20 Jul 2024 - by A4ID

Equality now?

New UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice begins its work.

A couple of weeks ago my colleague Cary wrote an interesting blog about gender equality and the challenges inherent in trying to create parity between men and women.

I am going to return to this subject, not because I couldn’t think of anything else to write but because in recent months some exciting steps forwards have been made in this area – and largely as a result of the work of one of our development partners.

In June 2011 the new UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice held their first session. While not having the catchiest of names, this Working Group has a crucial role in working towards ensuring gender equality.

Our development partner, Equality Now, works for the protection and promotion of the human rights of women and girls around the world including calling for the repeal of all laws that discriminate against women.

Equality Now has been supported in its work through A4ID by lawyers from the DRC, Ecuador, Burma, Somalia and Tunisia who provided crucial research into discriminatory laws in their countries which the organisation compiled in order to build a case for a more concentrated global focus on this issue. The new Working Group represents a massive step towards achieving this goal.

While discrimination against women is partly a consequence of cultural norms and practices, it is also a ‘matter of law.’

Legal discrimination against women can take many forms; gender neutral laws, the inadequate enforcement of laws and women’s lack of access to justice. It is also as a result of legislation that discriminates against women. Examples include pay inequality between men and women for the same role, the inability of women to pass their nationality onto their children and unequal access to divorce between men and women.

Equality Now documents and seeks the repeal of large number of explicitly discriminatory laws covering everything from citizenship to employment, inheritance to divorce. In the period between publishing their Beijing +10 and Beijing +15 reports highlighting these discriminatory laws, half of the 52 countries mentioned had fully or partially repealed or amended the legislation.

The new UN Working Group is made up of five expert members whose primary remit is to ‘is to identify, promote and exchange views, in consultation with States and other actors, on good practices related to the elimination of laws that discriminate against women.’

Just taking a look at this report by Equality Now that highlights a selection of current laws that discriminate against women and this report that shows the spread of discriminatory laws across a number of areas in countries all around the world, it is clear that this is no small task.

Until now the Working Group has only set out its general approach and its thematic areas; public life and citizenry, economic life, family life, and health and safety. It is with interest that I wait to see what further steps they will take after their second meeting in October.


Helen Mould is the Head of Communications at A4ID.