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Gender Justice During and Beyond the COVID-19 Crisis
by The Elders, Namati, agencies
June 2021
Mary Robinson, Graca Machel and Hina Jilani outline the Elders' call on leaders to prioritise access to justice and gender equality.
'This is a message for all women, everywhere. And men, we need you too! COVID-19 has dramatically exacerbated inequalities. It has threatened to halt, or even reverse the gains of decades of collective action. We must not let this happen. We must not rebuild the status quo.
The Elders are calling for a new approach: one that prioritises access to justice and gender equality.
We call for the full participation of women in the justice sector and we must see more women in leadership positions. We urge leaders to increase funding for legal empowerment and justice services that meet the needs and lived experiences of women and girls.
A better world has to mean ending violence against women and girls. Justice services for survivors of gender-based violence must be regarded as essential by governments.
And when we are talking about ending violence against women, it is critical to acknowledge the role men can, and must, play.
Men, in particular men in roles of influence and power need to speak out on violence against women and girls and defy the stereotypes that normalise and perpetuate gender inequality.
And to build a better world we need quality data. When women are not counted in the data, it is easy to disregard their needs.
We stand in solidarity with all who call for this generation to be the generation that brings about equality. And we champion access to justice for women and girls as a critical component in building a better world for us all.
Gender equality is at the heart of the global recovery from COVID-19, says Graca Machel
While the pandemic has had severe consequences in all parts of the world, vulnerable and marginalised groups have been hit the hardest. Women in both informal and formal sectors uniquely feel the economic toll of the crisis.
Adolescent girls in particular are at risk of child marriage and early pregnancy. Millions of children have been locked out of the classroom due to lockdown measures, and a disproportionate number of girls are at great risk of never returning to school.
Women and girls in rural and peri-urban areas have faced food insecurity at astounding levels, and the lack of adequate nutrition continues to be a key contributor to unacceptably high levels of both maternal and child mortality and stunting.
The impacts of COVID-19 go far beyond the obvious impacts of the virus itself.
We must also address justice for survivors of gender-based violence with renewed vigour. Services for survivors of gender-based and domestic violence must be placed as essential by governments and should be resourced and made easily accessible, especially to marginalised and impoverished groups.
Accountability for the unlawful and dehumanising acts taking place, such as widespread rape, sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence, must be vigorously addressed to deter future crimes and provide justice for women and girls.
A lack of intersectional and feminist leadership in the justice sector – and the lack of diverse women’s voices in decision-making – undermines progress to advance women’s rights.
As Elders, we call on all leaders to prioritise access to justice for women and girls, everywhere, and speak out against injustice.
June 2021
Gender Justice During and Beyond the COVID-19 Crisis: Institutional Responses to Gender-based Violence and the Role of Legal Empowerment Groups.
The measures taken to contain the COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge in gender-based violence around the world. As governments moved to limit, suspend, or digitize vital victim support services, civil society organizations – and in particular grassroots legal empowerment groups- found new ways of helping women to seek safety and justice.
This report examines institutional and civil society responses to gender-based violence (GBV) during the pandemic, in particular domestic violence (DV) and intimate partner violence (IPV). It investigates the role of legal empowerment groups in filling justice gaps, reducing violence, improving service provision, and demanding accountability.
This publication is the result of a participatory research initiative organized jointly by The Legal Empowerment Network, convened by Namati, and Themis – Gender, Justice and Human Rights (Brazil). The research was co-led and implemented by lead members of the network: the Association for the Emancipation, Solidarity and Equality of Women – ESE (North Macedonia), the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers – FIDA (Uganda), and the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST).

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Bodily autonomy: Busting 7 myths that undermine individual rights and freedoms
by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Nearly half of all women are denied their bodily autonomy, according to data from 57 countries, UNFPA’s flagship report announced today.
The 2021 State of World Population report, titled My Body is My Own, marks the first time a United Nations report focuses on the power and agency of individuals to make choices about their bodies without fear, violence or coercion.
The report examines data on women’s decision-making power and on laws supportive of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Tragically, only 55 per cent of women have bodily autonomy, according to measurements of their ablity to make their own decisions on issues relating to health care, contraception and whether to have sex.
The report also highlights the legal, economic and social barriers to securing bodily autonomy for all.
