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Gender stereotypes/stereotyping

The international human rights law framework is concerned with gender stereotypes and stereotyping that affects recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms.

A gender stereotype is a generalised view or preconception about attributes or characteristics that are or ought to be possessed by, or the roles that are or should be performed by women and men. A gender stereotype is harmful when it limits women’s and men’s capacity to develop their personal abilities, pursue their professional careers and make choices about their lives and life plans. Harmful stereotypes can be both hostile/negative (e.g., women are irrational) or seemingly benign (e.g., women are nurturing). It is for example based on the stereotype that women are more nurturing that child rearing responsibilities oftenfall exclusively on them.

Gender stereotyping refers to the practice of ascribing to an individual woman or man specific attributes, characteristics, or roles by reason only of her or his membership in the social group of women or men. Gender stereotyping is wrongful when it results in a violation or violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. An example of this, is the failure to criminalize marital rape based on societal perception of women as the sexual property of men.

Compounded gender stereotypes can have a disproportionate negative impact on certain groups of women, such women in custody and conflict with the law, women from minority or indigenous groups, women with disabilities, women from lower caste groups or with lower economic status, migrant women, etc. 

International human rights law places a legal obligation on States to eliminate discrimination against women and men in all areas of their lives. This obligation requires States to take measures to address gender stereotypes both in public and private life as well as to refrain from stereotyping. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) provides in its article 5 that, “State Parties shall take all appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customs and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.” Other human rights treaties also require States Parties to address harmful stereotypes and the practice of stereotyping. For example, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) also contains in article 8(1)(b) obligates States to stereotypes and stereotyping, including compounded stereotypes and stereotyping based on gender and disability.