Gender and Human Rights


Photo by : Priscilla Du Preez  (Unsplash)


Time to gender parity has blown out to 135 years. Here’s what women can do to close the gap


Across the world, women do not have the same opportunities as men. The 2020 Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) revealed Australia came in at 44th in the Global Gender Gap Index 2020 rankings, slipping five places from the previous year. But wait, there’s more. The 2021 Global Gender Gap Index places Australia at number 50, a slip of another six places in 12 months.

And, at the current rate at which the gender inequality gap is being closed, it is now the case that it will take 135.6 years to close the gap worldwide. In 2020, the WEF had calculated gender parity would not be attained for 99.5 years. The 2020 report concluded:

“None of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children.”


How is gender parity measured?

The key dimensions used to measure gender parity are:

  • economic participation and opportunity

  • educational attainment

  • health and survival

  • political empowerment.


As the reports point out, gender parity has a significant bearing on the extent to which societies can thrive. Fully deploying only half of the world’s available talent has an enormous impact on the growth, competitiveness and future readiness of businesses and economies across the world.

According to the 2021 report, COVID-19 caused the gender gap to widen as women left the workforce at a greater rate than men. Even among those who retained paid work, the report says, women took on more duties in childcare, housework and elder care, increasing the “double shift” of paid and unpaid work. Naturally enough, this has contributed to higher stress and lower productivity among women.

Australia remains equal first in the 2021 global rankings for educational attainment. So this is not an issue that might be tackled in Australia through improving education, including about inequality.

I propose that this is instead an issue of ingrained and systemic sexism in our country. How else can we explain the fact that Australian women get paid less than Australian men?

The 2020 report from the Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows men take home, on average, $25,534 per year more than women. Contributing to this gap, the average full-time base salary across all industries and occupations is 15% less for women than for men.

Universities have failed to lead

Given the woeful attitudes and behaviours towards women in the Australian parliament, one might hope for much-needed leadership from our intellectual hothouses – our universities. But not only have Australian universities not stepped forward to lead the change needed, they themselves perpetuate the problem. They have pay gaps of around the national average. Universities also continue to place men in the vast majority of leadership roles even where they have significant opportunity to do otherwise.

Universities – and other workplaces full of educated, insightful people – are well equipped to lead and make changes to enable gender equality. But they haven’t. And I haven’t seen any credible, funded, adequate plans for any workplace to do so in the near future.

Until recently, women have been too busy and tired doing most or all of the childcare, housework and elder care to have time to do much about the blatant inequality we all experience. But somehow, despite the extra burdens COVID-19 has placed on us, we’ve reached a tipping point. Perhaps the extremity of the inequality – laid bare during COVID-19 – has pushed us to the edge. Whatever the reason, we’ve somehow found the impetus to take action.

Women have waited long enough for things that “should” happen to happen. We’ve waited long enough for the people with power – mostly men – to do the right thing. We’ve followed the rules, done as we’ve been asked to do, helped out, worked hard, kept quiet and generally been very good girls.

This evidently hasn’t worked in our favour, nor in the favour of women worldwide. And so, for the sake of growth, competitiveness, society and the future readiness of businesses and economies, as well as our own advancement, we must take matters into our own hands.

Personally, I’m starting with the sector I have worked in for three decades – universities. Despite being home to some of the country’s brightest minds, we have some of the most sexist practices and embarrassing gender inequality figures a developed nation could have. The result is a workplace with 86% more male than female professors, as one example of many.

What can women do about this?

I’ve written a book calling on women (and enlightened men) to take action to improve gender inequality in Australian universities.

Among other suggestions, I recommend women reduce the volume and quality of the housework they do at home and at work. Office housework includes things like taking notes in meetings. Women are often expected to do this, no matter their role or level.

This uses up our valuable time and energy, as Facebook chief operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and her colleague, university professor Adam Grant, point out in their humorously titled Madam CEO – Get Me a Coffee. And it is hard to make the killer point in a meeting when you are busy doing other things.

