United Nations

The United Nations Role in Promoting Gender Equality

By Shadan Kapri 


From the beginning of time, the role of women in society has remained integral to the survival of mankind.  As mothers, sisters, wives, and caretakers, women have left an indelible mark on generations of life.  Their significance in everyday events are indisputable, yet, their status as members of society remains unequal in many sectors of the world today.

History has often hidden women behind a veil of secrecy and oppression.  This oppression still exists in various methods and cultural practices today.  From honor killings to arranged marriages to human trafficking, many women still do not have control over the most essential and fundamental areas of their life.[1] 

To help combat this problem, the United Nations has passed numerous declarations, mandates, projects, and initiatives over the past thirty-six years to help elevate the status of women around the world.[2]  The primary goal has remained evidently clear.  In order to create a just society, women must hold intrinsic and fundamental rights equal to that of men all over the world, not only in industrialized nations.[3] 

This explores the various United Nations efforts aimed at promoting gender equality in the international community.  It also examines how these U.N. mechanisms are virtually ignored in certain areas of the world.  It further explores the status of women in the midst of U.N. initiatives and provides examples on their struggles around the world. 

History of the United Nations Role and Instrumentations

Enacted to Promote Gender Equality

The Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women – A Starting Point

The Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1967 was the first instrument created by the U.N. to specifically address the issue of women’s rights.[4]  It was an expansive and groundbreaking charter that called for equal rights for women in all spheres of life.[5]  These included but were not limited to cultural, social, economic, and political freedom.[6]  It equated discrimination against women as “an offense against human dignity” and set a powerful precedent for the elevation of human rights worldwide.[7]

To combat gender inequality on a global level, the charter’s eleven articles outlined a progressive view of women’s rights backed by the United Nations and its specialized agencies.[8]  These provisions specifically addressed global issues surrounded women’s issues.[9]  For example, Article 2 called for the global abolition of all customary practices and written laws created to discriminate against women and promote gender disparity.[10]  Article 3 addressed the need to increase public awareness to help eradicate bias and customary practices that oppress females around the world.[11]  Yet, the most elementary and essential provision was outlined in Article 6 of the declaration.[12]  

The General Assembly called upon the international community to ensure equal status for men and women in marriage, property distribution, spousal selection, and divorce proceedings.[13]   It strongly advocated for the eradication of childhood and arranged marriages.[14]  It is widely asserted that these customary practices and beliefs hold women in a perpetual cycle of oppression.[15]

Equal access to education and education opportunities were also outlined in Article 9.[16]  The General Assembly emphasized this area by outlining a specific provision that ensured equality in the choice of curriculum, examinations, equipment, and teaching staff for men and women.[17]   The Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women was the first U.N. declaration that provided a strong international foundation for women’s rights.[18]  

 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

Yet, even with the expansive nature of the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the United Nations understood that more needed to be done.[19]  In 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women was held.[20]  In the charter adopted at this convention, parties voiced their grievous concerns.[21]   Despite the U.N. instruments and efforts put into place, discrimination against women continued on a wide-scale and devastating basis around the world.[22]  As a result, the Convention ratified thirty new articles that more specifically asserted the goals and actions necessary to overcome discrimination against women.[23]

The first article set the foundation by defining the term “discrimination against women as any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effort…of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise of women, irrespective of their marital status, on a bias of equality of men and women…”[24]

Article 2 elevated the level of action needed to realize equal gender roles.  It called for the embodiment of equality in national constitutions and legislation.[25]  This provision also asserted the need for national tribunals to protect the rights of women and repeal discriminatory penal provisions that perpetuate oppression.[26] 

To stop and prohibit the trafficking of women, Article 6 called for appropriate legislative action to be implemented on a global level.[27]  It asserted the need of Member Nations to suppress the slavery of women that resulted from global trafficking and exploitation.[28]  Along with basic human rights, Article 7 provided a measure to give women the right to legally vote in all nations along with the opportunity to participate in the governmental policy making.[29] These provisions specifically outlined the general goals proposed in the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in greater detail.[30]

Yet, the most groundbreaking initiative was provided in Article 17.  This provision established the creation of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.[31]  This committee consists of twenty-three experts in the area of women’s rights for the purpose of providing the United Nations and the Secretary General with data concerning the implementation of this document.[32]  This committee would be globally dedicated to advancing women’s rights and providing practical information on its progression.[33]  

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[1] U.N. ESCOR, 58th Sess., at 11, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/2002/83 (2003).

[2] Basic Facts about the United Nations 22 (United Nations Press) (2003).

 [3] Id.

 [4] G.A. Res. 2263, U.N. GAOR, at 1 (1967). 

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] See Id.

[8] Id.

[9] G.A. Res. 2263, U.N. GAOR, at 2 (1967).

[10] Id. 

[11] Id.

[12] Id.  

[13] Id.

[14] G.A. Res. 2263, U.N. GAOR, at 2 (1967).

[15] Id.

[16] Id. at 3.

[17] Id. 

[18] See Id.

[19] G.A. Res 34/180, U.N. GAOR, at 1 (1979).

 [20] Id.

[21] Id.

 [22] Id. 

[23] Id. at 2.

[24] G.A. Res 34/180, U.N. GAOR, at 2 (1979). 

[25] Id. at 3.  

[26] G.A. Res 34/180, U.N. GAOR, at 3 (1979).     

[27] Id.

 [28] Id. at 4.

[29] Id.

[30] See Id.  

[31] Id. at 9.

 [32] Id.

 [33] G.A. Res. 34/180, U.N. GAOR, at 9 (1979).

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