Women Lead Network, Alquimia Global and Women’s Economic Empowerment Global are partnering on an exciting event during the U.N.’s 65th Commission on the Status of Women

Join Women Lead Network, Alquimia Global and Women’s Economic Empowerment Global at the U.N.’s 65th Commission on the Status of Women. The Parallel Event will focus on women migrants and refugee’s capacity for resilience under the most challenging conditions. Come join the event by registering on WEE Global’s site

United States Universal Periodic Review Concludes with United States Comments and Outcomes: Human Rights Defenders Respond

March 17th concluded the Universal Periodic Review of the United States with a public response to the more than 300 recommendations by the Human Rights Council. The U.S. stated their acceptance, rejection or reservation of these recommendations during the Human Rights Council Convening at 6:30 AM EDT (3:30 AM PDT).

Afterwards, Women Lead Network joined other Human Rights Defenders to respond. You can view the video below:

See or full statement below:

“These statements reflect the collective work and concerns of Women Lead Network, a collective of women committed to centering women’s experiences in human rights discussions and the Women’s Rights Working Group of the US Human Rights Network.  When we center women’s experiences, we include all who define themselves as women, as well as other birthing and menstruating people

Throughout the Universal Periodic Review, the Women’s Rights Working Group consistently raised the issues of women in the United States by bringing forward 3 themes: Maternal Mortality, Reproductive Access, and Gender Based Violence.  Women Lead Network centered the intersectional experiences of women related to these issues by focusing our attention on women and girls in U.S. immigration detention.

It is with significant relief that we are able to move forward on these issues under an Administration that has promised to look at, and address, many of the concerns we have raised to date.  To be clear, however, our work is not done.  Many of the issues raised by women related to their health, safety and well-being were issues long before the previous Administration rolled back hard-fought protections and continue to be critical for women to enjoy full access to their humanity.

Today in the Biden Administrations response we learned that:

They intend to to develop a plan to fully implement laws that prohibit sex discrimination, to include sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination and address gender inequality including a willing focus on reproductive health access for women “at home and abroad”.

They have committed to addressing racial justice and other forms of discrimination and have begun by instituting various policies including “anti-bias training”

They have committed to “humane” immigration practices, in particular for children, as well as criminal justice reform.

They have committed to “meaningful engagement” with tribal communities when policy decisions are made.

As to ratification of Human Rights treaties like CEDAW, they have stated that they agree with them from a policy perspective and are committed to “working towards ratification”.

In terms of COVID 19 they have committed to meaningful access to healthcare including making it “more affordable” and to protect reproductive healthcare for women.

We also heard comments praising the U.S. for its shift in position on women’s reproductive rights on a global level and its commitment to addressing gender based violence, along with questions about the lack of commitment to some issues impacting women like paid parental leave and continued confusion on the Helms Amendment which continues to frustrate efforts towards women’s well-being internationally.

However, we remain concerned that the lived experiences of women have not fully been reflected in their commitments. 

For example, we did not hear any specific intention to address the human rights of women in detention settings, whether prison or immigration detention, who have been sterilized without consent or sexually assaulted by their detainers. 

We did not hear about a commitment to ensure full access to healthcare for every individual in order to reduce maternal mortality which disproportionately impacts Black and Indigenous Women. 

While we heard some commitments to include protections for sex workers and Trans women, who are disproportionately impacted by gender-based violence, conflation of sex trafficking and sex work continues to create dangerous conditions and limit protections.

And we heard no mention of how they intend to address the impacts of COVID 19 for women, specifically,

*whose job loss has constituted 80% -100% of the reported job losses some months during the pandemic,

*who are disproportionately caregivers, including informal caregivers who have not been prioritized for vaccines,

*are a majority of health care providers who will have long lasting effect of trauma from the pandemic or

*how they’ll address the profound impact on the gaps in women’s careers and education due to their disproportionate responsibility for the at home “teaching” of children during the pandemic.

It is critical, that we remember that while the U.S. may return to its status as a “global leader” in human rights, the experiences of its own women must reflect that position.  It is also critical that we remember that the lived experiences of women in the United States intersect with many of the issues most impactful in all communities.  Criminal Justice, Worker’s Rights, Racial Justice, Health Care Access, Clean Water, Land…all these issues impact women specifically.

So, we call on the Biden Administration and other federal, statewide, and local policy makers to:

*Engage with grass roots women’s groups to facilitate ground up solutions to all domestic problems

*Ensure that diversity is not simply a catch phrase and that Women of Color are centered as leaders in solutions to problems at home and abroad.

*Apply a gendered lens to every problem and solution that is presented: specifically looking to the impacts of any policy, position, approach, or action on women in all their intersectional experiences.”

