Women’s rights are human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,’ and that ‘everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.’

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (Article 3) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (Article 3) further establish that States must ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights, respectively.

Discrimination against women was recognised and condemned in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. States parties of the Convention agreed to ‘take in all fields, in particular in the political, social, economic and cultural fields, all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.’

At the regional level, women´s rights are recognized in the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples´ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, and the European Social Charter which includes in its Article 4 to recognise the right of men and women workers to equal pay for work of equal value.

Notwithstanding, women and girls around the world still face violations to their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights as recognised by the different international human rights instruments. As the signatory States of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action acknowledged, the world has made important advances regarding gender equality, but large inequalities and widespread discrimination continue to affect women’s capacity to access fair wages and economic opportunities, political power, adequate healthcare and education, among others.

Women’s rights and the environment

The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment has explained that historical inequalities between men and women have made women and girls most vulnerable to the negative effects of environmental harm:

In most households, women and girls are primarily responsible for water and hygiene. When sources of water are polluted, they are at greater risk of exposure to environmental contaminants. If women and girls must travel longer distances to find safer sources or sufficient quantities of water, they are deprived of educational and economic opportunities and are at greater risk of assault (see A/HRC/33/49). Nevertheless, women are too often excluded from    decision-making procedures on water and sanitation.’

As noted by the UN Secretary-General regarding human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, there´s a need ‘to apply a gender perspective by, inter alia, considering the particular situation of women and girls and identifying gender-specific discrimination and vulnerabilities, and addressing good practices where women and girls act as agents of change in safeguarding and managing sustainably the environment.’

Moreover, as shown in the report of the Fourth World Conference on Women,

‘women remain largely absent at all levels of policy formulation and decision-making in natural resource and environmental management, conservation, protection and rehabilitation, and their experience and skills in advocacy for and monitoring of proper natural resource management too often remain marginalized in policy-making and decision-making bodies, as well as in educational institutions and environment-related agencies at the managerial level. In addition, women’s contributions to environmental management,    including through grass-roots and youth campaigns to protect the environment, have often taken place at the local level, where decentralized action on environmental issues is most needed and decisive.’

Although women have taken a main and strong role in environment-related issues, getting themselves to public spheres and participating in decision-making processes over time, there is still a lot to be gained to move on. Great actions must be taken to guarantee women´s rights.

Women environmental human rights defenders face differentiated threats in their struggle in environmental protection and the defence of land and territory. They often face discrimination and prejudice due to their work. They also face sexual harassment and threats to their children and family. Women human rights defenders remain vulnerable to potentially far more threats than their male counterparts based on their gender.

The Report of the Fourth Conference on Women states the following: ‘Governments, the international community and civil society, including non-governmental organizations and the private sector, are called upon to take strategic action in the following critical areas of concern: Gender inequalities in the management of natural resources and in the safeguarding of the environment’ among others.