About the Mandate of the working group on discrimination against women and girls

The establishment of the Working Group by the Human Rights Council in 2010 was a milestone on the long road towards women’s equality with men.

There have been many legal and policy reforms to integrate women’s human rights fully into domestic law over the years.

Yet progress remains insufficient.

Discrimination against women persists in both public and private spheres—in times of conflict and in peace. It transcends national, cultural and religious boundaries. It is often fuelled by patriarchal stereotyping and power imbalances which are mirrored in laws, policies and practice.

The mandate was renewed by consensus at the Council’s twenty-third session, in resolution 23/7, and then renewed for a further three years, again by consensus, during the Council’s thirty-second session, in June 2016, through resolution 32/4.

In June 2019 the mandate was again renewed through resolution 41/6, and the name of the group became Working Group on discrimination against women and girls.

Watch the video: Meet the Working Group (January 2018)

Conceptual Framework

The Working Group, in establishing its conceptual framework and working methods, stresses that the elimination of discrimination against women in law and in practice requires a comprehensive and coherent human rights-based approach. This approach ensures that women are at the centre of efforts to hold States accountable for implementing international standards guaranteeing civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights (see A/HRC/20/28).

The Working Group addresses the elimination of discrimination against women in law and in practice in all fields from the perspective of States’ obligations to respect, protect and fulfil women’s human rights. It emphasizes that national, regional and international human rights mechanisms, as well as grass-roots activists, play critical roles in ensuring the full enjoyment by women of their human rights.

For legal guarantees to benefit all women, implementation frameworks and strategies must be responsive to the intersections of gender-based discrimination with other grounds of discrimination. Indeed, the work of the Working Group covers all women, acknowledging that women are not a uniform group. All women, in their diversity and many different circumstances, are affected differently by discriminatory laws and practices. Nevertheless, there are shared aspects of discrimination against women that persist in all cultures, although with differing levels of intensity and differing impacts.

Furthermore, there has been a need to constantly reiterate, even within the human rights system, that women are not just another vulnerable group, as they are often treated by some. They are half of the world population and often the majority of each of the vulnerable groups, hence eliminating the persistent discrimination and backlashes against women’s rights should be addressed both as a stand-alone goal and as a mainstreaming issue.

Working Methods and Structure

The Working Group carries out its mandate in accordance with the resolutions of the Human Rights Council and in a spirit of constructive dialogue with Member States, civil society stakeholders, UN entities, as well as national, regional and international human rights mechanisms.

The Working Group makes full use of a common set of tools available to special procedures mandates, namely, communications, thematic reports, and country visits.

It holds an interactive dialogue at the Human Rights Council during the June session on its thematic and country visits reports. It reports orally to the General Assembly in October/November and participates in the Commission on the Status of Women in March each year.

Furthermore, the WG undertakes other initiatives including public statements, amicus briefs, position papers, participation in events, and contributions to the work of others in the UN human rights machinery or UN entities.

The Working Group consists of five experts, working collectively as a group and producing work in the name of the mandate. The chairpersonship of the Group changes annually, with the handover occurring at the beginning of June each year.

Sessions

The Working Group meets in sessions three times a year, twice in Geneva and once in New York, usually in May, October and January respectively. When feasible, the Working Group holds one of the three annual sessions elsewhere, as in October 2019 when it held a session for the first time in the African region in Addis Ababa.

Currently, the sessions planned for 2021 are as follows:
25-29 January in Geneva
24-28 May in New York
11-15 October in Geneva

The sessions provide an important opportunity for the experts of the Working Group to come together in person for internal planning and strategizing on the implement of the mandate. The holding of the sessions also presents a useful convening capacity for the Working Group to reach out to a range of stakeholders including Member States, women human rights defenders, other special procedures mandates, human rights treaty bodies, OHCHR staff, UN agencies and programmes, regional human rights mechanisms, other international organizations, and women’s rights experts.

The Working Group consults with these actors on its thematic priorities and seeks cooperation and synergy.

The Working Group reports on the sessions held in its annual reports to the Human Rights Council along with other activities undertaken during the reporting period.