Reducing the volume and quality of housework undertaken will provide time, energy and goodwill that can be redirected to more fruitful ends. Redirecting their labour in this way will reduce support for the sexist structures that discriminate against women. The advice is relevant to those working in all industries.

Since posting on social media about this topic late in 2020, I’ve had hundreds of women who work in universities contact me about the contents of this book. The sentiment is a combination of fury about their current situation and steely determination to bring about change. Like the women who led, participated in and supported the 2021 marches, including a rally at the Australian parliament, women in universities also believe “enough is enough”.


By                 :                Marcia Devlin (Adjunct Professor, Victoria University)

Date             :                June 1, 2021

Source         :                The Conversation


South Africa’s Secondary Pandemic: A Crisis of Gender Based Violence


In South Africa, sometimes known as the ‘destination of femicide’, more than 2,700 women have been murdered as result of gender-based violence (GBV) since 2000. Although grassroots organisations have persistently campaigned to end GBV, many women in South Africa continue to suffer abuse. Now, South Africa’s GBV problem is worsening, as lockdown measures have trapped women inside with their abusers.

Locked In

For the first time since March, when the South African government  introduced one of the world’s longest and strictest lockdowns in response to the first detected cases of coronavirus, the devastating impact of lockdown on the already severe gender-based violence issue (GBV) has been exposed. The government’s GBV and Feminicide Command Centre, a call centre to support victims of GBV, recorded more than 120,000 victims in the first three weeks of the lockdown. Just weeks later in Pretoria, a similar call centre was receiving up to 1,000 calls a day from women and children who were confined to abusive homes seeking urgent help. Prior to the pandemic,

femicide in South Africa was already five times higher than the global average and the female interpersonal violence death rate was the fourth-highest out of the 183 countries listed by the World Health Organisation in 2016. Evidence has now emerged that suggests cases of violence against women are increasing. In 2019-2020, there was an average increase of 146 sexual offences and 116 specifically rape cases per day, predominantly rape, compared to the same period between 2018-2019. 

Researchers from the Wits School of Governance suggest that the lockdown measures are likely to be the cause of this increase in GBV, as women were forced to stay home and left vulnerable to domestic abuse. In addition, the lockdown has prevented access to civil service groups dedicated to supporting victims of GBV. Yet, victims already faced issues seeking support and justice before the pandemic. In South Africa, reports of GBV are often dismissed by the police who perceive the issue as a private matter for families, rather than a criminal matter for the courts. There is also stigma associated with sexual violence. Together, these factors contribute to the underreporting of GBV cases.

A Secondary Pandemic

Although South Africa’s experience with GBV is not unique, the extent and prevalence of the issue, compounded by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, has triggered a ‘secondary pandemic’ in the country marred by rising femincide rates and GBV. Unlike Covid-19 however, GBV is spread through social and political conditions that undermine the ability of women and girls to escape from abuse. 

Signs of public backlash suggest the rise of GBV might meet significant resistance should it continue to escalate. For example, when the body of Tshegofasto Pule, a 28-year old woman from Johannesburg, was found in the city’s West Rand district two years ago, thousands came out to protest against the government’s ineffectual approach to GBV. The perpetrators, Pule’s boyfriend and another man, were only charged in February 2021, unfortunately reflecting the slow response of South Africa’s justice system to many cases of this nature.

Although President Ramaphosa pledged $75 million to strengthen the criminal justice system and provide better care for victims of GBV, many women and children continue to suffer on a daily basis. However, the additional funding has failed to curb the exponential rise in cases of abuse and rape. According to a recent study by Amnesty International, there is public outrage about the institutional failures to deliver justice for GBV victims, given that South Africa’s Domestic Violence Act of 1998 explicitly states that victims may lay criminal complaints against offenders. Furthermore, funding intended for refuge centres for victims of GBV has either not been sufficient or not reached the centres who were due to receive it. By April 2020, many domestic violence shelters had already reached capacity even though the scale of the GBV crisis was yet to peak.  

