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Report on reasserting equality, countering rollbacks

Working Group on discrimination against women and girls

Published: 14 May 2018
Author: 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)
Presented: To the Human Rights Council’s 38th session in June 2018
Link to report: A/HRC/38/46 available in all 6 official UN languages


In the first six years of the mandate, the Working Group documented the gains made over decades of global advocacy. It drew attention to the remaining gaps and the obstacles to achieve gender equality, particularly due to the rise of movements opposing the universality of women’s rights, contributing to fragmenting and weakening the human rights system. This calls for all actors to unite in an effort to protect, promote and fulfil women’s rights, while fighting against retrogressions.

Yet, rising authoritarianism in political governance, economic crises, rocketing inequality, and politicization of traditionalist religions pose considerable challenges to the human rights system. The corrosion of women’s human rights is a litmus test for the human rights standards of all of society.


While highlighting the successes, limitations and main challenges faced in the struggle for women’s rights and empowerment, the Working Group reasserts women’s fundamental right to substantive equality and calls for concerted efforts to counter rollbacks and the increasing attacks against the universality of women’s human rights. It examines opportunities to strengthen the international women’s human rights machinery, focusing particularly on its role in forging strategic partnerships and alliances and creating enabling environments to advance women’s human rights. In the report, it also encapsulates its work and some of its impact, while setting the vision for the mandate in the coming years.

The road to gender equality remains long and challenging. Women are scarcely represented in national and global political and economic decision-making bodies. Women are too often overrepresented in vulnerable employment, and paid less than men, impeding their economic independence. They face pervasive violence, lack control over their bodies, and lack autonomy. Women are too often seen as sexualized objects. In all spheres of life, power and entitlement are still concentrated in the hands of men. Women facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination experience inequality even more acutely.

The continuing existence of direct and indirect discrimination, both visible and invisible, is the reason women lag behind in nearly all human progress indicators. During the first six years of the mandate, the experts identified the fact that, of the many obstacles to gender equality that women face throughout their lives, the areas of family, culture and sexual and reproductive rights remain the most significant challenges—and are those in which there has been a backlash against gains in women’s equality.


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:

  • Setting and implementing standards on gender equality to counter the alarming trends towards undermining human rights principles and jeopardizing the gains made in women’s rights
  • Recognizing the interdependence of equality in all fields of women’s life is key to achieving full and lasting equality. Isolated or sectoral measures focused on the least controversial fields are inappropriate to address root causes of persistent discrimination.
  • Improving the coherence of international mechanisms aimed at eliminating discrimination against women, strengthening global leadership and partnerships
  • Making every effort to block any position in international human rights spaces that endorses patriarchal and discriminatory norms, or that misuses culture, religion and State sovereignty as fallacious justifications
  • Applying existing human rights obligations of Member States, making sure that there is both awareness of and accountability for elimination of discrimination against women and empowerment of women within this framework


To inform its thematic report, the Working Group circulated a questionnaire on lessons learned, challenges and opportunities. The Working Group received responses from different stakeholders, including Members States, civil society organizations and other actors. Inputs received were not made public to preserve the confidentiality of the submissions.

Questionnaire (English | Français | Español)