WHAT ARE HUMAN RIGHTS?
Human rights apply to everyone. If they did not apply to particular groups, whether because of race or religion or gender, they would not be ‘human’. To unfairly give one group in society more rights than another gives that group more power- more access to food and water, better education, more of a say in how government runs. To avoid such situations where people suffer just because of their born sex, we must treat everybody as equally deserving of the essentials in life. Every human right in international law and in the duties of governments to protect applies to both men and women.
WHAT ARE ‘WOMEN’S RIGHTS’?
There are cases, however, where special categories have been established within human rights. You may have heard of ‘women’s rights’ and minority rights within specific campaigns and laws. These have been emphasised more in recent years, for example, the rights of women over their own bodies or to attend schools.
There are generally two reasons for an emphasis on rights as belonging to specific groups in society. One is because some rights are relevant to female-only areas. This includes things like reproduction, with women entitled to make decisions regarding their own bodies like birth control or safe labours.
The second is that in many countries women are in the position outlined before, where men in society have more rights and therefore more power, leading women to suffering. The extra emphasis on women’s rights therefore, is to correct this imbalance in society. They aim to ensure that women have access to these resources- to jobs, to education, to freedom of speech. This is so that they are not vulnerable to abuse by the better-educated, more powerful, or higher-earning in society. The actual protections and opportunities in women’s rights are in fact the same as in all other human rights, the content is no different. ‘Women’s rights’ have become significant simply as asking for women to have the ‘human’ rights which they deserve as people of any sex. They are emphasised because of the historic and continuing unequal application of existing human rights for women in many societies.