Experts say that domestic violence in South Africa is culturally deep-rooted and can be traced to the Apartheid era. Grassroots movements including Black Womxn Caucus and Women and Men Against Child Abuse have repeatedly urged the government to do more to ensure that the swift prosecution of cases. However, there are fears that the legislation may not be enough alone to decrease the numbers of cases linked to gender-based violence in the country. These same movements are, in addition, suggesting that changes in attitudes and approaches to gender will be just as important as legislative changes. 

Worryingly, South Africa’s recent emergence from lockdown in February 2021 came with growing concerns that another lockdown will be necessary given the slow roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine. South Africa’s GBV crisis could have global implications for women’s rights. In 2020, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, one of the cornerstone international agreements for gender equality. South Africa’s commitments from the declaration had paved the way for notable progress, but as we move towards the Sustainable Development Goals’ deadline in 2030, it remains uncertain how the unfolding GBV crisis in South Africa will hamper efforts to meet the SDG Goals and their respective targets in less than 10 years time. 

Final Remarks

In the month of International Women’s Day, when we highlight the ongoing need for governments and institutions to commit resources to advance women’s rights, South Africa’s gender crisis is a stark reminder of the persisting barriers to gender equality and rights faced by many women around the world. Unfortunately, South Africa’s situation is far from unique. Globally, calls to helplines have increased five-fold in some countries as rates of reported intimate partner violence increase because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Restricted movement, social isolation, and economic insecurity are increasing women’s vulnerability to violence in the home around the world. In Africa though, the situation is particularly bleak. In Kenya, a twelve-year-old girl in Kenya was forced into marrying two men in the space of a month before being rescued by local authorities. 

As South Africa begins to rebuild following the Covid-19 pandemic, grassroots activists in the country are hoping to see a renewed commitment to tackling GBV. Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether or not the government will push through any further plans of action aimed at reducing instances of GBV within the country. 2021 could prove to be a decisive year for South Africa as it emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic as well as an ongoing women’s rights crisis.


By                    :                            Valeria Minisini 

Date                :                             March 28, 2021

Source            :                             Global Risk Insights


Gendered Disinformation, Democracy, and the Need for a New Digital Social Contract


This post was coauthored by Melanne Verveer, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and former U.S. ambassador for global women’s issues, and Lucina Di Meco, cofounder of #ShePersisted Global Initiative.

Addressing the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris remarked that “the status of women is the status of democracy” and provided a strong message to the international community about America’s renewed commitment to gender equality and human rights.

Twenty-five years after Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton’s historic “women’s rights are human rights” speech in Beijing, important progress has been made in terms of women’s representation in decision-making, but new challenges to women’s rights and democracy have risen and remain largely unaddressed.

Technological innovations, initially celebrated for their democratizing potential, have come under increasing scrutiny for their harmful effects on democracy, social cohesion, and women’s rights.

While being part of a global online community has helped female activists rally against repressive governments, raise awareness on injustices, and call out sexual abuse through global movements like #MeToo, #NiUnaMenos and the Women’s March, women’s rights activists and some of Silicon Valley’s most astute critics are increasingly calling out social media platforms for enabling sexism, misinformation, and violence to thrive, concealed by premises of freedom of speech and inclusivity.

Although online harassment against women manifests across the globe, it is particularly pernicious in the Global South. According to a recent analysis from the Economist Intelligence Unit, over 90 percent of the women interviewed in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East experienced online attacks—with misinformation and defamation as the most common tactics.

Women in politics and journalists, particularly women of color, have experienced relentless, overwhelming volumes of online abuse, threats, and vicious gendered disinformation campaigns, framing them as untrustworthy, unintelligent, too emotional, or sexual.

In the United States, a coordinated campaign of disinformation and harassment was at work against then-Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris throughout the 2020 election cycle, disseminating lies about her record as a prosecutor and claiming she used sex to gain power—per the oldest, tritest tune in the misogyny playbook.

