Defending Human Rights in an Era of Retrogression

By Amanda Lyons and Barbara A. Frey | January 26, 2017

Monitoring international human rights protections for gender equality

Given the misogynistic tenor of the discourse used by the President throughout his campaign, as well as the trend toward repudiating established supranational spaces, many of us are justifiably concerned about the roll-back of the legal and policy advances that we have won in the global arena over the past three decades in terms of women’s human rights and gender equality.

In this section of the Report we will be watching how U.S. federal laws, policy, and diplomacy under the Trump administration will interact with various international systems related to the protection and promotion of human rights and gender equality and the direct and indirect impact on human rights on the ground.

Working with a diverse set of collaborators, we will seek to document and analyze how the actions of the administration of the 45th President and the 115th Congress directly and indirectly impact the human rights protections for particular groups and individuals, with a focus on gender. In the face of anticipated challenges, we will also explore how advocates might leverage the international law, fora, and mechanisms to resist rollbacks in U.S. policy and practice, to uphold human rights in challenging circumstances, and to further gender equality at home and abroad.

The international human rights framework is cross-cutting and relevant for monitoring the developments at home and abroad for each one of the policy areas of the Gender Policy Report. We will make a special effort to highlight the connections between international human rights and the monitoring and analysis in other parts of the Gender Policy Report.

Beijing as a benchmark

To measure the United States’ potential regressions in terms of international protections for women’s human rights and gender equality, we propose to use the Beijing Platform for Action as a set of benchmarks.

This agenda was the hard-fought outcome of the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women and remains a relevant, forward-looking global policy consensus about the importance of gender equality and the barriers which must be overcome to realize women’s human rights. It is an agreed-upon set of standards and commitments against which we have been measuring the actions of all governments for the past 20 years.

The Beijing Platform is a useful analytical and organizing tool because  it organizes a review grounded in the international human rights framework and covering a broad range of areas key to gender equality—including peace and security, the environment, poverty and economics, and empowerment.

The twelve critical areas of the Beijing Platform are:

In 2015 the U.S. government submitted an extensive summary and self-assessment report of its implementation of the Beijing Platform, including its domestic efforts to guarantee women’s rights (useful to many of the other sections of the Gender Policy Report), as well as its efforts to promote women’s human rights and gender equality abroad—our focus in this Section. This document, as well as activist and academic complements, serve as a useful starting point with which to monitor advances and retreats in U.S. law, policy, and practice.

Inquiries driving this human-rights monitoring initiative

The central questions that rise to the fore for the curators of this Human Rights Section of the Report are to what lengths will this new Administration go in trying to negate women’s international human rights, and what will be the durability of existing human rights laws and procedures in pushing back against those efforts? We will pay close attention to the diplomatic dance (or struggle) that shapes the Administration’s human rights policies before international institutions, especially regarding gender. So, for instance, if the most powerful government in the world seeks to roll back reproductive rights or gender equality in the global arena, what will be the efficacy of international legal and advocacy tools in pushing back?

Institutionally, we will monitor any key changes in U.S. institutions and personnel that would signal the undermining of international protections for women’s human rights and gender equality around the world: for instance, will the current office of the Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues be eliminated? Who will assume the diplomatic appointments to key United Nations human rights fora?  Will the new Administration cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms, including treaty body reviews and invitations to U.N. special procedures? What will be the discourse promoted by the Trump Administration on the twelve critical areas of concern? How will the U.S. engage with the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda at the UN, including Security Council Resolution 1325 and the six subsequent WPS resolutions?

We will aim to flesh out the direct and indirect impacts of potentially retrogressive U.S. foreign policies on the security and human rights of women and LGBT persons, near and far. And finally, we will convey inspiring and innovative approaches leveraging the international systems to defend human rights and security, and to promote gender equality in the coming years.

We welcome guest observers, practitioners, and researchers to share their stories and insights. Through the lens of our collective experiences, we will monitor US policy in relation to the diverse international systems and fora dedicated to the protection and promotion of global human rights.

We look forward to your stories and collaboration to defend and promote internationally guaranteed human rights, including dignity, fairness and equality for all persons, regardless of their gender.

-Barbara A. Frey, J.D., Director, Human Rights Program
-Amanda Lyons, J.D., Executive Director, Human Rights Center

Photo by Milton Grant