Cultural Rights and Discrimination Against Women – UN Geneva

  • Date / 6 June 2013

Speaking on Monday 3rd. June 2013 at the UN Geneva, Elizabeth O’Casey, main representative of Center for Inquiry condemned those who seek to hide behind culture and traditional values to excuse the abuse of women.  Speaking on behalf of IHEU at the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council, she reminded delegates that “Cultures do not have rights, people do”.

Here is Elizabeth’s statement in full:

UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL: 23rd Session 27 May – 14 June 2013

Speaker: IHEU Representative, Elizabeth O’Casey, Monday 3 June 2013
Agenda Item 3: ID with SRs on Cultural Rights and Discrimination against Women

Elizabeth O'Casey

Elizabeth O’Casey

Mr President

We thank the Special Rapporteurs for their insightful reports.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) [link], now ratified by 187 states, obliges States parties to “pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women” (Art. 2).

Despite this, we see that there are widespread practices that can broadly be described as cultural and based upon traditional values that deny the equal treatment of women and girls, and often lead to abuse and even mutilation. A few examples:

Child marriage. 142 million girls are predicted to be the victims of child marriage over the next decade [link]. Child marriage is one of the primary causes of maternal mortality and morbidity, claiming the lives of more than 1000 women and young girls every single day.

Female genital mutilation (FGM). 140 million girls and women are living with the consequences of FGM [link]; including infections, complications in pregnancy and childbirth, psychological damage, and sexual dysfunction.

Forced feeding. In Mauritania, the practice of forced feeding continues, wheregirls, often as young as 9 to 12 are forced to consume ten thousand calories per day. The resulting obesity can cause severe health problems and harm many of the body’s organs.

Honour Killings. It has been estimated that between 5,000 and 20,000 women are “honour killed” in the world each year [link].

These abusive practices against women and girls have been consistently defended on the grounds of culture and traditional values, yet are incompatible with the very concept of human rights.

Mr President, cultural rights and traditional values must not be allowed to excuse the abuse of women and girls, nor excuse patriarchal attempts to control their minds, bodies or sexuality. Cultures do not have rights, Mr President, people do. There is no right to discriminate, nor to abuse the rights of others.

States that are pursuing respect for traditional values in this Council are simply seeking to undermine the very rights they are obliged to protect under international law.

It is the duty of all States that have any respect for women’s rights to reject all such demands and to work harder to eliminate these abhorrent practices carried out in the name of culture.

Thank you sir.

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