UN Mechanisms for Protecting Women’s Human Rights
In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. UN Women is an amalgamation of four previously distinct parts of the UN system which focused exclusively on gender equality and women’s empowerment. They were:
- Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW)
- International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW)
- Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI)
- United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)).
The main role of UN Women is:
- to support inter-governmental bodies, such as the Commission on the Status of Women, in their formulation of policies, global standards and norms ,
- to help countries to implement these standards, to provide suitable technical and financial support to those countries that request it and to forge effective partnerships with civil society,
- to hold the UN system accountable for its own commitments on gender equality, including regular monitoring of system-wide progress.
The UN Women Executive Board is made up of representatives from 41 countries around the world who serve on a rotating basis. The 41 board members are selected on the following basis: 10 from Africa, 10 from Asia, 4 from Eastern Europe, 6 from Latin America and the Caribbean, 5 from Western Europe and 6 from financially contributing countries.
The current Under-Secretary-General for UN Women is Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
UN Women Australia (formerly UNIFEM Australia) is the National Committee for UN Women in Australia. It is an independent NGO that advances UN Women’s mission of fostering women’s rights and gender equality. It is one of 18 National Committees worldwide.
The Beijing Declaration and the Beijing Platform for Action, agreed to at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, form a global agenda for women's empowerment. The Declaration and the Platform for Action are the international community’s most comprehensive policy document for the empowerment of women and gender equality. The Beijing Platform for Action and CEDAW operate together to achieve equality and eliminate discrimination against women.
The Beijing Platform for Action includes 12 critical areas of concern and sets a number of strategic objectives to address these concerns. These objectives include legislation, policy and programme measures to be taken by Governments and others to promote gender equality.
The 12 areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action are:
- Women and Poverty
- Education and Training of Women
- Women and Health
- Violence against Women
- Women and Armed Conflict
- Women and the Economy
- Women in Power and Decision-making
- Institutional Mechanism for the Advancement of Women
- Human Rights of Women
- Women and the Media
- Women and the Environment
- The Girl-child
The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is an intergovernmental body that forms part of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). CSW consists of 45 members elected for a period of four years by the ECOSOC. Members are nominated by their respective national governments and are elected on the basis of equitable geographical distribution as follows: 13 from African states; 11 from Asian states; 4 from Eastern European states; 9 from Latin American and Caribbean states; and 8 from Western European and Other states.
CSW Annual Sessions
Every year, representatives of member states gather at UN Headquarters in New York to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and the advancement of women worldwide.
At each of these meetings, the member states of CSW develop agreed conclusions about the priority theme set for that year. The agreed conclusions contain an analysis of the priority theme of concern and a set of concrete recommendations for governments, intergovernmental bodies, NGOs and other relevant bodies.
At the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, from 13-24 March 2017, the focus was women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work. The emerging theme was the empowerment of indigenous women. The Agreed Conclusions can be found here.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins attended as a member of the Australian Government Delegation from 13-17 March 2017. Commissioner Jenkins advocated for increasing women’s economic participation, including through: equal pay; reducing gender segregated industries and workplaces; recognising and valuing unpaid work; improving data collection and working alongside men to achieve gender equality.
The Commissioner also continued the advocacy for independent participant status for National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) at CSW. Since 2008, the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of NHRIs has been pursuing independent participation rights for ‘A-status’ NHRIs at the CSW. In 2015 the General Assembly adopted a Resolution on national human rights institutions (A/RES/70/163), which encourages the Commission on the Status of Women to ‘further enhance the participation of national human rights institutions compliant with the Paris Principles [in the Commission] and to allow for their contribution to these United Nations mechanisms and processes’. Building on this, the Commissioner, along with other NHRIs and the ICC and Asia Pacific Forum, held a Side Event, co-hosted by the Permanent Missions of Afghanistan, Australia, Chile, Costa Rica, Germany, Morocco, New Zealand, Qatar and the UK on ‘The role of NHRIs in enhancing women’s economic participation in the changing world of work’.
