Trump presidency: despite millions on women’s marches many ‘fear rights won over years are in jeopardy’

Yola Verbruggen

Though millions took to the streets across the world in women’s marches, President Trump took the first opportunity to show that he was not about to bow to the protestors.

On 24 January, just days after his inauguration, he reinstated the 'global gag rule', thereby withdrawing funding for any organisations providing family planning counselling which includes abortion.

The rule divides Republicans and Democrats and, almost by matter of tradition, a new president either rescinds or reinstates the order depending on their party affiliation.

'Many women in the United States fear that rights they have won over the years are in jeopardy as a result of this election,' says Philip Berkowitz, Vice-Chair of the IBA’s Discrimination and Equality Law Committee.

'They are concerned, with good reason, that Trump’s agenda will run contrary to issues of deep concern to women – reproductive rights, sex harassment, pay equity, and gender-based discrimination, among others.'

IBA podcast on President Trump and the implications for human rights issues

Rights groups have been quick to speak out against the order. ‘While he has also moved quickly to act in many other harmful ways, I think his message to women is clear – crushing access to abortion globally will be a priority for his government. This order will be the direct cause of deaths from unsafe abortions, and Trump is clearly fine with that,’ says Heather Barr, Human Rights Watch’s Senior Researcher on Women's Rights.

Reportedly, text accompanying the draft executive order named ‘Moratorium on New Multilateral Treaties’ specifically calls for the review of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

For many women’s groups in the United States, the ratification of CEDAW is a big issue, though not frequently campaigned on, because organisations struggle to run campaigns focused on international issues or treaties, says Terry O’Neill, an attorney and President of the US-based National Organization for Women Foundation (NOW). ‘The rumblings that we have heard, indications that the Trump Administration might actually decide to simply withdraw the United States from CEDAW altogether, it’s completely outrageous,’ O’Neill tells Global Insight.

‘‘Many women are concerned, with good reason, that Trump’s agenda will run contrary to issues of deep concern to women—reproductive rights, sexual harassment, pay equity, and gender-based discrimination, among others

Philip Berkowitz, Vice-Chair of the IBA’s Discrimination and Equality Law Committee

While the United States’ failure to ratify CEDAW has not stopped previous administrations from working to improve equality globally and at home, many women fear that this may change with Trump now in the White House.

According to estimates on the website of the Women’s March, 4.8m people took part in 673 marches worldwide. From Germany to South Africa and Antarctica women and men tweeted photos of signs reading ‘Women’s rights are human rights’ and ‘Equality is the only way’.

But the march was not only about women’s rights, according to Human Rights Watch. ‘I think the large number of people who marched is a sign of enormous frustration by both women and men who believe in equality; we simply can’t and won’t accept things going backwards in the dramatic way that they are clearly about to,’ says Barr. ‘The marches also tapped into anger over many other issues that relate to gender discrimination – a whole range of racist and xenophobic and anti-environmental positions Trump took as a candidate and seems hellbent on seeing through as President.’

Hans Corell, former Legal Counsel of the United Nations and Co-Chair of the IBA’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), says that, as a country with a major influence over the United Nations, the US has the responsibility to enforce its Charter and conventions. ‘The US should show the way, lead the way, and they don’t,’ he says.

When, in 2015, Corell stood before 2,000 lawyers in Tehran, speaking about the importance of the ratification of CEDAW in a country where women’s rights are severely restricted, Corell thought it best not to mention that the US, considered by many around the world as a moral leader, is not party to this Convention. The IBA’s Human Rights Institute urged the new President to ratify the agreement in a letter sent to Trump after his election.

Some Republicans have dismissed the notion that a Trump presidency could mean a deterioration of women’s rights and equality. Carrie Almond, President of the National Federation of Republican Women, refutes claims that Trump would harm the empowerment of women around the world. Instead, she thinks that the new president will advance equality. ‘I think he has already started it, by appointing such great women to his cabinet. To me, that demonstrates his commitment to making sure that all Americans are embraced in his administration. I think Mr Trump leads by example,’ Almond says.

One of the organisers of the Women’s March in Oklahoma voiced careful optimism for women’s rights advocates. ‘I actually think that it is going to be slightly easier to achieve these changes on a local level under a Trump Administration. Right now, people are angry and they saw all these issues coming to the forefront and now they want to do something about it,’ says Lindsey Kanaly, who works as the attorney for a local energy company. ‘Everything that we marched for is much larger than Trump. These issues have been around for decades. All Trump did was put a face to it.’