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close this bookWomen's Rights are Human Rights - A review of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR, 2000, 36 p.)
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This special edition highlights the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the efforts of the international human rights system to mainstream gender and the human rights of women. It outlines recent developments as well as the challenges ahead.

Over the last decade, the concept of gender1 has increasingly informed policy programming and treaty interpretation both within and outside the United Nations system. Much of the impetus came from the consensus on the need to redress gender inequality that was reached at the United Nations' global conferences of the 1990s. But the global conferences were only one step in a long process of considering the concept of gender within the UN system.

The principle of the equal rights of women and men was recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, and is contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all subsequent major international human rights instruments. Confirmation of the principle of equality in these instruments was an important step in the recognition of the rights of women. Yet traditional exclusion of women from the public domain has persisted in many countries - relegating women to the private domain.

ECOSOC Agreed Conclusions on Gender Mainstreaming

Gender mainstreaming has been defined by the United Nations as the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies and programmes, in any area and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women's as well as men's concerns and experiences an integral dimension in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes, in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality (ECOSOC Agreed Conclusions 1997/2, UN document A/52/3, Chapter IV, par 4).

The need for women's participation in all spheres of society - in both the public and the private domains - and the recognition of inequality and discrimination in the private domain, led to the creation of specific standards for the protection of women's rights. In 1979, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW establishes women's right to non-discrimination on the basis of sex, and affirms equality in international law. It provides that women and men are entitled to the equal enjoyment and exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms in civil, cultural, economic, political and social fields.

The 1993 Vienna Conference on Human Rights, the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development and the 1995 Beijing Women's World Conference, recognized the need to build on these principles to assert women's rights. These global conferences promoted the review of policies and programmes from the perspective of their impact on women and men -in other words, a re-evaluation of policies and programmes from a gender perspective.

The incorporation of a gender perspective in the work of the United Nations is fundamental to the process of mainstreaming gender. Mainstreaming gender is an acknowledgement of the different ways in which gender roles and gender relations shape women's and men's access to rights, resources and opportunities, within and between cultures, and at different stages in their life cycles.

Its aim is to achieve the advancement of women through correcting disparities in different policy sectors and ensuring their enjoyment of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.

Since 1997, mainstreaming a gender perspective into policies and programmes has become an objective of the United Nations system. The Agreed Conclusions at the 1997 Economic and Social Council Meeting (ECOSOC) outlined the basic components of this process. Specifically, the Secretary General called on the heads of all UN funds and agencies to:

· formulate specific strategies for ensuring that gender issues are brought into the mainstream of organizational activities

· systematically use gender analysis of information2 disaggregated by sex and age

· carry out sector-specific gender surveys and gender-sensitive studies on particular issues in preparation of reports and operational activities

· prepare medium-term plans and programme budgets in such a manner that a gender perspective is apparent.

In the human rights system, gender mainstreaming is achieved through an assessment of the enjoyment of human rights by women as well as men within the frame of objectives of agreed norms and the human rights monitoring of treaty bodies.

In practice, this requires the collection of data that assesses the implementation of human rights norms and identifies the obstacles that each gender experiences compared to the other in achieving the full realization of their rights. Gender mainstreaming also requires action to identify areas where gender constitutes a risk factor for a violation or abuse of human rights. An example of this is gender-based violence.

On a wider scale, mainstreaming gender in the human rights system requires the system to revisit not only institutional practices but also cultural views and beliefs.

This special edition provides a framework for gender mainstreaming through the ECOSOC Agreed Conclusions on gender mainstreaming, the resolutions from the Commission on Human Rights on integrating the human rights of women throughout the United Nations and the OHCHR's policy statement on gender main-streaming and human rights of women. It begins by presenting OHCHR's anti-trafficking programme, a discussion on women's economic, social and cultural rights and on traditional practices affecting the health of women and the girl-child, and an article on reproductive rights and its legal human rights foundations.

The edition also includes information on the work of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, a joint statement on the Optional Protocol to CEDAW issued by the OHCHR and the Division for the Advancement of Women on Human Rights Day to honour the signing of the Optional Protocol. It is followed by a note on the Human Rights Committee's new General Comment concerning gender equality and the text of the Protocol on the human rights of women recently adopted by the African Commission on Human Rights and People's Rights. The edition concludes with four case studies from the field.

Ana Angarita

Commission Resolutions on Integrating the human rights of women throughout the United Nations system

The need to incorporate the gender dimension into United Nations human rights activities has also been recognized by other key bodies within the United Nations system, most importantly, the Commission on Human Rights in resolutions 1993/46, 1994/45. 1995/86, 1999/41 and 2000/61.

At its fifty-fifth session, the Commission requested all human rights treaty bodies, special procedures, as well as the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights to adopt a systematic gender perspective when implementing their mandates (Commission resolution 1999/41, para 13). The Commission has also stressed the need for gender mainstreaming with respect to the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (Commission resolution 1999/41).

The goal of gender mainstreaming is to achieve gender equality. The Commission emphasized the need for further activities in the United Nations system to strengthen expertise on issues relating to the equal status and human rights of women through the provision of training on the human rights of women and the inclusion of gender impact analysis concerning all United Nations personnel and officials at Headquarters and in the field (see Commission resolution 1999/41).

Notes

1 The distinction between the terms sex and gender is widely accepted. The term gender refers to how women and men are perceived and expected to think and act in a particular socio-economic, political and cultural context. Gender can be affected by other factors, such as age, race, class, or ethnicity. It is therefore, a socially defined or constructed expectation regarding roles, attitudes and values which communities and societies ascribe as appropriate for one sex or the other, in the “public” and in the “private” domain. The term sex, on the other hand, refers to the biological differences between women and men. Thus, gender differences exist because of the way society is organized, not because of biological differences

2 A gender analysis refers to the systematic assessment of roles, responsibilities, and opportunities of women and men to anticipate the differential impact of policies and interventions on both women and men.