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Submitting information to the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice


The Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice welcomes any information in relation to its mandate. Such information should be submitted by email at: wgdiscriminationwomen@ohchr.org or urgent-action@ohchr.org
or by mail at: Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice
c/o OHCHR-UNOG
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais Wilson
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 917 90 06

In the framework of its mandate, the Working Group receives information related to cases or situations of alleged discrimination against women in law and in practice.
The Working Group engages in communications with Governments and other actors on issues falling within its mandate.  To the limit of its available resources, it invites comments on allegations, seeking clarification on steps being taken by the authorities to redress the alleged discrimination in accordance with the State’s international legal obligations.  

Communications of the Working Group deal with allegations relating to laws, policies or practices that discriminate against women in general, as well as with allegations in relation to cases involving an individual woman or a particular group of women.  

The dialogue established with Governments through communications does not constitute a statement of facts on the part of the Working Group; it rather aims to encourage the Government concerned to investigate the situation and take all necessary steps to immediately redress any existing case of discrimination and  prevent any future recurrence of the discrimination against women in law or in practice.

The framework of discrimination

  • Definition of discrimination

The definition of discrimination against women used by the Working Group is taken from article 1 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which provides that "discrimination against women shall mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” The Working Group also refers to General Recommendation 28 of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women on the core obligations of States parties under article 2 of CEDAW, General Comment 20 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on non-discrimination in economic, social and cultural rights, and General Comment 28 of the Human Rights Committee on the equality of rights between men and women. The Working Group also refers to General Recommendation 25 of the CEDAW Committee on temporary special measures which are provided for by article 4 of the Convention in order to achieve women’s equal opportunity and treatment.

  • Direct and indirect discrimination

The definition of discrimination against women is broad and not only covers the direct types of discrimination no matter whether intended or not, but also other forms, which result from laws, policies and/or practices that are formally gender neutral but that, in practice, have a disproportionately negative impact on women (indirect discrimination).

  • De jure and de facto discrimination

Discrimination can be de jure when the text of a law or policy contains discriminatory provisions or de facto when the law or policy is not discriminatory in itself but its implementation and enforcement have a negative impact on women. De facto discrimination can also result from broader practices, as for example, culture, traditions, and stereotyping which deny women full equality and enjoyment of rights. Longstanding historical and structural inequalities, in many cases faced by for example minority groups, can also contribute to de facto discrimination.

  • Formal and substantive equality

The Working Group recalls that CEDAW requires States to achieve not only purely formal or de jure equality, that is equality between women and men in and before the law with respect to formal opportunities and treatment, but also de facto or substantive equality, whereby women enjoy equality with men in practice. The concept of substantive equality arose out of the recognition that formal equality may not be sufficient to ensure that women enjoy the same rights as men.

  • Intersectional/ multiple forms of discrimination

Human rights treaties prohibit discrimination on a number of grounds including sex, race, and national or social origin. Notwithstanding, women are often discriminated against not only because of their sex and gender relations, but also because of their race or status in society or other defining characteristics. Intersectional/multiple forms of discrimination thus arise from a combination of discriminatory treatments based on various grounds which produce compounded discrimination. It takes into account historical, social and political contexts and thus recognises the unique experience of women who have been targets of discrimination on more than one ground. Women living in poverty, migrant women and non-citizens, women with disabilities, rural and indigenous women, minority women, including LBT women, older women, girls, women in conflict and post-conflict situations, including women victims of gross human rights violations, refugee women, internally displaced and stateless women and women human rights defenders are often victims of intersectional/multiple forms of discrimination

  • Systemic discrimination

The Working Group recognizes discrimination against some groups that is pervasive and persistent and deeply entrenched in social behaviour and organisation, often involving unchallenged or indirect discrimination. Such systemic discrimination can be understood, according to CESCR’s General Comment 20, as legal rules, policies, practices or predominant cultural attitudes in either the public or private sector which create relative disadvantages for some groups, and privileges for other groups.

Other relevant issues

  • Temporary Special Measures

The Working Group recognizes the need for temporary special measures where necessary to accelerate de facto equality in accordance with CEDAW General Recommendation 25 on temporary special measures.

  • Violence against women

The Working Group regards violence against women as a cross-cutting issue and notes that CEDAW in its General Recommendation 19 on violence against women has held that “gender-based violence is a form of discrimination that seriously inhibits women's ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men” and the Convention’s definition of discrimination “includes gender-based violence, that is, violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately.” It might therefore send communications jointly with the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and other relevant mandates who receive information and send communications on alleged cases of violence against women (see http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/Complaints.aspx).

Guidelines for submitting allegations of discrimination against women in law and in practice to the Working Group

For cases involving individuals or groups of individuals:

The information should include, where applicable:

  • Who is the alleged victim(s) (individual(s), community, group, etc.);
  • Who is the alleged perpetrator(s) of the violation; please provide substantiated information on all the actors involved, including non-state actors if relevant;
  • Identification of the person(s) or organization(s) submitting the communication (this information will be kept confidential); as a general rule, the identity of the source of information on the alleged violation is always kept confidential. When submitting information, please indicate which if any of the submitted information you would like to remain confidential;
  • Where, what and how the alleged discrimination took place (date, place and detailed description of the circumstances); the information submitted can refer to violations that are said to have already occurred, that are ongoing or about to occur. Information should include the legal remedies, if any, taken at the national level or regional level, and any other relevant information on the various aspects of the case

For cases involving laws, policies and practices discriminating against women: The information should include, where applicable:

  • Summary of a draft law, law, a policy or a practice;

With regard to draft or existing legislation which allegedly discriminates against women, please list the problematic provisions in a clear manner. If possible, please provide a copy of the legislative text in the original language as well as in English, French or Spanish (if not the original language).

  • Description of the effects of its implementation on women’s human rights;
  • Concrete examples of discrimination against women, where available.

The information should be submitted by any person or group of persons claiming to be the victim of discriminatory laws or practices or having reliable knowledge of discriminatory laws and/or practices. The Working Group is open to receiving communications under any format. However communications should describe the facts related to the draft law or law and policies, as well as on the discriminatory incidents and the relevant details referred to above clearly and concisely. As a general rule, communications that contain abusive language or that are obviously politically motivated will not be considered.

Submitting the Information — contact information

Anyone who wishes to submit information to the Working Group may do so in one of the following ways:

Email (preferred method):
wgdiscriminationwomen@ohchr.org or urgent-action@ohchr.org
the Subject Line of the email should refer to the mandate of the Working Group on discrimination against women

Mail:
Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice
c/o OHCHR-UNOG
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais Wilson
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Fax:
+41 22 917 90 06

Follow-up

Communications sent by the Working Group to Governments remain initially confidential until when these and the answers from Governments are included in the Communications Report of Special Procedures submitted three times a year to the Human Rights Council. It is important for the Working Group to receive updated and relevant information on the situations referred to in the complaints submitted to enable it to continue to follow-up on the issue through its dialogue with the involved Parties. Person(s) or organization(s) that have submitted information and complaints are urged to examine the response made by the Government and to submit their comments, if necessary, to the Working Group.

Also note that several other individual complaint mechanisms have been established as part of the international human rights system. For more information please visit the Special Procedures page and the Human Rights Bodies-Complaints Procedures page, in particular the page providing information on how to use the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.