IHEU pleads for women’s autonomy at UN

  • Date / 7 June 2010

In the annual all-day debate on the Human Rights of Women at the UN Human Rights Council, IHEU representative Magali Prince got the only laugh of the day when she suggested that rather than expecting women to veil themselves from head to foot to avoid provoking men’s lust, a more appropriate solution would be for men to stay indoors until they learned some self-control. Now read on.

The theme of this year’s discussion on women’s human rights was the right to education, and many speakers highlighted the extent to which women and girls are denied education in many parts of the developing world. The reasons are many, and include cultural barriers to girls’ education, poverty, and fear of sexual abuse. The common theme however was one that–-until IHEU’s intervention-–dared not speak its name: the misogyny and gynophobia that infects a large part of the developing world and sees women merely as a source of temptation and sin.

Delegates swarmed around Mrs Prince at the end of her speech, demanding copies of her text, and one delegate remarked that hers was the best speech of the day. Here is the text of her speech in full.

International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL: 14th Session (31 May – 18 June 2010)
Speaker: IHEU Representative, Magali Prince, Monday 7 June 2010

Contribution to the Discussion on Women’s Human Rights

Mr President,

Women’s enjoyment of their human rights, including the right to education, is denied in much of the developing world. And nowhere is this more apparent than in societies where women are obliged to cover themselves from head to foot when they venture outside the home.

Women are trained to believe that this type of dress code is necessary for “modesty”. Apparently, the sight of any part of a woman’s body, including her face or hair, is considered sexually provocative in some cultures, and likely to inflame men’s lust.

But surely a more appropriate solution to this problem would be to educate men to stay indoors until they learn some self-control.

The holy books teach both men and women to dress modestly, so why do we not see men covered from head to foot? The answer of course is that this is not about modesty; it is about men controlling women, and denying their right to education is part of this.

We hear much talk of the dignity of women, yet very little of women’s right to autonomy. But, Mr President, women can have no dignity without autonomy. Men do not own women.

We have heard much talk in this Council of Islamophobia, Judeophobia, Christianophobia and homophobia, but what of gynophobia, which is enslaving women in much of the developing world, and sees women merely as a source of temptation and evil?

We urge the international community to recognize its responsibility to women as autonomous members of the human race, and to wean the most patriarchal and authoritarian societies away from their deeply rooted misogyny.

Until this happens, Mr President, there can be no progress towards the full enjoyment of our human rights.

Thank you sir.

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