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Gender Equality

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Definition & Legal Instruments

Definition

The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), often described as an international bill of rights for women, reaffirms the principle of equality between women and men. CEDAW defines what constitutes discrimination against women in various areas and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.

The right to be free from discrimination, including on the basis of sex, is also firmly secured in other international human rights instruments, including UDHRICCPR and ICESCR. In addition, a number of UN instruments tackle specific aspects related to gender equality, including:

The elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation is one of the ILO’s five fundamental rights and principles at work which Member States have to promote regardless of whether they have ratified the respective conventions. Two ILO conventions address the issue of discrimination:

Other relevant ILO instruments on gender equality include the following:

While most States have ratified ILO conventions No.111 and No.100, their implementation in national laws and enforcement of such laws vary greatly. In practice, the provision of legal protection against discrimination in respect of employment and occupation is not consistent across countries.

The Istanbul Convention (2011), a Council of Europe treaty, establishes state responsibility to prevent all forms of violence against women, protect those who experience it and prosecute perpetrators. The convention has been ratified by 34 Member States of the Council of Europe, who must adopt measures to fulfil their commitment to end violence against women and domestic violence. Countries outside the Council of Europe have expressed interest in signing, which is a possibility under the convention.

In November 2022, the EU adopted Directive 2022/2381, a new law on gender balance on corporate boards, establishing new targets for listed companies to have 40% women among non-executive directors or 33% among directors.

Legal Instruments

The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), often described as an international bill of rights for women, reaffirms the principle of equality between women and men. CEDAW defines what constitutes discrimination against women in various areas and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.

The right to be free from discrimination, including on the basis of sex, is also firmly secured in other international human rights instruments, including UDHR, ICCPR and ICESCR. In addition, a number of UN instruments tackle specific aspects related to gender equality, including:

Two ILO conventions address the issue of discrimination:

Other relevant ILO instruments on gender equality include the following:

While most States have ratified ILO conventions No.111 and No.100, their implementation in national laws and enforcement of such laws vary greatly. In practice, the provision of legal protection against discrimination in respect of employment and occupation is not consistent across countries.

ILO Violence and Harassment Convention No. 190 is the first international treaty to recognize the right of everyone to a workplace free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment. The Convention, adopted in June 2019, requires State parties to put in place the necessary laws and policy measures to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work. The Convention represents a historic opportunity to shape a future of work based on dignity and respect for all.

Regional and domestic legislation

The Istanbul Convention (2011), a Council of Europe treaty, establishes state responsibility to prevent all forms of violence against women, protect those who experience it and prosecute perpetrators. The convention has been ratified by 34 Member States of the Council of Europe, who must adopt measures to fulfil their commitment to end violence against women and domestic violence. Countries outside the Council of Europe have expressed interest in signing, which is a possibility under the convention.

In November 2022, the EU adopted Directive 2022/2381, a new law on gender balance on corporate boards, establishing new targets for listed companies to have 40% women among non-executive directors or 33% among directors.

Companies are increasingly subject to non-financial reporting and due diligence obligations in the jurisdictions in which they operate, which often include disclosures on their performance. There are several high-profile examples of national legislation that specifically mandate human rights-related reporting and other positive legal duties, including gender equality provisions: German Act on Corporate Due Diligence Obligations in Supply Chains 2021 and the Norwegian Transparency Act 2022. France’s Rixain Law 2021 specifically strengthens regulations to support gender equality in the workplace through gender-based quotas and expanded reporting requirements.

Also, in 2021 the Netherlands submitted a Bill for Responsible and Sustainable International Business Conduct, and the European Commission announced its Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD). This Directive is likely to come into force between 2025 and 2027 and will make human rights and environmental due diligence mandatory for larger companies.

These mandatory due diligence and disclosure laws require companies to publicly communicate their efforts to address actual and potential human rights impacts, including violations in relation to freedom of association. Failure to comply with these obligations leads to real legal risk for companies.

Non-discrimination is included as one of the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact: “Principle 6: Businesses should uphold the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation”. The four labour principles of the UN Global Compact are derived from the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

These fundamental principles and rights at work have been affirmed and developed in the form of specific rights and obligations in International Labour Conventions and Recommendations and cover issues related to child labour, discrimination at work, forced labour and freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

Member States of the ILO have an obligation to promote non-discrimination, even if they have not ratified the Conventions in question, as the rights and principles at work are universal and they apply to all people in all States.