Thirty years ago, women’s rights activists first marked November 25 as the day on which the world would demand an end to all physical and sexual abuse targeted at women. It took another 18 years before the United Nations officially recognized that date as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Progress on women’s human rights has never come quickly enough, but the past year has seen remarkable victories in the courts and at the voting booth. As always, the Center for Reproductive Rights is squarely in the middle of all these developments:
- This year, the Supreme Court of Nepal documented its landmark decision in Lakshmi Dhikta v. Nepal. The Center, alongside Nepali lawyers, won a huge victory for all women in Nepal seeking access to recently legalized abortion. In clear, powerful language, the Court asserts that the government must make abortions affordable for impoverished women like Lakshmi. In its decision, the Court equates forced pregnancy as gender-based violence and, thus, a violation of freedom.
- In October, the U.N. Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women condemned Peru for violating the rights of a rape victim known as L.C. Her health and future depended on getting a legal abortion—and doctors refused. As a result, L.C. is severely disabled. The case’s facts led the U.N. committee, in a groundbreaking precedent, to demand that Peru decriminalize abortion in cases of rape and incest.
- In a separate matter, Peru agreed to reopen the case of Maria Mamérita Mestanza Chávez, who died in 1996 after being forcibly sterilized. Investigations of this case and thousands of others shed light on a dark period of Peru’s past during which the government sterilized tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of women without consent. The new Peruvian government’s decision to reopen these cases, announced before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights in Washington, DC, comes after tireless efforts by the Center.
- A coalition of advocates, including the Center, helped convince 58 percent of Mississippi voters to reject an extreme and dangerous ballot proposal that would have victimized for a second time women impregnated through rape or incest. The landslide victory thwarted the efforts of anti-choice, “personhood” zealots to make all abortions illegal—with no exceptions—and ban many types of birth control and potentially access to fertilization treatments like IVF.
A woman’s reproductive rights are inextricably tied to her rights to be free of violence and free from discrimination. The denial of reproductive rights makes women vulnerable to many forms of violence. While the Center’s hard-fought achievements might take years to attain and come in increments that seem at times frustratingly slow, we treat every day, and every opportunity for justice, as an urgent and decisive moment in our campaign to protect the lives and fundamental rights of women worldwide.