Every year on March 8th, we celebrate the International Women’s Day to recall the necessity to fight for the respect of women’s rights across the world, at all times and circumstances. Although gender equality is still an objective to reach, institutions, governments, but also civil societies are more and more aware of the need to recognize women’s rights as human rights and to ensure their respect.
Göran Melander, Former Director, former Chairperson and Professor Emeritus of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, is one of the figures who participated and still are involved in advancing gender equality. We had the opportunity to discuss with him women’s rights, their progress, and today’s challenges.
As one of the founders of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, and since its establishment, one issue has been a very important issue for him :
“To try and abolish all kind of discrimination, including discrimination against women.”
As he says, it is “always important to arrange world conferences on particular issues”. Thanks to the Beijing Declaration, the question of women’s rights was raised. Governments are now gathering regularly to discuss the most pressing concerns regarding women’s rights respect. On that day, they also agreed upon the idea that “women’s rights are human rights”. To Göran Melander it means that
“States are responsible of the guarantee of women’s rights and always have to protect women from being discriminated.”
Unfortunately, as he points out, they often fail to do it and do not always take it seriously.
Göran was invited to participate to the 1995 Beijing Conference by the host country, but unfortunately could not participate as he had to stay in Lund for work. Still, what he calls a missed opportunity did not prevent him to work in favor of the elimination of all kind of discrimination, in particular against women.
He was indeed member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women from 2001 to 2004 and initially its only male member. When we asked him about how his gender affected his work within the Committee, we were pleased to hear that his answer was “Not at all, I guess. I did not note any difference and was fully accepted”.
“The members of the Committee wanted more men to become members of the Committee. In the same way as women wanted to become members of other committees, the other members of the Committee wanted more equality”
States could certainly do more to advance gender equality and ensure women’s rights. Yet, individuals also have their role to play. Men can counter patriarchal power structures and support gender equality. They can do so by challenging one of the most pressing issues : violence against women. Even though the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women does not mention this concern, it is also one of Committee’s top priorities today.
“The most important issue when it comes to discrimination against women is violence against women […] It is also interesting to note that when States submit reports, they never object to report about violence against women.”
Some could say that men should also have an International Day dedicated to them. As for Göran Melander, he does not see “any reason why there should be an International Men’s Day”. He does not deny the very existence of discrimination against men, but remind us that the International Women’s Day is meant to highlight one of the main issues regarding discrimination. Therefore, if discrimination against men exists, it still does not seem to be as crucial to have an International Men’s Day in order to prevent it.
In his opinion, it is however not necessary to call yourself a feminist to challenge discrimination against women. Indeed, this would imply an “unacceptable” hierarchy of human rights and as Göran reminds us
“All Human rights have an equal importance.”
Thank you again for your time Göran!