Gender equality

Crosscutting Themes / Gender equality /

Gender equality

Women working on elections in Afghanistan.

The United Nations has the responsibility to ensure that all its actions promote and protect gender equality and women’s empowerment. UN efforts to help establish the rule of law for all on the basis of equality are essential to this end. Advancing gender equality and empowering women are widely recognized as ends in themselves as well as means to achieve the UN goals of sustainable peace and security, human rights protection, and sustainable economic and social development.

Gender-based discrimination permeates all cultures, and is often manifested in the laws, policies, and practices of institutions. For example, in many countries women are not afforded the same inheritance rights and property rights as men, nor are they allowed to testify in court. Even where constitutional guarantees provide for equality and laws protect women’s rights, discriminatory practices by law enforcement and security services, courts, lawyers and social services can serve as major obstacles to women’s security and access to justice. Customary and traditional norms and practices, including informal justice mechanisms, may perpetuate gross violations of the rights of women and girls.

Such de facto and de jure inequality is exacerbated by conflict and crisis. Women and girls constitute the majority of refugees and displaced persons, and are increasingly targeted by combatants. Sexual violence and other grave violations of women’s dignity inflict severe suffering on victims. Discrimination in laws and institutions with respect to employment, property and inheritance rights, reproductive health, and marriage and family matters heighten women’s vulnerability both in conflict and post conflict. Yet, conflict and crisis involve transformations in gender relations. Peace processes and the post-conflict environment can thus provide a unique opportunity for progress on gender equality.

The UN rule of law approach seeks to realize international human rights norms and standards related to gender, in particular the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  CEDAW provides a definition of discrimination that emphasizes de facto improvements in women's lives, and requires States to "embody the principle of the equality of women and men in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation." Legal reform must involve not only removal of discriminatory provisions from existing laws, but also the drafting of new laws needed to support measures to achieve gender equality. Effective implementation of laws requires training and awareness-raising of those responsible to enforce and uphold the rule of law, and the provision of the necessary financial and human resources.

Relevant norms and standards include implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325, which requires that peace agreements include measures that ensure the protection of and respect for human rights of women and girls, particularly as they relate to the constitution, the electoral system, the police and the judiciary, and resolutions 1820 and 1888 which stress the importance of ending impunity for sexual violence during and after conflicts, and strengthening the capacities of national institutions, in particular judicial systems to this end.

Mainstreaming gender equality and women’s empowerment considerations in UN rule of law activities involves constitutional and legal reform, supporting women’s voices and concerns in the development of priorities, strategies and plans, empowering women to participate as actors in the institutions and processes that make law, and enforce and uphold the rule of law, and ensuring substantive efforts address women’s needs, and further de facto their security and protection of their rights.

While all UN entities are responsible for integrating gender equality in their activities, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) has been created to consolidate the important work of four previously distinct parts of the UN system: United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM); the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues (OSAGI); the Division of the Advancement of Women (DAW) in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA); and the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW). Inter-agency mechanisms such as the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality (IANWGE) and UN Action on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict are also playing key roles in enhancing women’s equality and empowerment.