The establishment of the Working Group by the Human Rights Council at its 15th session in September 2010 was a milestone on the long road towards women’s equality with men. Over the years, many constitutional and legal reforms to integrate women’s human rights fully into domestic law have occurred, but there remains insufficient progress. Discrimination against women persists in both public and private spheres in times of conflict and in peace. It transcends national, cultural and religious boundaries and is often fuelled by patriarchal stereotyping and power imbalances which are mirrored in laws, policies and practice.
The Working Group focus is to identify, promote and exchange views, in consultation with States and other actors, on good practices related to the elimination of laws that discriminate against women. The Group is also tasked with developing a dialogue with States and other actors on laws that have a discriminatory impact where women are concerned. It is also mandated to prepare a compendium of best practices related to the elimination of laws that discriminate against women or are discriminatory to women in terms of implementation or impact as well as to undertake a study on the way and means it can cooperate with States to fulfill their commitments in that regard.
The five member of the working group were appointed by the Human Right Council in March 2011 and assumed their functions on 1st May 2011.
Overview of the mandate
At its fifteenth session, the Human Rights Council adopted by consensus resolution 15/23 to establish, for a period of three years, a working group of five independent experts, of balanced geographical representation, on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.
As it is stated in this resolution, the main tasks which define the mandate are:
- To develop a dialogue with States, the relevant United Nations entities, national human rights institutions, experts on different legal systems, and civil society organizations to identify, promote and exchange views on best practices related to the elimination of laws that discriminate against women or are discriminatory to women in terms of implementation or impact and, in that regard, to prepare a compendium of best practices;
- To undertake a study, in cooperation with and reflecting the views of States and relevant United Nations entities, national human rights institutions and civil society organizations, on the ways and means in which the working group can cooperate with States to fulfil their commitments to eliminate discrimination against women in law and in practice;
- To make recommendations on the improvement of legislation and the implementation of the law, to contribute to the realization of the Millennium Development Goals, in particular goal 3 on the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women;
- To work in close coordination, in the context of the fulfilment of its mandate, with other special procedures and subsidiary organs of the Council, relevant United Nations entities, including the Commission on the Status of Women and UN Women and, in particular, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and other treaty bodies, within their respective mandates, with a view to avoiding unnecessary duplication;
- To take into account the views of other stakeholders, including relevant regional human rights mechanisms, national human rights institutions and civil society organizations;
- To submit an annual report to the Council, starting at its twentieth session, on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, and on good practices in eliminating such discrimination, drawing upon the findings of the United Nations human rights machinery and the broader United Nations system;
At its twenty-third session, the Human Rights Council adopted by consensus resolution 23/7 extending the mandate of the Working Group for a period of three years on the same terms as provided for by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 15/23. Among other priorities, the new resolution:
- Calls upon all States to cooperate with and assist the Working Group in its task, to supply all necessary available information requested by it and to give serious consideration to responding favourably to its requests to visit their country to enable it to fulfil its mandate effectively;
- Calls upon States and urges institutions of global governance, including the United Nations, to promote women’s equal access to decision-making positions and processes, and encourages them to appoint and promote women staff members in order to guarantee women’s equal participation;
- Invites relevant United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, treaty bodies and civil society actors, including non-governmental organizations, as well as the private sector, to cooperate fully with the Working Group in the fulfilment of its mandate, and requests the Working Group to continue its cooperation with the Commission on the Status of Women;
- Requests the Working Group to continue to work on its thematic priorities, namely, political and public life, economic and social life, family and cultural life, and health and safety, and to dedicate specific attention to good practices that have contributed to mobilizing society as a whole, including men and boys, in the elimination of discrimination against women;
- Requests the Working Group, in the discharge of its mandate, to offer support to States’ initiatives to address multiple forms of discrimination against women and girls when implementing their obligations as State parties to relevant international human rights treaties with regard to civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, and related commitments, where applicable;
The third and the fourth thematic reports, focusing on women’s family and cultural life and health and safety, will be submitted to the 29th and 32nd sessions of the Human Rights Council in June 2015 and June 2016, respectively.