Report on discrimination against women in family and cultural life

2 April 2015
Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice (in 2019 the name of this group became the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls)
To the Human Rights Council’s 29th session in June 2015
Link to report:
A/HRC/29/40 available in all 6 official UN languages


The cultural construction of gender is conducive to generalized discrimination against women in all cultures. Discrimination against women and girls cannot, therefore, be considered an essentialist element, present in certain cultures and not in others. Since cultures are neither homogeneous nor unchanging, there are very significant differences between them concerning their stages of development and the extent to which the patriarchy, misogyny and practices that are harmful to women and girls exist within them. Culture, when understood as a macro concept, also includes religion. Religions are often a haven against social and cultural change. In all religions, there are movements that resist any change to the patriarchy and the status of women and girls in the family.


In this report, the Working Group examines discrimination against women and girls in cultural and family life. The cultural construction of gender determines the role of women and girls within the family, including in marriage. After analysing the impact of culture and religion on the enjoyment of equal rights by women and girls in society and the family, the Working Group redefines family by incorporating a gender perspective. In reaffirming equality between the sexes and family diversity, it is necessary to apply the principle of women’s right to equality in all forms of family law, in secular family law systems, State-enforced religious family law systems and plural systems.

Culture and religion are often invoked to justify discrimination and violent practices against women and girls. Women have often been viewed as objects rather than as equal participants with men in the creation and manifestation of cultural principles. Indeed, when culture and religion are invoked to justify different forms of discrimination against women, women are seen not as victims or survivors of such discrimination, but as persons who “violate” cultural rules and norms. The cultural construction of gender makes women’s subjection to gender-based discrimination and violence appear to be inherent and immutable. The patriarchal family is the product of this construction and the most important social mechanism for its perpetuation. Women and girls’ human potential is restricted in families. The recognition that women’s rights are human rights and that they are universal and indivisible has laid bare the adverse impact of this gender construction on women and girls in families and communities.


The report contains a number of recommendations to support States in developing and implementing comprehensive measures that are aimed at legal, institutional, social and cultural transformation, such as:

  • Establishing a national legal framework recognizing gender equality in cultural and family life, in accordance with regional and international standards;
  • Develop national strategies to eradicate cultural practices that discriminate against women and girls, as well as gender stereotypes
  • Develop effective mechanisms to combat the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination suffered by all marginalized women
  • Reject any cultural or religious practice that violates human rights and the principle of equality or prevents the establishment of an egalitarian society free of gender-based discrimination
  • Recognize and protect, in their constitutions and laws, all forms of family, and affirm and protect women and girls’ right to equality in family diversity
  • Prohibit and punish domestic violence, including incest and marital rape


In order to prepare this thematic report, the Working Group received several responses from Members States and stakeholders to its questionnaire on “Non-discrimination and equality in family and cultural life” as well as diverse contributions on issues related to the theme, submitted by different stakeholders.

Questionnaire (English | Français | Español)

Inputs received

Member States

Other stakeholders

Written submissions