The Agreed Conclusions referenced the contribution of NHRIs in promoting the economic empowerment of women and their full and productive employment and decent work (paragraph 13) and continued consideration of how to enhance participation rights of A Status NHRIs at CSW (paragraph 43).
At the sixtieth session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, from 14-24 March 2016, the focus of the session was women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development. The Agreed Conclusions can be found at: http://www2.unwomen.org/~/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/csw/6… .
A representative from the Australian Human Rights Commission attended CSW 60 from 13 -18 March 2014, as a member of the Australian Government delegation. The Commission advocated for women’s economic empowerment and leadership, in particular for recognising and valuing unpaid caring work, addressing discrimination related to pregnancy and return to work after parental leave, addressing violence against women, including domestic and family violence as a workplace issue and issues of trafficking and slavery.
The Commission also continued the advocacy for independent participant status for NHRIs at CSW. Since 2008, the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of NHRIs has been pursuing independent participation rights for ‘A-status’ NHRIs at the CSW. In 2015 the General Assembly adopted a Resolution on national human rights institutions (A/RES/70/163), which encourages the Commission on the Status of Women to ‘further enhance the participation of national human rights institutions compliant with the Paris Principles [in the Commission] and to allow for their contribution to these United Nations mechanisms and processes’. Building on this the Commission, along with other NHRIs and the ICC and Asia Pacific Forum, held a Side Event, co-hosted by the Governments of Australia, Chile, Germany and Morocco. The presentations from NHRIs focused on the practical contributions NHRIs make at the international and national level on advancing the rights of women and girls.
The Agreed Conclusions referenced NHRIs and further recalled General Assembly resolution A/RES/70/163 and encouraged ‘the Secretariat to consider how to enhance the participation, including at the 61st Session of the Commission, of national human rights institutions fully compliant with the Paris Principles, where they exist, in compliance with the ECOSOC rules of procedure’ (para 29). See APF-ICC Advocacy at the 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
Copies of the Commission’s briefings are available here.
At the fifty-eighth session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, on 10-21 March 2014, the focus of the session was Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. The agreed conclusions can be found at: http://www.unwomen.org/en/csw/csw58-2014/session-outcomes. A copy of the Australian Government’s Country Statement presented at CSW 58 is available at: https://australia-unsc.gov.au/2014/03/australian-national-statement-to-the-commission-on-the-status-of-women/. The Ministerial Statement on CSW 58 delivered in the Australian Parliament on 24 March 2014 is available at: http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;db=CHAMB…
Commissioner Broderick attended CSW 58 from 9 -14 March 2014, as a member of the Australian Government delegation. She advocated for increasing women’s economic security for women, particularly in relation to women’s unpaid caring work. She also continued the advocacy for independent participant status for NHRIs at CSW. During CSW 58, Commissioner Broderick presented at two Government Side Events:
• World Bank/ Australian Government/ Australian human Rights Commission Side Event: Women’s economic security and unpaid care work (11 March 2014)
• UN Women/UN Global Compact/ Australian Government Side Event: Women Empowerment Principles – Equality Means Business: A Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Implications for the Post-2-15 Development Agenda (11 March 2014);
She also spoke at 3 non-government parallel events, hosted by Australian NGOs including, Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA) and the Equality Rights Alliance:
• Equality Rights Alliance parallel event: The role of gendered data in successful policy implementation (10 March 2014);
• AWAVA parallel event: Disability and Inclusion: Key issues for women and girls with disabilities in Australia (12 March 2014);
• AWAVA parallel event: Post 2015 Millennium Development Goals & Violence Against Women: Challenges for the Asia Pacific Region (12 March 2014).
Copies of the Commissioner’s speeches are available here
At the fifty-seventh session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, on 4-15 March 2013, the focus of the session was elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. The agreed conclusions can be found at: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/57sess.htm. A copy of the Australian Government’s Country Statement presented at CSW 57 is also available at: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/57sess.htm.
