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US State Department Backtracks on Women’s Rights

Annual Human Rights Report to Omit Critical Issues Related to Women

A woman walks past a mural on a Family Health Options clinic in the Kibera slums in Nairobi, Kenya, May 16, 2017. © 2017 Reuters
The US State Department will cut sections dealing with women’s reproductive rights and some types of discrimination, such as against LGBT people, in its annual human rights report, a department spokesperson said today.

This action unsurprisingly reflects the Trump administration’s approach to women’s rights – to health, bodily integrity, and to control when they have children – as being disposable. It already signed the expanded and harmful “global gag rule,” which prohibits US funding of nongovernmental organizations providing access to family planning if they provide or refer people for abortions and has made it more difficult for women and girls to access contraception in the US.

But the Trump administration cannot rewrite international law. Women’s reproductive rights are recognized human rights. The experiences of women and girls who have been denied these rights are egregious and often heartbreaking. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has found denial of a woman’s reproductive rights as tantamount to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Access to contraception and safe abortion are critical to help prevent the estimated 800 maternal deaths that occur each day globally.

A State Department spokesperson said this year’s Country Reports at the end of this month will focus on “abuses of international recognized human rights and the most egregious issues.” This erroneously suggests that “private” mistreatment and discrimination – including violence against women – are not serious governmental concerns.

The United States has long provided support for addressing women’s health rights abroad – from prenatal care to services for survivors of gender-based violence. Removing reports on attacks to women’s health from this report does not mean they are not happening. Instead, the US, by no longer collecting such information, is telling governments around the world that it will turn a blind eye to their violations of the basic rights of women and girls.

It’s depressing and inexcusable that in 2018, we need to demand that the US government recognize in word and deed that women’s rights are human rights, that women have rights to fully participate in society, free from fear of violence and in control of their bodies and their lives.

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