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Feminists Demand States and the UN Uphold the Right to Bodily Autonomy for All

This joint statement was delivered by Action Canada for Population and Development on 30 June 2023, during the annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women’s panel on gender-based violence against women and girls in public and political life at the 53rd session of the Human Rights Council.

Thank you, President. I make this statement on behalf of the Sexual Rights Initiative, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development and the Federation for Women and Family Planning.

Today’s panel is especially poignant as attacks on the right to bodily autonomy dominate headlines around the world, in the mechanisms of multilateralism and this Council’s agenda. 

From the criminalization of abortion in Poland, to the anti-LGBTIQ+ laws being passed in Uganda, racist anti-migrant laws and policies across Europe and North America, and the push for punitive frameworks against sex work; these attacks aim to construct an exclusionary society that reinforces social hierarchies of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, caste, and class. Make no mistake, this is structural and intentional violence. 

Increasingly, we are witnessing opposition to and the weaponization of the use of “gender” in UN policy spaces. At the same time, we see a push for regression from international human rights law to an understanding of violence against women that is based on biology and stripped of any analysis of power based on social location.  

As feminists, we reject these misrepresentations and misuse. Not only does this deviate from decades of feminist scholarship, but it is also contrary to international human rights standards that have evolved considerably to address discrimination based on gender, defined as a social construct “....that justifies inequality and provides a means to categorize, order and symbolize power relations.”1

We reject the co-optation of the human rights framework, particularly the notion put forward by some, that the fulfillment of the rights of trans and cis women is conflicting and incompatible. We affirm that our struggles for bodily autonomy are inextricably interlinked. The fulfillment of the rights of all marginalized groups must remain at the heart of all human rights work.

Thank you.

1 See Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions on a gender-sensitive approach to arbitrary killings, Agnès Callamard, para. 16, A/HRC/35/23, June 2017, as referenced in Comments to the Draft Crimes Against Humanity Convention in November 2018