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United Nations

All international treaties build on the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stipulates in Article 2 that human rights apply to all people equally, "without distinction of any kind such as race, color, sex, language…or any other status." The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights specifically emphasizes in Article 3 the obligation of States Parties to “ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights.”  Gender equality is similarly echoed as a legal obligation in Article 3 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.



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All international treaties build on the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stipulates in Article 2 that human rights apply to all people equally, "without distinction of any kind such as race, color, sex, language…or any other status." The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights specifically emphasizes in Article 3 the obligation of States Parties to “ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights.”  Gender equality is similarly echoed as a legal obligation in Article 3 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

In 1979, the UN General Assembly adopted CEDAW, the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the first legally binding document to comprehensively address women's rights within political, cultural, economic, social and family spheres. CEDAW obliges States Parties to take all appropriate measures, including temporary special measures, to achieve gender equality, as well as to ensure that governments afford the implementation of this right legally and practically. With more than 185 ratifying states, CEDAW is frequently referred to as the “women’s bill of rights.”

The United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 led to a broad consensus on the need to strengthen efforts to promote gender equality and protect women’s rights. The Conference culminated in the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which re-affirmed women’s rights in all spheres of public and private life and introduced mechanisms and practical measures to protect and fulfil these rights. The Platform for Action calls upon Governments, the international community, civil society, and private businesses, to take strategic action against

- the persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women;
- inequalities and inadequacies in and unequal access to education and training;
- inequalities and inadequacies in and unequal access to health care and related services;
- violence against women;
- the effects of armed or other kinds of conflict on women, including those living under foreign occupation;
- inequality in economic structures and policies, in all forms of productive activities and in access to resources;
- inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and decision-making at all levels;
- insufficient mechanisms at all levels to promote the advancement of women;
- lack of respect for and inadequate promotion and protection of the human rights of women;
- stereotyping of women and inequality in women's access to and participation in all communication systems, especially in the media;
- gender inequalities in the management of natural resources and in the safeguarding of the environment; and
- persistent discrimination against and violation of the rights of the girl child.

Following this “conference of commitments” UN Member States strengthened the demands of the Platform in subsequent review events, namely the Beijing+5 Review in 2000, the 10-year Review in 2005, and the 15-year Review in 2010. The main achievements of these events are the introduction of gender mainstreaming1  and support for the development of national mechanisms to promote the advancement of gender equality.

In 1999, States Parties adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It gives individuals and groups of women the right to lodge a complaint (in writing), otherwise known as a “communication,” to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women regarding violations of the Convention (communications procedure). It furthermore enables the Committee to conduct inquiries into grave or systematic abuses of women's human rights in countries that are States Parties to the Optional Protocol (inquiry procedure).

The implementation of the CEDAW Convention is monitored by the CEDAW Committee, which is composed of 23 independent experts nominated by their Governments and elected by the States Parties. At least every four years, each State Party is obliged to submit a national report to the Committee, indicating the status of implementation of the provisions of the Convention. National and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are invited to provide country-specific information on States Parties that are due to report (often referred to as “Shadow Reports”), and in this way serve an important monitoring function. During its sessions, the Committee considers each State Party report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State Party in the form of Concluding Observations. In addition, Article 21 of the Convention allows the CEDAW Committee to issue General Recommendations on issues that call for more attention and strengthened efforts by States Parties. 

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is a commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), serving as the main policy-making body on issues related to gender equality and the advancement of women. The Commission invites representatives of Member States annually to gather at the United Nations in New York in order to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and women's empowerment worldwide.

In the framework of the UN reform in 2010, the UN General Assembly created UN Women as the main UN entity to promote and safeguard gender equality and the empowerment of women. UN Women brings together resources and mandates from various parts of the UN system, notably the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI) and the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). The main tasks of UN Women are:

- to support inter-governmental bodies, such as the Commission on the Status of Women, in their formulation of policies, global standards and norms;
- to help Member States to implement these standards, standing ready to provide suitable technical and financial support to those countries that request it and to forge effective partnerships with civil society; and
- to enable member states to hold the UN system accountable for its own commitments on gender equality, including regular monitoring of system-wide progress.

In addition, other United Nations entities have incorporated gender awareness and gender mainstreaming within their own areas of expertise and mandates, whether it is the WHO, UNDP, UNICEF or UNESCO. From these entities, policies are derived and implemented nationally as well as regionally and further developed through the work of NGOs.

The UN Security Council has adopted several resolutions on women, peace and security that serve as a framework for addressing women’s role in peace-making, peace-keeping and peace-building, and for improving the situation of women in conflict-stricken countries and regions. Furthermore, the resolutions emphasize the role of women in security sector institutions, at all levels, as well as the importance of all security sector actors to be able to address women’s issues while servicing their communities:

-           UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security (2000),
-           UN Security Council Resolution 1820, 1888, 1889, and 1960.

Finally, all UN Member States adopted the Millennium Development Goals that provide a basic roadmap for development. All eight Millennium Development Goals touch essential aspects of women’s welfare and, in turn, it is recognized that women’s empowerment is crucial for achieving all goals, from preventing the spread of HIV to sustaining the environment in the face of climate change.

 

1 The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) defines gender mainstreaming as a process by which to “assess the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies and programs in all areas and at all levels. Gender mainstreaming is a strategy to make women's as well as men's concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programs in all political, economic and societal spheres.”



Uploaded in December 2011.


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