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HRC 34: AWID Statement on protecting cultural rights on a basis of equality

Mr President, 

We welcome this timely report from the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, including its detailed and targeted set of recommendations. 

Fundamentalisms and extremism, in diverse and evolving forms, are on the rise today across multiple regions. We live in a moment in which these trends - and the profound challenges to human rights that they represent - are undeniable. We urge States and relevant United Nations bodies to embrace a human rights approach to addressing fundamentalisms and extremism, one that focuses across a broad range of rights, including cultural rights. 

In our work, and that of our members and partners worldwide, we have long tracked the growing threat of fundamentalisms and extremism to women human rights defenders, including young women human rights defenders. Rising fundamentalisms were identified as a major human rights challenge in a survey of over 1600 WHRDs worldwide: top negative impacts included increased violence against women and girls, diminished rights for women in the public sphere, and less autonomy for women.

In another transnational survey released earlier this year, young women activists identified fundamentalisms and extremism as central and recurring threats to their security and safety. 

Fundamentalisms and extremism seek to erode the universality of rights.

We thus note with concern the rising trend of states and non-state actors who use arguments based on anti-rights interpretations of religion, culture and tradition to roll back fundamental rights - particularly women’s rights and gender justice - and justify state impunity. Culture and religion must not be used/misused to justify violence and discrimination towards anyone, including women and girls; ethnic or religious minorities; or gender and sexually non-conforming persons.

As the report notes, everyone has the right to take part in cultural life. Yet these ideologies oppose equality and seek to enforce monolithic, exclusionary and patriarchal conceptions of ‘culture’ that ignore the equal right of all to participate in and create, shape and interpret culture - and the dynamic and pluralistic nature of culture itself.

Accordingly, we urge states to act now to safeguard and protect cultural rights on a basis of equality, and we call on all relevant United Nations bodies to support efforts to oppose rising fundamentalisms and extremism. 

Thank you.