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Joint Statement: Results of the UN HRC40 Session

CAL in partnership with the Sexual Rights Initiative, the Center for Reproductive Rights, CREA, Women Enabled International, ARROW, Akahatá, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, and the Federation for Women and Family Planning applaud South Africa’s leadership in bringing forth a resolution on discrimination against women and girls in sports that directly addresses the human rights violations arising from the intersections of racism and harmful gender norms. We also welcome the Human Rights Council resolution on rights of the child, but regret the Human Rights Council’s inability to recognize the autonomy, legal capacity and right to non-discrimination of children with disabilities, including to ensure that their sexual and reproductive rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

Read our full statement here or below:

Global South Leadership on Women’s and Girls’ Rights

This resolution is precedent setting in its framing of discrimination against women and girls on the basis of race and also because the process was led and supported by mostly Global South States including South Africa, India, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia and Eswatini. Notably, despite joining consensus on the resolution, many traditional State champions of women’s and girls’ rights from the Global North did not support the resolution, citing mainly procedural issues.1 This shift from the usual geo-political dynamics on women’s and girls’ rights raises critical questions as to how the meaningful inclusion of race into global discourse changes the political landscape.

We applaud South Africa’s leadership in bringing forth a resolution on discrimination against women and girls in sports that directly addresses the human rights violations arising from the intersections of racism and harmful gender norms. The resolution highlights the discriminatory regulations that sports associations apply primarily to women and girls from the Global South and black women and girls from the Global North. With a firm grounding in all persons’ rights to bodily integrity and autonomy, the text expands the normative human rights framework to recognize the multiple ways women’s and girls’ bodies are policed, regulated and subjected to racial and gender stereotypes.

We call on all States to build on the significant normative advances contained in the resolution, to ensure that this resolution informs national and international sporting regulations for the benefit of women and girls currently subjected to coercive practices and to integrate the intersectional approach contemplated in this resolution into all resolutions focusing on the human rights of women and girls, sexuality, gender, sexual and reproductive health and rights and the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination.2

Rights of the Child

We welcome the inclusion of children with disabilities in a Human Rights Council resolution on rights of the child. We would encourage other similar initiatives aiming at mainstreaming the rights of persons with disabilities throughout the work of the Council.

However, we regret the Human Rights Council’s inability to recognize the autonomy, legal capacity and right to non-discrimination of children with disabilities, including to ensure that their sexual and reproductive rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

In a global context of roll-back against human rights, including and especially against women and girls’ rights, which disproportionately impacts the lives of groups and persons facing multiple and intersecting forms of stigma and discrimination, the Human Rights Council should ensure that the most progressive human rights standards are reflected in its resolutions.

The resolution on the ‘Rights of the child: empowering children with disabilities for the enjoyment of their human rights, including through inclusive education’ put forward by GRULAC and the European Union and adopted at the 40th session of the Human Rights Council, emphasizes the need for protection of children with disabilities, without equally highlighting their agency, capacity and autonomy. The resolution also does not reaffirm their right to enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life,3 despite the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee) clearly stating that the views of children with disabilities must be taken into account in accordance with their age and maturity and that “States parties must examine their laws to ensure that the will and preferences of children with disabilities are respected on an equal basis with other children.”4

The resolution also fails to firmly recognize and address the violence perpetrated against children with disabilities, especially girls with disabilities, within families.

The resolution addresses the importance of inclusive education for the empowerment of children with disabilities but fails to make the crucial linkages to the right to access inclusive comprehensive sexuality education. The CRPD Committee5, the Committee on the Rights of the Child6, and the Special Rapporteurs on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities7 and the Right to Education8 have established that States need to provide comprehensive and non-discriminatory sexuality education to girls and young women with disabilities, both within and outside school.

The resolution also fails to firmly call on States to respect, protect and fulfil the sexual and reproductive health and rights of children with disabilities, thereby implying that children with disabilities’ right to bodily autonomy is held at a lower standard than other groups.

Children with disabilities, especially girls, face enduring stereotypes pertaining to their sexuality and capacities and discriminatory attitudes. At a time when treaty monitoring bodies such as the CRPD Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) are increasing their joint work to address the root causes of these stereotypes and to strengthen the human rights standards on the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls with disabilities,9 the Human Rights Council should strive to support this trend rather than undermine it.

The failure of this resolution to make any headway is indicative of the challenges faced by large core groups to reach consensus on strong sexual and reproductive rights language.

In addition, the outcome of the negotiations on this resolution and the tensions within each of the regional groups leading on this initiative are a direct reflection of the rise of authoritarian governments whose glorification of so-called ‘traditional values’ only further the marginalization of individuals who refuse to conform to them. The role of the Human Rights Council is to resist these retrogressive trends, instead of accommodating them.

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