The recognition that “women’s rights are human rights” at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 opened doors for women and feminist analysis of human rights in ways that changed both the women’s movement and human rights practice profoundly. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) affirmation of women's rights as full universal rights and identification of violence against women as a key issue initiated a process of integration of women and gender based abuses into human rights theory and practice that is still on-going. For feminists who had sought this recognition and often been dismissed, it was a moment of empowerment that led to new political and intellectual challenges as well as opportunities to translate these words into reality.
The campaign to get women on the agenda in Vienna grew out of the global feminist movement’s efforts to make women’s voices heard not only at UN women’s conferences but also as part of other global agendas for peace, development, and human rights. A 1991 petition to the UN Conference asserting, “Violence against women violates human rights,” and calling on it “to comprehensively address women’s human rights at every level of its proceedings” touched a nerve in a movement ready to happen. Pre-internet, it was translated into 25 languages and quickly circulated in some 124 countries, arousing feminist interest in the upcoming conference and sparking debate over why women’s rights were not already considered human rights.