Throughout much of the world, women’s equality is undermined by historical imbalances in decision-making power and access to resources, rights, and entitlements for women. Either by law or by custom, women in many countries still lack rights to:
Moreover, women are still widely under-represented in decision-making at all levels, in the household and in the public sphere.
Addressing these inequities through laws and public policy is a way of formalizing the goal of gender equality. Legal changes, which most countries have now implemented, are often a necessary step to institute gender equality, but not necessarily sufficient to create lasting changes. Addressing the gaps between what the law proscribes and what actually occurs often requires broad, integrated campaigns.
Effective advocacy requires partnership and coalition building. UNFPA alone is a relatively small agency, but when it works together with other international agencies and non-governmental organizations to address gender biases in laws and policies at the national level, it can be very effective. Formal international agreements, such as the ICPD Programme of Action and the Millennium Development Goals, provide key areas for policy changes.
With its development partners, UNFPA advocates widely for legislation to advance gender equality, to eliminate all forms of discrimination based on sex, and to prevent gender-based violence and increase penalties for those who inflict it.
The Fund has established partnerships with parliamentarians in developing countries for political and legislative support for population and development challenges, of which the empowerment of women is central. Affecting changes in laws can require considerable patience and a deep understanding of the cultural context.
In most countries, serious gaps still exist in available data on women’s economic and political activity and decision-making ability. The Fund works to fill gaps in collecting sex-disaggregated data that is needed to put benchmarks on or monitor policy or programme effectiveness.
In many countries, UNFPA supports capacity-building for women’s NGOs and for government to use the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, because it provides a legally-binding basis for the realization of women’s rights – political, economic, social and cultural in the 179 countries which have ratified it (as of October, 2004)