What happened to Harris is not an exception—it is the norm, as large social media companies often do not grant public figures with the same (already very small) level of protection from abuse granted to other citizens. Loopholes in platform guidelines have allowed some authoritarian world leaders to use social media to “deceive the public or harass opponents despite being alerted to evidence of the wrongdoing."

While most women restrict their online activity as a result of social media’s toxicity, silence does not grant protection, as First Lady of Namibia Monica Geingos stated in a powerful video released on International Women’s Day: “When there was a clear social media campaign of anonymous WhatsApp messages specifically targeting me in the most disgusting ways, and I was told not to respond but to ignore and I did. But it was a mistake, your silence will not protect you; the insults just got worse and the lies became a lot.”

The consequences are far-reaching.

The disproportionate and often strategic targeting of women politicians and activists discourages women from running for office, pushes them out of politics, or leads them to self-censor and disengage from the political discourse in ways that harm their effectiveness. The psychological toll on them and their families is incommensurable.

While sexist attitudes are integral to understanding violent extremism and political violence, they are just a part of the story. Research has shown that women’s political leadership often represents a challenge to entrenched illiberal and autocratic political elites, disrupting what are often male-dominated political networks that allow corruption and abuse of power to flourish.

As women have been among the most outspoken critics of populist authoritarian political leaders in many countries, state-led gendered disinformation campaigns have been used to silence and deter them, stifling their calls for better governance. Vladimir Putin in Russia, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Narendra Modi in India, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey are just some of many leaders who have used gendered disinformation campaigns to attack political opponents and erode liberal values and democratic principles all together.

Building on sexist narratives and characterized by malign intent and coordination, gendered disinformation has also been employed by Russia to exercise influence and undermine foreign elections. The targeting of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, and, more recently, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in Belarus and Svitlana Zalishchuk in Ukraine are prominent examples.

These types of attacks do not only represent a threat to the women they target.

Weaponized by malign foreign and domestic actors, these attacks threaten democratic institutions and have important ramifications for global peace and security and the broader human rights system. Yet while authoritarian leaders have heavily invested in troll factories that cynically take advantage of a technology that is particularly good at spreading misogyny and lies, female politicians and activists have largely been left to fend for themselves in an online world that is increasingly toxic and violent. America has a crucial role to play in promoting a new digital social contract that upholds  democratic values and promotes women’s rights, through a three-pronged strategy.

First, we need better standards for digital platforms that take into account the real-life harms and abuses that women face and to proactively address them from a product design and risk assessment perspective—as opposed to content moderation only. Convening the National Task Force on Online Harassment and Abuse, proposed by President Joe Biden on the campaign trail, will be an important milestone in that direction.

Second, we must make sure that women leaders and activists are deeply involved in the conversations on establishing new internet and social media standards and regulations, and that their unique perspectives are reflected in key fora like the Summit for Democracy. Similar to how women’s participation in peace negotiations is essential for successful outcomes, women’s leadership in designing a new digital social contract between tech companies, governments, and citizens will be key in building an online world that works for everyone.

Third, we must buttress women in politics and journalism, particularly those who are working in fragile democracies and often become targets of vicious state-sponsored disinformation and hate campaigns as a result of their engagement, such as Maria Ressa in the Philippines. Women working in politics and journalism must be provided with the tools, information, and the support network they need to respond to gendered disinformation campaigns.

In many fragile democracies, women are the beacons of liberal values. Ensuring that the internet is not used as a tool to defame, silence, threaten and de-platform them must be a priority for anyone who seeks to advance democracy, peace, and security.


Date               :                         May 6, 2021

Source           :                         Council on Foreign Relations


How international organisations can prioritise human rights


Until those working in the Global South introduce new rights measures, we are ‘testifying in a court where the opponent is the judge’

Three years ago I was a newly arrived refugee in the UK, on the verge of losing my largely US-funded job because my US vetting had been held for almost a year without any response.

Vetting is the process of performing a background check on someone to approve paying them, however, the vetting applied by the organisations funded by the American State Department mainly involves checking for any ‘terror’ relations.

