Position Paper on the creation of a new UN mechanism on laws that discriminate against women

Press release
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FIDH, representing 164 organizations defending human rights, present in over 100 countries, calls for the creation by the Human Rights Council of a new mechanism to address laws that discriminate against women. Convinced that strengthening respect for women’s human rights requires the establishment of a non-discriminatory legal framework, FIDH believes that such a mechanism would help states to honour their international commitments to promote equality between women and men.

From commitment to implementation ...

Today, 186 states (approximately 97% of all UN member states) have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), thereby committing themselves to repeal all discriminatory laws. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Conference, at which the vast majority of the world’s states reaffirmed the urgent need to eliminate discriminatory laws against women. In 2000, during the session of the UN General Assembly on the implementation of the Beijing commitments (Beijing +5), States fixed a deadline: all discriminatory laws should be reformed by 2005.

Yet, in 2010, in every continent, women’s equality with men before the law remains far from a reality and many discriminatory laws remain in force, preventing women and girls from fully exercising their fundamental rights.

Persistence of discriminatory laws

Women’s inequality before the law impedes their access to education, health, work, financial services, decision-making processes and access to to justice. Discriminatory laws are obstacles to women’s participation in the economy and public and political life, to land ownership and justice. Moreover, these inequalities make women more vulnerable to violence. Yet, women’s full participation, on an equal footing with men, in all areas of life, is essential not only to respect women’s rights but for the economic and social development of all states.

While some states have initiated legislative reforms in order to allow women to fully enjoy their rights, progress remains slow and inadequate. Many states maintain reservations to CEDAW. It is therefore urgent to intensify efforts.

Why is it necessary to create a new mechanism?

In this context, FIDH considers that the establishment of a mechanism specifically focusing on laws that discriminate against women is a fundamental step towards ensuring respect for gender equality.

Specific expertise, global analysis: Despite the existence of several UN mechanisms aimed at ensuring respect for the human rights of women (such as CEDAW, the Commission on the Status of Women, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Universal Periodic Review, as well as other treaty bodies, etc.) , the expertise and analysis of such mechanisms are limited because they typically look at the situation in each state separately.

• Technical assistance: A specialized mechanism would provide states with the necessary assistance and technical support to implement reforms. Benefiting from a comprehensive analysis of discriminatory laws and reforms achieved, the mechanism could facilitate the sharing of experiences between countries and thus contribute more effectively to overcoming persistent barriers.

Permanent dialogue: A new mechanism, with specific resources, could establish a constructive and continuous dialogue with States, overcoming the limits of existing mechanisms that result from the constraints imposed by their agendas and limited resources.

Systematic Focus: Attention given by existing mechanisms to discriminatory laws is not systematic and remains insufficient. A new mechanism would be complementary to existing mechanisms, drawing on the work of the latter, while ensuring a systematic focus on this issue.

FIDH considers that such a mechanism is needed to overcome persistent obstacles to the achievement of equality of women and men in law. FIDH calls upon states to support the creation of this mechanism, as well as to undertake all necessary reforms to eliminate discriminatory laws against women.

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