Welcome to the United Nations. It's your world.

United Nations Human Rights Day 2009

Discrimination against women

Discrimination against women

Gender equality is essential for the achievement of human rights for all. Yet laws which discriminate against women persist in every corner of the globe. Many such laws effectively relegate women and girls to second-class status with regard to nationality and citizenship, health, education, marital rights, employment rights, parental rights, inheritance and property rights. 

In some countries women, unlike men, cannot dress as they like, drive, work at night, inherit property or give evidence in Court. The vast majority of existing discriminatory laws relate to family life, including limiting a woman’s right to marry (or the right not to marry in cases of early forced marriages), as well as the right to divorce and remarry.

Violence against women in all cultures prevails on an unimaginable scale and often women’s access to justice is hampered by obstacles such as discriminatory laws, societal attitudes and prejudice.

International human rights law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and includes guarantees for men and women to enjoy their rights equally. Article 15 (1) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women explicitly provides that States that have ratified the Convention shall accord to women equality with men and article 2 commits States that have ratified the Convention “to take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women.” 

Thirty years since the Convention’s entry into force, the recognition and enjoyment of equal rights with men still remains elusive for large numbers of women around the world. CEDAW has been ratified by 186 States yet has the record number of reservations to core articles such as articles 2 and 6 which impact upon young girls and women’s personal and family life. 

For more information and to see what the UN is doing to combat discrimination against women, click here.