners to go deeper into the issues raised in the report. For those who can’t join us in Geneva, we’ll be live-streaming the event on our Facebook page.
- Read the report from the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice
- Read more: Rights at Risk: Observatory on the Universality of Rights Trends Report 2017
In case you missed it, an amazing group of feminists have been speaking up about the gendered impacts of corporate human rights abuses, and mobilising behind a proposed legally-binding treaty to hold transnational corporations accountable for their activities’ impact around the world.
AWID will be in Geneva to push this agenda forward. We will be holding an event on Women’s Rights Beyond the ‘Business Case’ - Rethinking the Economic System and Ending Corporate Impunity (June 27, 2pm) with WILPF, CAL, CIEL, DAWN, ActionAid, FIDH, FIAN International, CELS and partners to advance the debate on women’s human rights beyond the ‘business case’ and to discuss why corporate impunity is a feminist issue.
Trans Advocacy Week
Throughout the first week of the Council (June 17-23), trans activists from across the globe will participate in Trans Advocacy Week, an initiative of APTN, GATE, ILGA, RSFL and TGEU, to address the historic marginalization of trans issues in the SOGI agenda at the UN.
Trans activists will participate in the Open Consultation on on legal gender recognition and depathologization. The delegation will participate in two side events - Mainstreaming gender identity and expression in feminist and gender equality work (3 – 4:30pm June 18) and The Yogyakarta Principles +10 and the protection of the rights of transgender people (3-4:30pm June 21). There will also be a Meet & Greet at 6:30 – 8:30pm on June 19.
The first report from the new Independent Expert on Protection Against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (IESOGI)
This session will also see the presentation of the first report from a new IESOGI, Víctor Madrigal-Borloz, who took up the mandate in January 2018. The report looks at violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the root causes of this, and support for effective State measures, guided by a framework of intersectionality
The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), jointly with 11 other organizations, have submitted a list of State obligations that if, implemented, would help ensure the protection of LGBTI human rights defenders.
The IESOGI mandate has faced intensive opposition by some member states from the outset, first with multiple attempts to block its creation, and then significant efforts to undermine the mandate once it was established. It is likely that this report will also draw significant ire from anti-rights actors at the Council.
No “Protection of the Family” Resolution?
For those not familiar with the “Protection of the Family” agenda at the Human Rights Council, it is a dangerous anti-rights strategy of using innocuous-sounding discourses on ‘protecting the family’ as a guise to defend violations against family members, to bolster impunity, and to restrict equal rights within and to family life.
Since 2014 a group of states have been operating as a bloc in human rights spaces under the name “Group of Friends of the Family”, and resolutions have been successfully passed each year since then.
It has been a repeated tactic of those behind the Protection of the Family resolutions to withhold information about the resolution until the last possible moment, to leave member states and civil society in the dark. It’s as yet unclear whether a resolution will be tabled this year - this may be the first year since 2014, that no such resolution is proposed.
And… a visit from the Pope!
Finally, it has been announced that the Pope will be visiting Geneva on June 21 - notably, on the annual day of discussion on women’s human rights. With 40,000 people expected to turn out to greet him - and parts of the city’s road network and the airport to be closed down - the visit is likely to be relevant to the political debates around gender and sexuality that take place during this key HRC session. Watch this space!