Commissioner Broderick attended CSW 57 from 3-10 March 2013, as a member of the Australian Government delegation. She advocated for the prevention and elimination of violence against women. She also continued the advocacy for independent participant status for NHRIs at CSW. During CSW 57, Commissioner Broderick presented at the 5th Annual Women’s Empowerment Principles Event: Inclusion: Strategy for Change, organised UN Global Compact Office and UN Women. She also presented at two Government Side Events:
- ILO/Australian Government Side Event on the Impact of domestic violence in the workplace
- Australia, Mexico and Solomon Islands Government Side Event on Engaging men and boys to prevent violence against women and girls.
She also spoke at 4 non-government parallel events, hosted by Australian and International NGOs including, Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA), YWCA Australia, economic Security4Women, UN Women Australia, and International Federation of Business and Professional Women.
Commissioner Broderick travelled with Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO, Chief of Army, Australian Defence Force and together they presented at UN Women’s 2013 International Women’s Day Panel: Implicit stereotypes, explicit solutions: overcoming gender-based discrimination in the workplace and a UN Women Australia parallel event on Engaging Men in Building Gender Equality and Ending Violence against Women.
Copies of the Commissioner’s speeches are available here.
The speech presented by Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO, Chief of Army, Australian Defence Force at the UN Women’s International Day Panel, 8 March 2013, is available here: http://www.army.gov.au/Our-work/Speeches-and-transcripts/United-Nations-International-Womens-Day-Conference.
For information on Past CSW Sessions click here.
The CSW can also receive confidential and non-confidential ‘communications’ about violations of human rights that affect the status of women from individuals and NGOs. The CSW considers such communications to identify trends and patterns in discrimination against women and to inform its policy development on gender equality. This procedure is not intended to assist with individual cases or deal with urgent situations where individuals are suffering continued violations. For more information about how to lodge a complaint under the CSW click here.
The Universal Periodic Review is undertaken by the United Nations Human Rights Council. It involves review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. Australia appeared before the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 27 January 2011.
The Australian Human Rights Commission made a submission for Australia’s first UPR review, which also addressed women’s human rights in Australia. The UPR Working Group made 145 recommendations to Australia, the majority of which were accepted by the Australian Government. The Australian Human Rights Commission publishes annual reports tracking Australia’s progress against the recommendations. For more information on Australia’s review under the UPR click here.
In April 2012, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women undertook a study tour in Australia that was co-hosted by the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Australian Government (Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA)). Following consultations across Australia, the Australian Human Rights Commission produced a report summarising the tour and its findings.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children conducted a formal mission to Australia from 17 to 29 November 2011. In preparation for the mission, the Australian Human Rights Commission made a submission to the Special Rapporteur. The Special Rapporteur made several recommendations in her report on the mission. The Australian Government commented on the report, and the Australian Human Rights Commission also made a public statement on the report.
At the Millennium Summit in September 2000, 189 nations agreed on a vision for the future in the United Nations Millennium Declaration. The Millennium Declaration and the eight Millennium Development Goals for 2015 are concerned with combating poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy and gender inequality, and building partnerships for development. Poverty disproportionately affects women, with women accounting for a vast percentage of the world’s absolute poor.
Each Millennium Development Goal is directly related to women's rights. Societies where women are not afforded equal rights with men can never sustainably achieve development. The third Millennium Development Goal is to ‘Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women’. The goal is to be achieved through the elimination of gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015.
 The resolution on the ‘Situation of and assistance to Palestinian women’ was passed by a recorded vote of 29 in favour to 2 against (Israel, United States), with 10 governments abstaining from the vote (Belgium, Colombia, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden).
 End Poverty 2015 Millennium Campaign, Women and the Millennium Development Goals, http://www.endpoverty2015.org/women, (viewed 20 December 2010).
 UNDP, Millennium Development Goals, http://www.undp.org/mdg/goal3.shtml (Viewed 20 December 2010).
 End Poverty 2015 Millennium Campaign, Goal#3: Gender Equality: Did you Know?, http://www.endpoverty2015.org/goals/gender-equity (viewed 20 December 2010).