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On The Road to Gender Equality


Timeline of Key International Instruments, Mechanisms and Treaty Bodies


Charter of the United Nations

UN support for the rights of women began with the Organization's founding Charter. In its Preamble, the signatory countries reaffirmed “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small”.


Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)

On 21 June 1946, the Commission on the Status of Women, a functional commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), was created. It is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and the advancement of women. Its mandate is “to ensure women’s equality and to promote women’s rights.” It “prepares recommendations and reports to the Council on promoting women's rights in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields” and focus on “urgent problems requiring immediate attention in the field of women’s rights”.


Universal Declation of Human Rights

In its Preamble, the Declaration is explicit in stating “equal rights of men and women.” Article 2 further asserts that “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.


Convention on the Political Rights of Women

This Convention aims to implement the principle of equal rights for men and women stated in UN Charter. It recognizes the right of women to take part in governments, to vote, to be eligible in all elections and to exercise all public functions on equal terms with men, without any discrimination.


UN General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

Although not legally binding, this text is an important precursor to the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. It states that discrimination against women constitutes an offence to human dignity and, in that sense, encourages States to take measures to abolish all laws and practices which are discriminatory against women in terms of political rights, civil law, education and economic and social life.


This Declaration called on States involved in armed conflict and military operations to make all efforts to spare women and children from the ravages of war. All the necessary steps must be taken to ensure the prohibition of measures such as persecution, torture, punitive measures, degrading treatment and violence, particularly against women and children.


At this meeting, a new era was launched in the global effort to promote women’s equality. Three objectives were identified in relation to equality, peace and development: (1) full gender equality and the elimination of gender discrimination; (2) the integration and full participation of women in development; and (3) an increased contribution by women towards strengthening world peace.


Convention on the Elimination of All Form of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

This Convention defines what constitutes discrimination against women, establishes an agenda for national action to end such discrimination and outlines a set of rights for women. By signing this agreement, States commit themselves to incorporate the principle of gender equality in their legal system, to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination, and to eliminate all discriminatory acts against women.


Second World Conference on Women (Copenhagen, Denmark)

The Second World Conference brought together States to review and appraise the 1975 World Plan of Action. The conference recognized there was a disparity between women's guaranteed rights and their capacity to exercise them. Participants identi¬fied three spheres in which measures were needed: equal access to education; equal access to employment opportunities; and equal access to adequate health care services.


Declaration on the Participation of Women in Promoting International Peace and Cooperation

This declaration recognized the important role played by women in the promotion of international peace and cooperation and in the restructuring of international economic relations. It encouraged States to take appropriate measures to ensure women participation in economic, social, cultural, civil and political affairs, and to provide them practical and equal opportunities to take part in decision-making processes.


Third World Conference on Women (Nairobi, Kenya)

The Third World Conference evaluated progress made during the UN Decade for Women and explored ways for overcoming obstacles in the areas of equality, peace and development. It recognized that gender equality was not an isolated issue but encompassed all areas of human activity. It was necessary for women to participate in all spheres, not only in those relating to gender.


UN ECOSOC Resolution E/RES/1990/15

This resolution arised from the first review of the implementation of the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women. It recommended States, political parties, trade unions and other representative groups to increase the proportion of women in leadership positions and to provide recruitment and training programmes to women, with the aim of attaining equal representation by the year 2000.


International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, Egypt)

The Programme of Action adopted at the conference endorsed a new strategy that focuses on meeting the needs of individual women and men rather than on achieving demographic targets. The key to the new approach is empowering women and providing them with more choices through expanded access to education and health services, skill development and employment, and through their full involvement in policy- and decision-making processes at all levels.


Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, China)

The Conference resulted in the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a document considered to be the most comprehensive agenda for women's empowerment. It contains strategic objectives and actions in 12 critical areas of concern: women and poverty, education and training of women, women and health, violence against women, women and armed conflict, women and the economy, women in power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, human rights of women, women and the media, women and the environment, and the girl-child. Following Beijing, governments committed for the fi¬rst time to the incorporation of a gender perspective in all aspects of public policy formulation and implementation. The Conference also introduced the gender perspective into development programming, with targeted programmes for women’s empowerment and gender mainstreaming.


ECOSOC Agreed Conclusions to Mainstream a Gender Perspective into all Policies and Programmes of the UN System

This document defined the concept of gender mainstreaming as “the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels”, thus establishing some important principles to be respected. Furthermore, it outlined some recommendations to ensure the full integration of the gender perspective in UN activities.


Optional Protocol on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Op-CEDAW)

The Optional Protocol is a subsidiary agreement to CEDAW, which established individual complaint and inquiry mechanisms. The signatory parties are enquired to abolish discriminatory laws in the field of health, employment and education, and to facilitate complaints and investigations led by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.


Millenium Development Goals (MDGs)

The MDGs derive from the UN Millennium Declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly on 8 September 2000. This document recognizes gender equality and empowerment of women as “effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to stimulate development that is truly sustainable”. MDG 3 aims at eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2015. MDG 5 focuses on maternal mortality and, since 2005, on universal access to reproductive health.


World Summit (New York, USA)

The World Summit led to the adoption of additional targets and indicators under the MDGs, including reproductive health and rights and sex-disaggregated data on informal employment. The outcome document was issued as General Assembly resolution /60/1.


System-Wide Policy on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

Adopted by the UN Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), this policy aims to accelerate progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment in all activities of the UN system. Six key elements have been set out: (1) strengthening accountability for gender equality, (2) enhancing results-based management for gender equality, (3) establishing oversight through monitoring, evaluation and reporting, (4) allocating sufficient human and financial resources, (5) developing and/or strengthening staff capacity and competency in gender mainstreaming and (6) ensuring coherence/coordination and knowledge/information management at the global, regional and national levels.


Decision 23/CP.18 on Promoting Gender Balance and Improving the Participation of Women in United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) Negotiations and in the Representation of Parties in Bodies Established Pursuent to the Convention or the Kyoto Protocol

At the Climate Change Conference in Doha, the Conference of the Parties (COP-18) adopted a decision on promoting gender balance and improving the participation of women in UNFCCC negotiations and in the representation of Parties in bodies established pursuant to the Convention or the Kyoto Protocol. Parties to the Convention are encouraged to include more women as candidates for positions within these bodies and to strive for gender balance in the delegations participating in meetings. The decision also provides for review and reporting mechanisms to track progress in meeting the goal of gender balance, and positions the issue of gender and climate change as a standing item on the agenda of the COP sessions.


UN System-Wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (SWAP)

Adopted in April 2012, the SWAP aims to enhance the implementation of the 2006 UN CEB Policy. All UN entities participate in the process which involves self-assessment along 15 performance indicators in six major areas: accountability, results-based management, oversight, human and financial resources, capacity, and knowledge exchange and networking. The reporting framework also includes a timeline for improvement, responsible units, and an estimate of resources needed. Entities are expected to meet all requirements by 2017 (for technical agencies and entities with less than 500 employees, the deadline is 2019).




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