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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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View the documentIntegrating the Gender Perspective into the Work of the United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies
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Integrating the Gender Perspective into the Work of the United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies

At the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 the international community urged treaty monitoring bodies to include the status of women and the human rights of women in their deliberations and findings, making use of gender-specific data. The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing reiterated the importance of the work of the human rights treaty bodies and their role in the achievement of gender equality and refined the conclusions of the Vienna Conference with regard to these bodies. The Platform for Action adopted at Beijing stated, “If the goal of full realization of human rights for all is to be achieved, international human rights instruments must be applied in such a way as to take more clearly into consideration the systemic and systematic nature of discrimination against women that gender analysis has clearly indicated”. It also called on human rights treaty bodies to ensure “the implementation of the recommendations of the World Conference on Human Rights for the full integration and mainstreaming of the human rights of women”.

In September 1997, the eighth meeting of the chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies invited the Division for the Advancement of Women to prepare a background paper analysing the measures that had been and should be taken by the treaty bodies in response to the recommendations of these Conferences to integrate a gender perspective into their work.

The review was based on analysis of the consideration of States parties' reports submitted to these bodies during the period 1993-1998. No attempt was made to consider the work of the treaty bodies under the various communications procedures, but progress in integrating gender issues into the special procedures of individual treaty bodies, such as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination's early “warning procedure” or the Committee against Torture's inquiry procedure was assessed. The interaction of these treaty bodies with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was reviewed in the paper, and suggestions were made for additional action to ensure further integration of a gender perspective into the work of all the treaty bodies.

Overall, the review indicated that significant progress had been made by each of the five treaty bodies in the integration of gender into their work. Despite the progress in mainstreaming gender revealed in the review of the work of these five treaty bodies in the five years since the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the review also indicated that more remains to be done. Certainly, these bodies had tried to take account of the situation of women within the framework of guarantees of equality and non-discrimination in the enjoyment of human rights. They have also focused on situations that are specific to women, in particular their vulnerability to gender-based violence.

The principle recommendation is that treaty bodies should consider making explicit commitments to integrating a gender perspective into their work and should continue to discuss the relevance of gender in international human rights law and take systematic steps to integrate gender perspectives in their work.

It is encouraging to see that as the special session on Beijing plus five approaches, three of the treaty bodies have adopted general comments or recommendations on gender concerns. The Human Rights Committe's general comment 28 on equality of rights between women and men updates its earlier general comment on that topic adopted in 1981, and the CERD's general recommendation on the gender-related dimensions of racial discrimination respond to a number of the recommendations made in the study and represent further progress in the commitment to gender mainstreaming by all parts of the United Nations system. Last year, CEDAW addressed women's access to health services in its General Recommendation 24 on the right to health.

Jane Connors*

* Chief, Women's Rights Unit. Division for the Advancement of Women.