Beijing+5: 23rd special session of the General Assembly

Fact Sheet No. 9

Human Rights of Women

The Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, reaffirmed that the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by women and girls was a priority for governments and the United Nations, and essential for the advancement of women. It stressed that governments must not only refrain from violating the human rights of women but must work actively to promote and protect these rights.

The Platform for Action, adopted by the Beijing Conference, identified the lack of respect for the human rights of women as one of the 12 areas of concern requiring government and international action. The Platform called for the full implementation of all human rights instruments, especially the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It also stressed the importance of ensuring equality and non-discrimination, under law and in practice, and the achievement of legal literacy.

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women has been instrumental in bringing to light all the areas in which women are denied equality with men. During its forty-second session in 1998, the Commission proposed further action by states, the international community and civil society to promote the human rights of women.

International Legal Instruments

The Platform for Action highlights the central role of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in the advancement of women and the achievement of gender equality. The Convention establishes not only an international bill of rights for women, but also an agenda for action by governments to guarantee the enjoyment of those rights.

The Convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1979 and entered into force as an international treaty on 3 September 1981. The Platform for Action envisaged universal ratification of the Convention by the year 2000.

  • As of 1 November 1999, the number of states parties to the Convention had grown to 165, with New Zealand's ratification also incorporating the Cook Islands and Niue. Most have accepted their obligations unconditionally, although several have entered substantive reservations, some based on religious law and cultural traditions.
  • The Optional Protocol to the Convention was opened for signature on Human Rights Day, 10 December 1999. Upon its entry into force three months after the receipt of the tenth instrument of ratification or accession, the Optional Protocol will put the Convention on an equal footing with other international human rights instruments having individual complaints procedures. It will enable women victims of sex discrimination to submit complaints to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the treaty body established under the Convention.

International Human Rights Machinery and Mechanisms

The Platform for Action emphasizes the important role of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The Committee reviews the reports of States parties on the implementation of the Convention. Other human rights treaty bodies also increasingly recognize human rights situations that are specific to women.

  • Since 1995, the Committee has considered 57 reports of States parties. As of 1 August 1999, there were 252 overdue reports to the Committee.
  • The United Nations Commission on Human Rights now includes in its agenda a regular item on the integration of the human rights of women and the gender perspective, while at the same time emphasizing the need to mainstream a gender perspective under all items on its agenda.
  • Many governments actively promote the human rights of women in international fora and cooperate with special rapporteurs of the Commission on Human Rights. The countries which the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women visited in 1999 include Cuba, Indonesia and East Timor, and the United States.

Ensuring Equality and

In all regions, progress has been made in strengthening the legal framework for equality, and in ensuring adherence to legislation. Mechanisms to remedy violations of rights have become better established, with courts in a growing number of countries actively fostering compliance with women's human rights. Governments have also recognized the need to complement legislation with other measures, including social reform, to ensure de facto realization of the human rights of women.

  • Eritrea, Ethiopia, Morocco and Poland have strengthened provisions in their Constitutions guaranteeing equality between women and men and the protection of women's human rights.
  • In Oman, the political rights of women were enhanced when they were granted the right to vote in 1997.
  • Monaco and the Republic of Korea are among the countries that have eliminated provisions in their nationality laws that discriminated against women.
  • Brunei Darussalam, with the introduction of a new Islamic Family Law, is among the countries that have revised civil and family codes. In many countries, the revisions reflect the equal sharing of communal property between spouses, equality between women and men in marriage and divorce law, and standardization of inheritance.
  • Mongolia, Nepal and Tanzania have replaced discriminatory legislation or introduced new legislation with regard to inheritance, property, land and other ownership rights.
  • Several African countries, including Ghana and Senegal, have introduced legislation criminalizing harmful traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation.
  • Turkey is one of several countries that have made changes in their penal codes eliminating the differential treatment of men and women with respect to adultery, as well as for the murder of a spouse.
  • Canada has made the criminal justice system more accessible to vulnerable groups, including aboriginal women and women with disabilities.
  • Iran and Nepal have made progress in establishing special family courts, and women's offices in the judiciary.
  • The Mexican National Commission on Human Rights undertook a study comparing federal and state standards relating to women and children with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Based on the findings, recommendations were made for legislative reform in several areas.
  • In the Russian Federation, the State Duma adopted guidelines on legislative action to ensure equal rights and equal opportunities for women and men.

Achieving Legal Literacy

Steps have been taken to promote legal literacy by publicizing and disseminating information on laws relating to the equal status and human rights of all women.

  • Albania, Burkina Faso, Chile, Ecuador and Senegal are among the governments that have launched legal education programmes, with a focus on the human rights of women. These include the training of judges and law enforcement officials.
  • The Mexican National Commission for Women issued a handbook entitled "How to legislate from a gender perspective" and used it in information workshops for legislators.
  • In many countries that have carried out awareness raising and sensitization efforts on the human rights of women, national machineries have been instrumental in the systematic dissemination of information to women about their rights. International treaties and domestic codes have been translated into local languages and widely disseminated.
  • A number of governments have supported the creation of chapters dedicated to women's rights within non-governmental organizations.

This fact sheet is based on "Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action: Report of the Secretary-General" (E/CN.6/2000/PC/2).

Published by the United Nations Department of Public Information
DPI/2035/I—May 2000