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Women’s Human Rights and Gender Equality

© UN Photo/Mark Garten

Gender equality is at the very heart of human rights and United Nations values. A fundamental principle of the United Nations Charter adopted by world leaders in 1945 is  "equal rights of men and women", and protecting and promoting women's human rights is the responsibility of all States.

Yet millions of women around the world continue to experience discrimination:

Moreover, some groups of women face compounded forms of discrimination -- due to factors such as their age, ethnicity, disability, or socio-economic status -- in addition to their gender.

Effectively ensuring women’s human rights requires, firstly, a comprehensive understanding of the social structures and power relations that frame not only laws and politics but also the economy, social dynamics and family and community life. 

Harmful gender stereotypes must be dismantled, so that women are no longer viewed in the light of what women "should" do and are instead seen for who they are: unique individuals, with their own needs and desires.



The international framework

Discrimination based on sex is prohibited under almost every human rights treaty - including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which under their common article 3 provide for the rights to equality between men and women in the enjoyment of all rights.

In addition, there are treaties and expert bodies specifically dedicated to the realization of women's human rights:

The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

Considered the international bill of rights for women, the Convention defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets an agenda for national action to end such discrimination. It was adopted by the United Nations in 1979 and came into force on 3 September 1981.

The CEDAW Committee

Oversight of the Convention is the task of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, a group of 23 independent experts on women's rights from different States that have ratified the Convention. Countries that are parties to the Convention must submit reports detailing their compliance with its provisions every four years. The Committee (the treaty body) reviews those reports and may also hear claims of violations and inquire into situations of grave or systemic contraventions of women’s rights.

The Special Rapporteur on violence against women

In 1994 the United Nations resolved to appoint a Special Rapporteur - an independent expert -- on the causes and consequences of violence against women. The Special Rapporteur investigates and monitors violence against women, and recommends and promotes solutions for its elimination.

The Working Group

In 2010 the Human Rights Council established a Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice to promote the elimination of laws that discriminate against women and/or have a discriminatory impact on them.

Feature stories

A man and his child bride posing together for a photograph © Stephanie Sinclair/VIIChild and forced marriage - manifestation of gender discrimination


Somali women during the first ever national campaign against FGM in Mogadishu, 2004 © EPA/STRINGERFaster change needed to eliminate female genital mutilations


Women continue to suffer most from forced sterilization which still occurs in many regions of the world © WHOThe right to choose and refuse sterilization


More stories

Meetings, events and workshops

16 June 2014
High-level panel discussion on the identification of good practices in combating FGM -- 26th session of the Human Rights Council
Concept note: English | Français
Opening remarks by the High Commissioner

17 June 2014
Annual full day discussion on women human rights -- 26th session of the Human Rights Council
Concept note
Panel 1: The Impact of Gender Stereotypes on the Recognition and Enjoyment of Women’s Human Rights
Opening remarks by the High Commissioner
Panel 2: Women’s human rights and the sustainable development agenda
Opening statement by the Deputy High Commissioner

23 June 2014
Panel preventing and eliminating child, early and forced marriage -- 26th session of the Human Rights Council
Geneva -- Palais des Nations, Room XX
Concept note
Opening statement by the Deputy High Commissioner

30 June to 18 July 2014
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
Geneva - Palais des Nations, Room XVI

Studies, reports and papers

Preventing and eliminating child, early and forced marriage

Eliminating forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary sterilization

The guidance note on reparations for victims of conflict-related sexual violence

OHCHR-Commissioned Report: Gender Stereotyping as a Human Rights Violation (2013)

Latest news

Human Rights Council holds panel discussion on preventing and eliminating child, early and forced marriage

Videos

Commemorating the struggle to ensure equal rights for women