Women Lead Network and Partner, Alquimia Global, Focus on Issues Facing Refugee and Migrant Women

Women Lead Network and our partner, Alquimia Global, have continued to partner on raising the issues facing refugee and migrant women and girls in the United States. In 2020, WLN partnered with Alquimia to engage in advocacy with the United Nations leading up to the Universal Periodic Review of the United States in November of 2020. As a result, many recommendations were raised by the Human Rights Council addressing the treatment of migrant women and girls in U.S. immigration detention.

Women Lead Network and Alquimia Global are continuing these partnership efforts through the production of a Human Rights Report on Women and Girls in U.S. Immigration Detention (tentative release July 2021). WLN and Alquimia are also partnering to highlight this issue at the UN Women’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65).

The sixty-fifth session of the Commission on the Status of Women will take place from 15 to 26 March 2021.  The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), is a global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. This year’s theme is “Women in Public Life: Equal Participation in Decision and End Violence; Achieve Gender Equality”.

The Women Lead Network/Alquimia Global Event will take place on March 25, 2021 at 9:30am (PT). Stay tuned for registration information.

16 Days Campaign

Women Lead Network is joining organizations around the world for the 16 Days Campaign. Each year between November 25 (International Day Against Violence Against Women) and December 10th (International Human Rights Day) organizations across the globe use the 16 Days Campaign to call for the elimination of gender-based violence (GBV).

In 2020, the campaign’s focus is on informal women workers whose lives and livelihoods have been acutely impacted by COVID-19 and the unprecedented economic crisis that has followed.

Join us on Twitter (@WomenLEADNtwrk), Facebook (facebook.com/womenleadnetwrk) or follow our new Instagram (womenleadn) to follow the campaign.

Women Lead Network partners with Alquimia Global to highlight the Human Rights conditions of refugees pre-UPR

Women Lead Network, Alquimia Global and other human rights advocates will be participating in a final side event in advance of the United States UPR on November 9th.

The event will be held on Friday, November 6th, the final working day prior to the Universal Periodic Review of the United States on November 9th. Download the flyer below

Topics addressed will include:

Indigenous Rights

Sex Workers Rights

Women and Children Refugee’s Rights

Intersectionality of Rights

Final Policy Paper and last advocacy push for the US UPR on November 9th.

In the last weeks leading up to the United States Universal Periodic Review on November 9th Women Lead Network has been busy ensuring that women’s rights are at the center of the review. As participants in the US Human Rights Network’s Women’s Rights Working Group our team partnered with students at the Cornell Gender Justice Clinic to develop a final comprehensive policy brief based on our Response to the United States’ Country Report. This Policy Brief was sent to United Nations Permanent Missions based in Geneva during the month of October. You can download a copy of the brief below.

Women’s Rights Working Group Intervention-Geneva

Women Lead Network participated in a briefing with the EU Delegation to the U.P.R to raise women’s human rights issues. It provided an opportunity to support the EU Delegation as they formulate their recommendations for the U.S. in the upcoming U.P.R. Joining other human rights defenders from around the world, WLN, as part of the Women’s Rights Working Group for the US Human Rights Network addressed the high rates of maternal mortality in the U.S., the lack of access to menstrual and reproductive health care and gender based violence.


Our Response to the United States Country Report for the Universal Periodic Review

The goal of the Universal Periodic Review is to improve human rights around the world. Each member of the U.N. takes turns being “reviewed” by their peers as part of the UPR. While this process seems complicated it is designed to provide access for human rights defenders and NGO’s around the world to engage by providing “stakeholder” reports that highlight real human rights issues on the ground. WLN submitted a stakeholder report in October of 2019 and has been engaging with the United Nations members who will “review” the United States. Part of the Universal Periodic Review process is a Country Report after the submission of the Stakeholder Reports. While the country report was due long ago, it was submitted in August 2020. There are many clear omissions and significant misinformation in the report. WLN has prepared a response to the country report and have disseminated it to the members of the United Nations that will be part of the United States UPR on November 9th, 2020. You can link to a copy of the United States Country Report and the Stakeholder Reports here. You may download our response or view it below:


A Response to the United States Country Report for the Universal Periodic Review

Women’s Rights are Human Rights: This includes all who define themselves as women, as well as other birthing and menstruating people. [i]. [i] It is important to note that individuals who do not identify as “women” may also be impacted by these violations, including transgender and non-binary individuals

Overview:  The language to address issues of gender in the United States Country Report utilizes a binary framework and is exclusive of a broad range of gender expression or gender identity.[i] Without acknowledgement of gender diversity, the mental and physical health of women and girls in the U.S. can be severely compromised[ii]. Additionally, while the U.S. highlights its engagement with Civil Society, only one specific call for consultation was sent out from the U.S. Department of State, broadly, to Civil Society in preparation for the UPR.  

