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Guide To Advocating For Women’s Rights Using International Human Rights Mechanisms

What is international human rights advocacy? 

International human rights advocacy involves engaging with various UN mechanisms in order to advance the protection and promotion of the human rights of all women and girls. There are two types of human rights monitoring mechanisms within the United Nations system – treaty-based bodies and charter-based bodies. 

To ensure that UN mechanisms have a realistic and accurate picture of the human rights situation in a particular country, civil society organizations and other entities, such as academic institutions, professional groups, and inter-governmental organizations, are encouraged to engage in human rights monitoring and reporting.

Our Guide To Advocating For Women’s Rights Using International Human Rights Mechanisms offers information on the available mechanisms and different methods of engagement at the international level that you can use to push for greater protection of human rights, and women’s and girls’ rights in particular, in your country.

Why is it important for civil society to engage at the international level? 

Civil society organizations (CSOs) working locally and/or nationally on the promotion and protection of women’s and girls’ rights have several opportunities to engage in international advocacy. Their engagement is key to ensuring that these UN bodies give helpful recommendations to the government to improve the country’s human rights situation. CSOs are also vital to supporting the government’s implementation of these recommendations. 

CSOs have a valuable role in bringing forward information about progress and challenges on the ground and ensuring governments play their part in upholding human rights for all women and girls, irrespective of their ethnicity, disability, race, religion, or other status.

What are UN-based treaty bodies and their functions? 

Treaty-based bodies are committees of independent experts who monitor the implementation of the core international human rights treaties by reviewing reports submitted periodically by State parties. Most treaty bodies are also competent to receive and consider individual complaints (provided that the State has agreed to be subject to such procedures), and several may conduct broader specific inquiries relating to systemic and widespread abuse. 

Among the ten existing human rights treaty-based bodies, our Guide focuses on the six bodies which are most relevant to women’s rights or have developed the most jurisprudence on issues affecting women.

These are the:

  • Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); 
  • Committee against Torture (CAT); 
  • Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC
  • Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
  • Human Rights Committee (CCPR)
  • Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)

Other ways to engage in international human rights advocacy 

As well as treaty-based bodies, there are charter based bodies, special procedures and other opportunities for advocacy: 

  • Universal Periodic Review (UPR) –  Every 4-5 years, each UN Member State’s human rights situation is reviewed. The UPR is a peer-review mechanism whereby UN Member States and observer States can make recommendations to the State under review on any human rights issue.
  • UN Special Procedures including the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and its consequences (SR VAW) are independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective.
  • Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)The Commission on the Status of Women is the “principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women” and is considered instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s rights around the world, and defining global standards on gender equality.
  • United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable DevelopmentThe High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), which generally takes place every year in July, is the main platform on sustainable development at the UN with the mandate to follow-up and review the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and implementation and status of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) around the world.

Learn more 

Download our Guide To Advocating For Women’s Rights Using International Human Rights Mechanisms, which includes a checklist for effective submissions.

Head to the UN website to see when States are coming up for review by various Treaty Bodies

Join Equality Now’s international network of changemakers, from government ministers and UN bodies to civil society and human rights lawyers, to learn from one another and drive forward the vital work to make gender equality a reality.

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