• Bhavana Poosarla

10 International Agreements Which Tackle Gender Inequality

Amidst pressing issues such as climate change, poverty, and food security, achieving gender equality is a ‘nice-to-have’ for many – a feel-good factor. However, gender equality is vital for social and economic development. Gender equality is not just about getting more women into leadership, boardrooms, and workforce – though it is indeed an important focus area. It is about bringing a meaningful change in the social norms, stereotypes, and gender-relationships, which constrain women and girls from fully participating as equal partners in productive and reproductive life.

As the decision-making bodies entrusted by the public, governments have the responsibility to lay the framework for achieving gender equality and women empowerment. Over the past few decades, many governments across the globe have implemented landmark gender-progressive legislations. Without collaboration and shared communication, many such measures would’ve had taken a long time to come into effect – further prolonging the 99.5 years needed to achieve gender parity.

In my first blog on Gender Equality, I outline ten such global efforts which have led governments to introspect and refine their stance on gender equality and women’s empowerment. The upcoming blogs will look at the public sector’s work on mitigating underlying causes of gender inequality, why it is not working, and how the private sector can step in and help fill the gap. 

1) 1975 Declaration of Mexico

United Nations termed the year 1975 as the 'International Women’s Year', and the decade of 1976-1985 as the ‘UN Decade for Women’. On March 8, 1975, the UN started celebrating the International Women’s Day and invited its member states to participate. In June, delegates from 133 UN member states attended the first UN Conference on Women in Mexico. The conference resulted in two key outcomes: the 'World Plan of Action' and the '1975 Declaration of Mexico on the Equality of Women and Their Contribution to Development and Peace'. These were the first steps to integrate gender equality, peace and development into national strategies and priorities.

2) 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Discrimination against Women

Termed as an international bill of rights for women, CEDAW touched upon many aspects of discrimination against women such as sex stereotypes, sex trafficking, and economic and social rights. 189 (of 193) UN member states ratified the treaty and implemented laws using the CEDAW principles (ex. Norway’s Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act 1981).

3) 1994 Belém do Pará Convention

This Inter-American convention is the world’s first legally binding international treaty focusing exclusively on the prevention, punishment, and eradication of violence against women. 32 (of 35) member states of the Organisation of American States (OAS) ratified. These states introduced or reinforced legislative frameworks to provide more comprehensive and gender-responsive legal and welfare services to survivors of domestic violence, rape (including marital rape), sexual harassment as well as other forms of violence, such as femicide (ex. Mexico’s Law on Access of Women to a Life Free of Violence 2007).

4) 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA)

At the Fourth UN World Conference on Women, 189 UN member states adopted the BPfA. BPfA emphasised the practice of ‘gender mainstreaming’, i.e., to consider gender in policies, strategies, and programmes. The platform is, however, not legally binding. BPfA identified twelve areas which required urgent action: poverty, education & training, health, violence, armed conflict, economy, power & decision-making, institutional mechanisms, human rights, media, girl child rights, and environment.

5) 2000 Maternity Protection Convention

International Labour Organisation’s convention No.183 provided legislative guidelines for ‘the promotion of health and safety of the mother and child’, especially in areas of pregnancy protection, maternity leave, and return to employment post-pregnancy. 32 (of 187) ILO member states ratified the Convention and used it as a benchmark for maternity leave laws (ex. Austria’s Maternity Protection Act and Paternity Leave Act).

6) 2003 Maputo Protocol

49 of the 54 member countries in the African Union signed the 'Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa'. Similar to the BPfA, the Maputo Protocol urged signatories to incorporate a gender perspective in policy decisions, legislation, development plans, programmes, and in all other aspects. If implemented by all the member countries, Africa would become the first continent to guarantee the right to legal abortion. The Protocol also aimed to end the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). As of 2018, 40 nations of the African Union ratified the legally binding protocol (ex. Nigeria banned FGM in 2015 through its Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act).

Following the developments of the Protocol, 54 African Heads of State and Government adopted a 50-year blueprint in 2013 to ‘transform Africa into the global powerhouse of the future’ and work towards gender equality and women empowerment in all spheres of life.

7) 2014 Istanbul Convention

The 'Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic violence' is the first pan-European legally binding instrument dedicated to ending violence against women. It draws from the CEDAW framework and states that ‘only real gender equality and a change in attitudes can truly prevent violence against women’. 46 countries and the European Union signed the Convention. As of 2019, 34 countries had ratified it. The Convention builds on CEDAW and further elaborates on the distinction between violence against women, domestic violence, and gender-based violence against women.

8) 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals

197 countries took part in formulating 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the SDG 2030 Agenda in 2015. The signatories acknowledged the importance of SDG 5 Gender Equality in fulfilling targets relating to other SDGs such as climate action, zero hunger, good health & well-being, and more. SDG 5 outlines targets and indicators related to focus areas such as discrimination, gender balance in leadership, gender-based violence, unpaid care and domestic work, access to sexual and reproductive health rights, harmful practices, equal rights, and use of enabling technology.

9) 2019 Beijing +25 Regional Review of Asia-Pacific Countries

At the Asia-Pacific regional review of the 1995 Beijing declaration, 45 countries adopted the 'Asia-Pacific Declaration on Advancing Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment'. The Declaration addresses several issues deterring gender equality such as climate change, natural disaster risks, online harassment, and violence and extremism against females.

10) 2019 G7 Declaration on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment

In 2019, G7 countries, together with Chile, Australia, India, Senegal and Rwanda, committed to the 'Biarritz Partnership for Gender Equality'. The Gender Equality Advisory Council provided the following recommendations for the partnership: end or amend discriminatory laws, implement progressive legislative frameworks, guarantee necessary financing, measure and report on progress through timebound, agreed indicators.

Advocacy groups and women’s rights activists have been instrumental in propelling these discussions forward – be it the WiLDAF (Womankind partner Women in Law and Development in Africa) in case of Maputo Protocol, or Comisión Interamericana de Mujeres (Inter-American Commission of Women) in case of Belém do Pará Convention.

While such discussions have brought about critical forward strides, are they enough? The disconnect between the formal policies and the ground reality is palpable, and proper implementation remains a challenge. However, these international agreements have helped bring a global consensus on several aspects of gender equality, and have set the tone for effective change through collaboration.

“Achieving gender equality requires the engagement of women and men, girls and boys. It is everyone’s responsibility.”
- Ban Ki Moon

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