A: Treaties, International Mechanisms and Domestic Implementation

The United States notes that it is a party to five (5) of the nine (9) human rights treaties described by the Office of the High Commissioner as “Core International Human Rights Instruments.”[iii] To the detriment of women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is not one of them.  While the U.S. notes that it is a signatory to CEDAW, it has yet to be ratified, leaving a gap in the protections for U.S. women[iv].

The U.S. also points out its commitment to human rights by invoking its creation of a Commission on Inalienable Rights. This Commission, instead of expanding access to rights, creates a risk to women as it is being used to “justify restrictions on reproductive freedom and the rights of LGBTQ people.” [v]

B: Civil Rights and Non-Discrimination

The U.S. government states that law enforcement and criminal justice systems in the U.S. are not “systemically racist”, however there is significant evidence to the contrary[vi]. When we add gender to race as a variable, a picture emerges of a deeply racist and sexist environment. Women of color make up an increasing share of arrests and use of force[vii], women’s incarceration rates have increased twice as quickly as men’s over the last several decades, with a disproportionate number of Black, Brown and Indigenous women being incarcerated[viii]. Additionally, the treatment of women in carceral settings constitutes significant violations of women’s human rights. While we have previously submitted a report on the lack of reproductive health care and sexual assault experienced by undocumented immigrant women in immigration detention[ix], recent reports about the non-consensual sterilizations of predominantly Black and Latinx women in prison[x] [xi]have unveiled the both racist and misogynistic law enforcement system and practices in the United States[xii].

The U.S. report also claims that State and Federal laws protect the rights of individuals with regard to race and gender. While laws preventing racial discrimination at a Federal level are in place, recent court rulings have chiseled away at those protections[xiii] and states increasingly enact laws that prevent women’s access to reproductive care[xiv] and that lift protections in the workplace[xv].

C. Criminal Justice, Violence Against Women and Human Trafficking

In its report, the United States highlights the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act which is supposed to provide tools to the Department of Justice to investigate and correct conditions in prisons where there is a pattern or practice of the deprivation of individuals’ Constitutional rights. The use of an Alabama case of prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse as an example of this process does not provide context for sexual abuse perpatrated against prisoners, particularly women, at the hands of facility staff. This has been raised in both stakeholder reports and by the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women [xvi]and instead of an investigation, the U.S. deflects responsibility to hold detention center staff accountable[xvii].

The U.S. report also highlights the use of the Violence Against Women Act as a mechanism to address gender based violence and protect women from abuse, yet Congress has failed to Re-Authorize it, so it cannot be used to support victims of gender based violence.

D. Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Measures; Indigenous issues; and the Environment

The U.S. highlights, in its report, the Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant Program that “seeks to improve maternal health outcomes, including rates of severe morbidity and maternal mortality”; however, the US has the highest maternal mortality rate of similarly wealthy countries. Pregnant people in the United States are now 50% more likely to die in childbirth or soon after than they were just 30 years ago, with those deaths more often occurring in states with the most restrictions on abortion access. [xviii]Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, primarily due to the lack of access to health care that is not associated with jobs[xix]. Women are overrepresented in jobs that lack health care benefits and provide low wages, like part time work, hospitality, and sex work. The U.S. has made clear in its report that it intends to continue to deprive women access to reproductive healthcare whether or not that care involves abortion access. Abortion is an essential health service and it must be kept accessible.[xx] 

E. National Security and Other Matters

The U.S. continues to frame the migrant crisis at the border as a “security” issue even though more than one-half of those immigrating to the U.S. are women and girls, often escaping gender-based violence in their own countries[xxi].  In fact, the U.S. doesn’t address the experiences of migrant women at all. Inadequate reproductive health care is thought to play a role in the increasing number of pregnancy complications being reported for women and birthing people in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement[xxii].  Menstrual hygiene is a critical part of reproductive health and has been recognized as a human right[xxiii].  However, menstrual hygiene materials are considered a “luxury” item for women in detention settings who are often given only one sanitary pad per day and not allowed to access showers or private toilet facilities[xxiv]. Also, the separation of children from their families has a disproportionate impact on women in immigration detention. The right to parent children is a human right[xxv].


One of the most glaring omissions from the U.S. report is that the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 are not mentioned at all.  The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on women. Women make up 76% of all healthcare jobs and informal care roles are disproportionately performed by women. They are also the majority of health facility service-staff, making them the most exposed to contracting the coronavirus[xxvi]. COVID-19 creates circumstances that foster intimate partner violence, which is most often experienced by women — specifically low-income women — and LGBTQ people. The pandemic and social distancing orders leaves women with fewer options to find safety or help.


