United Nations Inter-agency Committee on Women and Gender Equality
OECD/DAC Working Party on Gender Equality
5 - 7 October 1998 Final Communiqué

The workshop on a rights-based approach to women's empowerment and advancement and gender equality, organized by the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, took place in Rome at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) from 5 to 7 October 1998. It brought together members of the United Nations Inter-agency Committee on Women and Gender Equality and the Working Party on Gender Equality of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development/Development Assistance Committee (OECD/DAC). The workshop sought to review and clarify the rights-based approach to gender equality, and its implications for policy and operations by bilateral and multilateral entities. The workshop contributed to the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The rights to equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex are at the core of human rights. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1979), elaborates women's right to non-discrimination in the "political, economic, social, cultural, civil and any other field". The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993) emphasized the human rights of women. Succeeding global conference documents, culminating in the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), strengthened the emphasis on the human rights of women and girls.

As part of the United Nations reform process, the Secretary-General has called for the integration of human rights into all activities and programmes of the United Nations system, including peace-keeping, peace-building, humanitarian issues, and sustainable development. Respect for human rights is a founding principle of the OECD. The DAC Ministers and heads of agencies for development cooperation recognize the vital connection between individual rights, good governance, and economic efficiency. Both bilateral and multilateral entities have formulated, or are formulating human rights-related policies and are realizing them through their operational activities.

The workshop agreed on the relevance and added value of a rights-based approach to gender equality and development. It also agreed that this approach allows for holistic attention to women's civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. The realization of human rights is at the heart of sustainable people-centred human development. It recalled that all human rights are interdependent and indivisible, and ultimately reflect the dignity of women and men. The participants emphasized that human rights are entitlements and as such, create obligations on States for their fulfilment. This in turn creates national and international accountability. The meeting also stressed the importance of the social responsibility of the corporate sector and the urgent need to develop accountability mechanisms with respect to this sector.

A rights-based approach requires the creation of an enabling environment in which human rights can be enjoyed by all. The workshop recognized that national laws, culture, tradition and religion can contribute positively to the enjoyment of human rights by affirming enabling aspects, removing barriers, and evolving new practices based on the recognition of women's human rights. All actors at the national level play an important role in creating an enabling environment for the promotion and protection of human rights. Development cooperation and humanitarian activities are key to strengthening the capacities of all actors.

The rights-based approach strengthens the rationale for participatory, people-centred sustainable human development and provides additional tools for reaching this goal. It is an approach that is relevant in all countries, cultural contexts and situations. States have an obligation to respect, protect, promote and fulfil women's enjoyment of human rights. In order to be realized fully, each right requires a combination of measures by the State ranging from non-interference with women's enjoyment of their human rights to the introduction of specific positive actions to ensure their fulfilment. Bilateral and multilateral entities should play a strategic role in ensuring that their activities promote women's full enjoyment of all human rights.

Human rights norms and standards embodied in international and regional treaties and instruments provide the framework for the rights-based approach to gender equality. Policies and programmes should include an assessment of their contribution to, and impact on the realization of women's enjoyment of their human rights. However, strategies and measures for implementing this approach may be diverse.

The workshop agreed that further efforts are required to specify the full implications of the rights-based approach to gender equality for policy making and programming.

The workshop adopted the following recommendations:

* Promote knowledge of human rights and concomitant obligations, and the indivisibility of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights;

* Promote the principle of gender equality as central to the realization of human rights;

* Promote an enabling environment in which women and girls can exercise choice;

* Promote the availability of and access to gender-specific information and statistics;

* Provide support for participation and local activism through capacity building and institutional development;

* Strengthen the rights-based approach by increasing contacts between development specialists and human rights specialists, including those of the UN Inter-agency Committee on Women and Gender Equality and of the OECD/DAC Working Party on Gender Equality;

* Increase the use of CEDAW and other human rights instruments, the work of the human rights treaty bodies and of special procedures as guidance for operational activities;

* Strengthen national and international mechanisms for monitoring and accountability;

* Support the incorporation of international human rights standards into national legal systems;

* Share best practices and lessons learned in regard to tools, methodologies and monitoring mechanisms;

* Strengthen coordination among the United Nations system, bilateral entities and other partners, including at the national level.