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Women’s Link WorldWide: Unleashing the Power of Women and Girls to Protect and Advance Human Rights

11th December 2023

Jovana Ríos Cisnero is the Executive Director of Women's Link World Wide and is a SheDecides Champion.

To mark Human Rights Day 2023, we spoke to Jovana about the work of Women's Link and how the organization is unleashing the power of women and girls protect and advance their human rights, and asked her to give her thoughts on how abortion rights are human rights.

Tell us a bit about Women's Link Worldwide and how it is unleashing the power of women and girls to protect and advance their human rights? 

"Women's Link Worldwide is a feminist, anti-racist, anti-colonial human rights organization that uses a combination of legal, alliance and communications strategies to promote social change that advances the sexual and reproductive rights of women, girls, and gender diverse people by applying a feminist decolonial framework and intersectional analysis to human rights law.

We bring our antiracist, anti-colonial, feminist, global south-led approach to all our organizational and programmatic efforts in order to share power with local movements. We’re working on transforming the face of who it is that does strategic litigation in a way that decolonizes legal strategies and alters power imbalances. We work in East Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe, breaking the walls of the legal sphere and bringing those left outside of legal processes in."

What achievements of Women's Link are you especially proud of? 

"There is so much amazing work that is being done in all of our communities right now. Here are three collective achievements: 

1. We are very proud of our work in the Causa Justa moment with which we achieved the decriminalization of abortions up to 24 weeks of gestion in Colombia. Just recently Colombia’s Constitutional Court overturned two conflicting decisions that went against the C-055 (aka Causa Justa) ruling. We know that a united movement is an unstoppable movement and we are proud to be part of coalitions and movements in the regions we work that defend, protect, and expand legal access to abortion.

2. In 2022, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of Women on Web (WOW) a non-profit organization which provides information on sexual and reproductive rights and access to safe abortion through online services. Spanish authorities blocked the website at a time that coincided with an increase in barriers faced by women and girls when accessing sexual and reproductive health services because of COVID-19 restrictions. And although the Spanish Supreme Court ordered the Spanish Agency of Medicines and Health Products to partially unblock the Women on Web the site remains blocked in its entirety. In denying this powerful information, the Spanish government is robbing people of their dignity.

3. Women's Link litigated a case before the Supreme Court of Rwanda on behalf of Esther who had been imprisoned because of a miscarriage. She was convicted of “infanticide” after her son died in childbirth at her home because she could not afford to pay the hospital bill. We demonstrated that the State had failed to no consider her needs to guarantee her access to health services. Esther and more than 400 women were pardoned, and a new law came into force that allows abortion in cases of rape, forced marriage, incest, when the pregnant person is a girl, or when the life or health of the mother is at risk."

"Why are abortion rights human rights?"

"The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is rooted in dignity and equality. It is declared in Article 1, All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. These values of dignity, equality and autonomy give all individuals the right to make decisions about their own bodies and reproductive health.

Recognizing abortion rights as human rights ensures that individuals have access to safe and legal procedures, reducing the risk of unsafe practices that could jeopardize their life, health and well-being and health of their families and community. It is well-known that the denial of abortion rights (and dignity and equality) disproportionately affects women living in poverty, indigenous, black, non-binary, trans, and other people who are underrepresented or excluded. Abortion rights as human rights are essential."

In your opinion, what are the greatest human rights wins related to SRHR (sexual and reproductive health and rights) and abortion rights in the last 75 years?

"One of the most important wins is the unequivocal recognition by the international community, including large power institutions such as the UN, that SRHR and abortion rights are human rights. It’s important that we name this so that we can advocate and organize around this a fundamental human right.

And with this recognition, comes the power to advocate, organize, propose, help draft and change laws that secure sexual and reproductive health and rights and abortion. The number of countries and communities that have access to safe abortion and sexual and reproductive health care continues to grow. There are 24 countries where abortion is outlawed in totality and Women’s Link works specifically in those regions with community partners, advocates and movements to change this.

And one last thought would be that the improvements in maternal health care, including access to safe and legal abortion services, have contributed to a reduction in maternal mortality rates. Abortion is part of the continuum of healthcare from reproductive health and abortion, or maternal and child health, workplace accommodation and child care. However, in our work, we have seen how the lack of dignity and respect for pregnant people is having traumatic and harmful consequences. This is one area of vast improvement and also one where we must keep working to achieve reproductive justice."

Why is it so important to unite around human rights right now?

"Everyday we see people being robbed of their dignity, equality and fundamental rights as laid out by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Every single day. And though we have made significant progress since the UDHR, the successes of these rights have laid bare the deeply rooted and systemic problems we still have to acknowledge and dismantle such as colonization, racism, patriarchy and violence. The UDHR has raised the bar on what we can expect from each other as humans living collectively in society and it’s imperative that we continue to work together, to unite around human rights so that we can create an even better world, and actually live up to the ideas of the UDHR."