  • Promptly ratify CEDAW and disband the Commission on Inalienable Rights.
  • Ensure statutory language, policies and practices protecting prisoners from sexual abuse include specific reference to the protection of immigration detainees and make explicit institutional accountability for anyone under the control of Immigration Control and Enforcement who abuse or sexually harass detainees. 
  • Immediately Re-Authorize the Violence Against Women Act and ensure protections for Black, Latinx, Indigenous and Transgender Women and prioritize services for prevention and response to gender-based violence 
  • Increase access to timely and appropriate quality health care for all women, free from economic, legal, psychosocial, and cultural barriers and ensure data collection is disaggregated.
  • Protect essential health services for women and girls, including sexual and reproductive health services
  • Ensure equal voice for women in decision making and long-term impact policy development

Appendix A: Footnotes

[i] https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/summer-2013/the-gender-spectrum

[ii] https://www.apa.org/pubs/books/The-Gender-Affirmative-Model-Chapter-1-Sample.pdf

[iii] https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G20/204/16/PDF/G2020416.pdf?OpenElement

[iv] Several members of the U.N. urged the U.S. to ratify conventions reflecting international norms during the 2015 UPR Process

[v] https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/27/pompeos-commission-unalienable-rights-will-endanger-everyones-human-rights#

[vi] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/03/10-things-we-know-about-race-and-policing-in-the-u-s/

[vii] https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2019/05/14/policingwomen/

[viii] https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/incarcerated-women-and-girls/

[ix] Motherhood, Menstruation and Sexual Violence: Joint Stakeholder Report MaMa JuNetwork/Women Lead Network 10.2019

[x] https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2013/07/09/200444613/californias-prison-sterilizations-reportedly-echoes-eugenics-era

[xi] https://www.aclu.org/news/immigrants-rights/immigration-detention-and-coerced-sterilization-history-tragically-repeats-itself/

[xii] Several U.N. members urged the U.S. to address issues related to humane incarceration standards and alternatives to incarceration, in particular for women

[xiii] https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/717244-supreme-court-decision-in-shelby-county-v-holder.html#document/p32

[xiv] https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2020/08/27/489786/state-actions-undermining-abortion-rights-2020/

[xv] https://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/issues/birth-control/burwell-v-hobby-lobby

[xvi] Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. 2011. Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women it Causes and Consequences, Mission to the United States. New York: United Nations.

[xvii] https://www.aclu.org/cases/ed-v-sharkey

[xviii] UN Women Policy Brief on the Impact of COVID-19 on Women https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2020/policy-brief-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-women-en.pdf?la=en&vs=5029

[xix] Black Mama’s Matter-Black Maternal Health and the COVID 19 Response-https://blackmamasmatter.org/2020/black-maternal-health-week-2020-webinar-series/

[xx] Feminist Alliance for Rights – Call for a Feminist COVID-19 Policy http://feministallianceforrights.org/blog/2020/03/20/action-call-for-a-feminist-covid-19-policy/

[xxi] Link to Asylum, Migration and Borders https://fra.europa.eu/en/themes/asylum-migration-and-borders

[xxii] Link to Letter from The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Family Physicians https://downloads.aap.org/DOFA/ACOG%20AAP%20AAFP%20Letter%20to%20Deputy%20Director%20Homan%20FINAL.pdf 

[xxiii] Human Rights Watch and Wash United. 2017. “Understanding Menstrual Hygiene Management and Human Rights.” U.S.A.: Human Rights Watch.

[xxiv] Link to report by Alma Poletti, Investigator with Washington State documenting lack of access to menstrual products https://agportal-s3bucket.s3.amazonaws.com/uploadedfiles/Another/News/Press_Releases/2019-08-23%20Poletti_Declaration_FloresCDCA_Washington_FINAL.pdf

[xxv] Members of the international community have identified norms and standards in addressing the needs of migrants and refugees.  The U.S. has lacked leadership in these areas.

[xxvi] National Women’s Law Center-Promoting Equitable Access to Health Care in Response to COVID-19 https://nwlc.org/resources/promoting-equitable-access-to-health-care-in-response-to-covid-19/

Human Rights Cannot Be Delayed

Today, May 11th, would have been the day that U.S. human rights defenders would have met in Geneva, Switzerland to call attention to the human rights abuses of vulnerable people in the U.S. While the UPR has been postponed to November #HumanRightsCannotBeDelayed. Watch this video to hear from Human Rights Defenders in the United States.

UPR2020: Rights Cannot Be Delayed from PJ Starr on Vimeo.