With the non-US funding I was receiving coming to a close, and my project due to become funded solely by the US, I was freaking out. I applied for every job I found online, even those I was overqualified for. London expenses, particularly when you are responsible for a kid, are no joke.

The vetting hassle was finally resolved when a friend of mine who works for the State Department interfered and found out that I was in the clear and could get the privileged ‘vetted ID’ needed to keep my job.

As a Syrian, such discriminatory acts are part of my daily life, and they have intensified since the uprising in 2011, which later turned into war.

For example, I am an internationally recognised journalist and human rights defender, yet the British government confiscated my Syrian passport because the Syrian regime reported it stolen. That was just a year before the vetting incident.

I am writing this to tell you that I know how vetting can easily be misused. It is a practice imbued with white superiority and privilege, led by prejudice, that is above all shallow.

I believe we need another kind of vetting for international and the local staff working in the Global South.

Why? This is what I will try to explain.

Human rights vetting

The US and EU vetting systems clear people of any ‘terrorism’ and criminal associations. But they cannot check whether those being vetted have undertaken activities that violate basic human rights, which are sometimes legal in some local communities.

Take the Middle East and North Africa for example, where child marriage, domestic violence, marital rape and sexual harassment are not criminalised in many countries. Your vetted director, who you have employed to lead an educational program, could be married to a 16-year-old girl. A director who has been hired to implement a project on gender-based violence, could be enslaving a trafficked woman from the Philippines or Ethiopia under the Kafala (sponsorship) system.

This system gives private citizens and companies in Jordan, Lebanon, and most Arab Gulf countries almost total control over migrant workers’ employment and immigration status. The lack of regulations and protections for migrant workers’ rights often results in low wages, poor working conditions and abuse.

Justifying not taking an action against a director who married a child or enslaved a trafficked domestic worker on the basis of it being ‘in their private life’ or not ‘directly related to the organisation’ is hypocrisy.


If you violate human rights in your personal life, this will shape your politics and the implementation of your organisation’s projects


The personal is political, as we learned from second-wave feminists.

If you can violate human rights in your personal life, this will shape your political structures and the implementation of your organisation’s projects.

Over the past year, many international organisations have performed internal reviews to test the culture of white privilege following the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. Do we have to wait until a wife is suffocated on camera by an international organisation’s staff member to start addressing how important human rights vetting is?

It’s true that such vetting is going to complicate the HR procedures, but it is worth it. Contacting the references given on a CV won’t indicate whether the candidate is abusive or whether they enslave a person.

Many companies worldwide are now using pre-hiring vetting to vet potential employees before making an offer to them, a procedure that could be applied by organisations, too, without violating any confidential information or breaking privacy laws.

Sovereignty of local projects

Another worthy review for international organisations is testing the dominance of a colonising mentality in the projects your organisation is implementing in the Global South.

Indicators could include how many local staff members are in decision-making positions; how much the company is willing to invest in helping those local staff to reach such positions; and local staff’s ownership of the projects funded in their country.

The more local platforms your organisation owns (both online and offline), the easier it will be to spot the dominance of the colonising mentality in your work.

For example, some international organisations working in Syria own local platforms, centres, Facebook pages, although they are supposed to be for locals, run by locals. When they find that the projects have impact and wide reach, the international organisations decide to own and use them for their next pitch for funding.

Instead of being given to the local group when the funding ends, some organisations keep these projects for themselves.

Supporting local projects to become independent and sustainable should be the success story every organisation writes about in its quarterly report. This would be more important than bragging about having a Facebook page with half a million local followers to get another fund and build another asset in your business chain.

I believe that decolonising the work of the international organisations should walk shoulder to shoulder with ‘de-businessing’ humanitarian work.

Without such measures and constant reviews and debates by the international organisations working in our regions, we won’t be able to work together to fight injustices, because we will “testifying in a court where the opponent is the judge”, as the Arabic proverb goes.


By                :                       Zaina Erhaim

Date            :                       May 28, 2021

Source        :                       Open Democracy