​​​​​Women’s Human Rights and Gender Equality

© OHCHR photo 

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. The High Commissioner for Human Rights recently pledged to be a Geneva Gender Champion committing to advance gender equality in OHCHR and in international fora.

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

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Meetings, events and workshops

21 June 2017
"Midwives: Making a difference through supporting women's and girls’ rights.” Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Keynote Speech, 31st International Confederation of Midwives Triennial Congress

13 June 2017
Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women (2017), Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights opening statements
Panel 1: Accelerating efforts to eliminate violence against women: engaging men and boys
Panel 2: Women's rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:  health and gender equality

13 June 2017
Side event on "Women’s health as key to empowerment and full realization of rights" Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights opening statement

16 May 2017
Expert Workshop on the best practises to promote women’s equal nationality rights in law and in practice  

Past meetings, events and workshops


NEW! Call for submissions - Follow-up report on the application of the technical guidance on the application of a HRBA to reduce preventable maternal mortality and morbidity

OHCHR on-line course Gender Equality, Human Rights and Me

Joint United Nations statement on ending discrimination in health care settings

First OHCHR self-learning virtual course on the Latin American Model Protocol for the investigation of gender-related killings of women (femicide/feminicide)

Tool for the integration of a gender perspective in SGBV-related judgments (Spanish only)

International Women's Day event on invisible gender bias

Infographics on Violence against Women and Education

Honouring Women Human Rights Defenders

Studies, reports and papers

Reflection Guide for the Judiciary on Applying a Rights-Based Approach to Sexual, Reproductive, Maternal Health and Under-5 Child Health (2017)  

Report on the realization of the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl (A/HRC/35/11)

Report on the impact of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence in the context of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance on the full enjoyment of all human rights by women and girls (A/HRC/35/10)

Report on ways to bridge the gender digital divide from a human rights perspective (A/HRC/35/9)

Developments in Laws since the Maputo Protocol (2017)

All documentation

Latest news

More press releases and statements

Archived news
(over 3 years old)


CEDAW General Recommendation No. 35 on gender-based violence against women: Why is it important? Messages from around the world

Short version
Long version

OHCHR International Women's day Video