Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

OLA has been at the forefront of gender equality and has taken initiatives designed to achieve and maintain gender parity in the workplace, enhance awareness of gender equality, and incorporate a gender perspective in all areas of its work.

OLA developed a detailed plan to implement the Secretary-General’s gender parity strategy.  OLA’s plan includes the mandatory inclusion of a gender goal in individual work plans, strict adherence to the UN Secretariat’s zero-tolerance policy for acts of harassment, discrimination or abuses of authority, and the promotion of flexibility, family-friendly policies to provide an enabling work environment, in accordance with  Secretary-General Bulletins, Administrative Instructions and Guidelines.

OLA implements the UN System-wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-SWAP) and UN Women has consistently applauded OLA’s efforts. In 2020, OLA met or exceeded 93% of the performance indicators set by UN Women, while the Secretariat met or exceeded 71% of these same requirements, and the UN system met or exceeded 68% of them.

OLA strives to ensure not only an enabling environment but one that promotes gender mainstreaming in the implementation of its various mandates. For example, OLA’s Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea has since 2019 included a gender perspective into World Ocean Day. The 2019 event entitled Gender and the Ocean included a number of insightful discussions and panels that addressed the many different and complex aspects of gender and oceans. Further, OLA’s International Trade Law Division serviced and assisted UNCITRAL Working Group I (Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) and Working Group III (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) regarding their discussions regarding gender-related matters. Notably, Working Group III noted the lack of diversity among arbitrators and decision-makers in Investor-State Dispute Settlement and seeks to reform this imbalance. 

OLA uses gender-sensitive language in the drafting of documents, including correspondence, Secretary-General and Working Group reports, session documents, briefing notes, statements, press releases and when supporting the development of new policies. For example, in the context of the Meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Rules of Procedures were revised to ensure their gender inclusiveness upon the proposal of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea. Further, the General Legal Division and the Office of the Legal Counsel strive to ensure the use of gender-neutral language in the various agreements and reports they review.

With respect to its capacity-building programmes in international law, OLA explicitly encourages female candidates to apply and strives to ensure the gender parity of participants. For example, for the training programmes organized by the Codification Division under the Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law, gender parity of fellows is ensured, and to the extent possible, that of lecturers. Further, the capacity-building programmes conducted by OLA include a gender perspective. For instance, under the United Nations Nippon Foundation Fellowship Programme, DOALOS conducted a number of gender-specific events for fellows and alumni, such as the side event “Unlocking the Potential of an Inclusive Economy: The Gender and Capacity Imperatives” during the 2018 Conference “Blue Economy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, and an online event in July 2020, "Gender mainstreaming in ocean affairs”.

In fulfilling his responsibilities for the achievement of gender parity in OLA, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel is assisted by the OLA Gender Focal Point (GFP) and the Deputy GFP. Alternate GFP’s have also been designated to support the heads of divisions/sections of OLA.

Finally, with a view to leading by example, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel is an International Gender Champion. As such, he supports the IGC Panel Parity Pledge and the IGC Gender-based Violence Pledge. He has also made the following two pledges:

(1) to commit that the workplans of staff in the professional category include a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) goal related to contributing to the promotion and integration of gender equality; and

(2) to explicitly encourage female nominations for capacity-building programmes and strive to ensure gender parity of participants.