Twenty countries or territories, for example, have “marry your rapist” laws that allow perpetrators to escape punishment if they marry their victims, codifying the denial of autonomy experienced by survivors of rape.
But some of the most persistent barriers to bodily autonomy involve stereotypes, assumptions and misconceptions about bodily autonomy and the rights of women and girls.
“The few people who have heard of bodily autonomy associate it with negative ideas,” said Romeo Alejandro Mendez Zuniga, a youth educator in Guatemala who was interviewed in the report, “because it affects the patriarchal male chauvinist system.”
Below are seven common myths about bodily autonomy and why we must abandon these misconceptions once and for all.
Myth 1: Bodily autonomy is a Western concept.
Bodily autonomy is about the right to make decisions over one’s own life and future. It is about being empowered to make informed choices. These are universal values.
Governments everywhere have committed, in a variety of international agreements, to protecting autonomy. Respect for autonomy is a core tenet of international medical ethics. And we must not overlook the incredible efforts to secure bodily autonomy being led by advocates all over the world.
Myth 2: There is no right to bodily autonomy.
Marginalized communities, such as indigenous people, often face heightened barriers to realizing their bodily autonomy. This could take the form of vulnerability to violence, lack accurate sexual and reproductive health information or poor access to health services.
Not only is bodily autonomy a human right, it is the foundation upon which other human rights are built.
It is included, implicitly or explicitly, in many international rights agreements, such as the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Myth 3: Bodily autonomy represents radical individualism; it undermines group decision-making.
Collective decision-making is common across cultures, societies and governments. But group decisions cannot circumscribe the rights of individuals. This is the case with all Marginalized communities, such as indigenous people, often face heightened barriers to realizing their bodily autonomy. This could take the form of vulnerability to violence, lack accurate sexual and reproductive health information or poor access to health services.
In fact, the realization of individual bodily autonomy actually requires collective action. Communities and advocates must come together to dismantle the norms, laws and practices that deprive individuals of autonomy.
Myth 4: One person’s bodily autonomy could end up undermining the autonomy of others.
Having bodily autonomy does not mean any person gets to undermine the health, rights or autonomy of others. Individuals have the right to choose whether to have sex or get pregnant, for example, but they are not entitled to impose these choices on others. No one has the right to violate the rights, autonomy or bodily integrity of anyone else.
Myth 5: Some groups of people are not entitled to bodily autonomy.
Rights are for everyone, full stop. That includes bodily autonomy. Throughout history, we have seen many people – including women, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable populations – denied their fundamental human rights. They were told, in ways big and small, that they lacked the capacity or privilege to make choices for themselves. These abuses continue today.
Persons with disabilities, for example, are frequently denied their right to accessible sexual and reproductive health information and services. They are too often denied protection from violence; girls and boys with disabilities are nearly three times more likely to be subjected to sexual violence, with girls at the greatest risk. Some are even subjected to forced sterilization. People in detention may be subjected to rape or denial of health care.
Young people, too, are often considered incapable of making sexual and reproductive health decisions. Sometimes this means parents make life-altering choices for them, like marrying them off before they reach adulthood. This has to stop.
Guardians have a clear obligation to make responsible decisions in the best interest of their children.
Additionally, international agreements respect the rights of older adolescents to participate in important matters affecting them.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes the evolving capacities of children approaching adulthood, and calls for them to be supported with information, guidance and health care that empowers them to participate meaningfully in choices about their bodies and futures.
Myth 6: Bodily autonomy undermines traditions and religions.
Bodily autonomy is not simply about sexual choices and reproduction. It is about a person’s whole self, their dreams and potential in life. Most traditions and religions create space for individuals to explore their own conscience on such deeply personal matters as how to protect their health, whether to start a family and how to chart their future. These choices can be – and often are – guided by religious leaders and cultural teachings.
Myth 7: Bodily autonomy is just another women’s issue.
Any concern affecting the welfare of half of humanity cannot be dismissed as a “women’s issue”. But bodily autonomy does not simply affect women. Every individual should be empowered to claim their bodily autonomy. This includes men, women, boys and girls and people of diverse sexual orientations. It includes people of all races, faiths, nationalities and disability status.
People of all genders can experience reproductive coercion – behaviors that interfere with the reproductive choices of others – and even rape.
As is the case with achieving gender equality, the realization of bodily autonomy will fortify the welfare of all people, men and boys included.

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