2018, the year of women’s rights?

The United Nations says that women own only 12.8% of the world’s agricultural land. (Lucas Ledwaba)

The United Nations says that women own only 12.8% of the world’s agricultural land. (Lucas Ledwaba)

Although achieving equality for women across the world has been a major focus of human rights movements in 2018, women continue to bear the brunt of inequality. This is according to a new Amnesty International report released on Monday.

The report, titled Rights Today, was launched on December 10, the day tthe United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Amnesty International says the aim of the report is to look at human rights, 70 years after the declaration, and ask:  “How far have we come?”

The report looks at different human rights across the world and a major focus of the report is on the struggles women experience in their mission to achieving economic and social rights.
The World Economic Forum (WEF), in January 2018, declared this year the “year for women to thrive” because according to the forum, “giving women and girls the opportunity to succeed is not only the right thing to do but can also transform societies and economies.”

The WEF focused on how critical it is for governments to raise participation rates of women in the labour force — where the global gender pay gap is 23%. But according to Amnesty’s report, governments still have a long way to go and need to “address gaps in legal frameworks, in the enforcement of laws and in public spending” to achieve gender equality.


The first barrier to women’s economic and social rights according to the report is the lack of security of tenure which makes women vulnerable to forced evictions and harassment over land usage, pushing them deeper into poverty. The UN says that women own only 12.8% of the world’s agricultural land.

READ MORE: Women’s rights must include land rights

Another issue with land for women is discriminatory inheritance practices in many communities as well as personal and property laws which stand in the way of women’s ability to rent, own or register property.

In November, the Mail & Guardian reported how women throughout Kwazulu-Natal are being forced, by the Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) and traditional leaders, to sign leases through male proxies — removing their right to own the land.

Sizani Ngubane, the chairperson of the Rural Women’s Movement and a gender activist, told the M&G at the time that forcing that a lease be in the name of a man increased women’s vulnerability because the men weren’t always the rightful owners of the land.

“The leases issued by the ITB therefore undermine, rather than enhance, women’s security of tenure,” Ngubane said.


The World Bank has noted how 104 countries including Brazil, Egypt, France, India, Russia continue to have laws which prevent women from working in specific jobs. According to the report, this means that 2.7-billion women are “legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men”.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has also estimated that 740-million women are employed or work in the informal economy which means that they are not legally protected through platforms such as trade unions.

This is especially true for domestic workers which are “often in a particularly vulnerable situation”, according to Amnesty’s report.

Unpaid work

The report also details how women continue to bear the brunt of unpaid work according to data from 83 countries. This data indicates that women carry out more than twice as much unpaid and domestic work than men. This work hampers women’s ability to receive an education and gain employment, affecting their ability to get an income.


Amnesty International has recommended that in order to address inequality against women, governments must adapt labour rights legislation to ensure that women’s rights are protected in the workplace.

The organisation has also recommended that companies ensure that they have clear and protective labour practices that are not in violation of human rights starting from their day-to-day operations and going into their supply chains.

Amnesty International notes in its report that is is critical that governments ensure that they have concrete policies to ensure that budgets are allocated to ensuring gender equality. These policies should include strict tax collection and addressing corruption so that resources can be made “available to realise women’s economic, social and cultural rights.”

Mashadi Kekana

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