International Standards for Gender Rights as Human Rights: Are they effective?

In light of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, we are taking a deeper look at some of the root injustices affecting gender-based violence and the international standards meant to address such issues. Both the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have articles aimed specifically at protecting and guaranteeing equal rights in regards to education, employment, and economic and social rights of women. Part III of CEDAW (Articles 10-14) details these protections, while Articles 23 and 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be discussed here.

Girls’ and Women’s Education

According to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Despite having these official protections and guarantees, women in many countries in the world, particularly developing nations and conflict affected nations, are denied the opportunity for education. Aside from conflicts, income and poverty, health issues, pregnancy, child marriage, and discriminatory gender roles also contribute to increased illiteracy among women. The number of children worldwide denied access to schooling has reached 57 million, including 31 million girls. This has led to two-thirds of illiterate adults in the world being women.

Barriers and discrimination against women have increased worldwide despite improvements in gender parity. For example, there are a number of barriers which cause women to leave school at early ages, particularly in developing nations. Additional issues which increase the barriers faced by women in attaining higher education include: limited family resources, poverty, social expectations, cultural environment such as facing violence at school, and lack of sufficient numbers of female teachers.

World Education believes that ‘education for girls and women is the single most effective way to improve the lives of individual families as well as to bring economic development to poor communities worldwide’. Therefore, education can provide major benefits for women, such as economic development and prosperity, empowerment, life and health improvements, justice in society between men and women, and decreased poverty among women.

Gender and employment

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 23 states that:

(1) ‘Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests’.

Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other United Nations Commissions believe that women and men should live in equality, the inequality between genders remains a concern for gender and human rights activists and organisations. Estimates by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) suggest that there is massive inequality between men and women in developed nations like the UK, along with in developing nations. For instance, there are 5,400 women ‘missing’ from top jobs in the UK. According to the EHRC report, Sex and Power 2011, since 2003 women held just 10.2% of all senior posts in business, 15.1% in media and culture, 26.2% in politics.

Special protections for rural women and the problems they face

According to the United Nations report on 16th October 2007, rural women often face problems of discrimination and manifold disadvantages which continue to plague many parts of the world. This was an important issue that was voiced by many speakers at the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) of the United Nations, in which over 50 speakers brought attention to the issue.

For example, Indonesia’s representative said, ‘that violence against women was still one of the most persistent human rights violations today.  It was distressing that a culture of impunity still existed in many parts of the world’. Hence, the problems for rural women include education, poverty, early marriage, cultural violence against women, discrimination, lack of access to resources, limited rights to owning land, few basic services like health care, and injustice.

Kamil Alboshoka is an international law and human rights researcher at LCILP. He holds an LLM in International Law and Human Rights from Birkbeck University of London, and a BA from Kingston University of London in Human Geography. His research explores issues of human rights, criminal justice, equality and inequality, conflict and terrorism impacts on human rights, and peace and security.

Additional references

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s