Why 2014 is a key year for women’s rights!

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Why 2014 is a key year for women’s rights and gender equality

Help us create a global platform for discussion that amplifies the voices of women’s rights advocates around the world

MDG : Volunteers at a sexual harassment and counselling group in the West Bank

Volunteers at a sexual harassment and counselling group in Susiya, a bedouin village in the West Bank. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian
Over the past few decades, the often tireless work of the women’s movement around the world has brought positive change. There has been a growing recognition that countries cannot thrive if half the population is left out of education and work, or not included in decision-making. Laws have been introduced to recognise women’s right to safety in and outside the home, equal pay in the workplace and equality under the law, and there have been attitudinal changes towards women.

The past 20 years have seen two landmark international agreements on women’s rights. In September 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development, which met in Cairo, for the first time shifted the emphasis on population control from government efforts to reduce numbers through family planning, to look more broadly at women’s empowerment and how their lives can be improved. It examined issues including access to decent reproductive health services, sexual health advice and support and through the elimination harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage. About 179 countries signed up to the programme of action, which contained more than 200 recommendations.

pequeThe following year, in Beijing, the Fourth World Conference on Women committed to achieving gender equality by removing the obstacles that limit women’s involvement in public and private life and prevented them from an equal share in decision-making.

But with success comes the backlash, and that backlash has been increasingly evident over the past 15 years. As the UN looks to mark the 20th anniversary of the Cairo agreement this year, women’s rights organisations are, more and more, having to concern themselves with fighting reactionary policies that seek to chip away at hard-won rights.

Globally, about one in three women will be beaten or raped during their lifetime, and more than 140 million women and girls are estimated to be living with the consequences of FGM. And despite numerous UN resolutions that state the importance of women’s involvement in peace and reconciliation, women are still not invited to peace talks.

Women’s rights groups are underfunded. Research by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (Awid) found that the average annual income of 740 organizations it surveyed in 2010 was about $20,000 (£12,000).

The Guardian launched a women’s rights and gender equality section to provide a specific focus on the pressing issues affecting women, girls and transgender people around the world, and the critical work being carried out by women’s rights movements.

This year is gearing up to be a key time for women’s rights and gender equality. The UN Commission on the Status of Women, being held in New York in March, will discuss progress against the millennium development goals and crucially look at how women feature in what comes next.

Despite loud calls for a standalone goal for gender equality to be included in any new set of targets after 2015, it is far from certain that this will be achieved. Sexual violence against women, particularly during conflict, is expected to receive global attention once again this year, with a summit hosted by the UK, and the anniversary of Cairo will be a chance for cool assessment on whether women have achieved the right to determine when, and if, they have children.

Working in partnership with Mama Cash and Awid, we want this section to offer a safe forum for debate and for sharing ideas. We want to create a global platform for discussion that amplifies the voices of women’s rights advocates who are normally left out of decision-making or not heard in mainstream media.

Tell us what you think and what you would like to hear more about. Email development@theguardian.com

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