Promoting Gender Equality

Background on Key International Agreements and Declarations

UNFPA’s work in the area of gender equality and women’s empowerment is firmly grounded in international law. The following major international agreements and declarations guide UNFPA’s work in this arena.

The work of UNFPA is guided by the Programme of Action (POA) that was endorsed by about 179 governments in Cairo at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD, also referred to as the Cairo Conference). The Conference shifted the emphasis of population planning from reaching demographic targets to promoting human rights and sustainable development, changing the focus from numbers to people. It placed women’s rights, empowerment and health at the centre of this effort.

A 1999 review of progress since the Cairo Conference (ICPD + 5) included reports on national implementation efforts, global expert meetings and an international forum at The Hague, organized by UNFPA. It culminated in a special session of the United Nations General Assembly that identified Key Actions for the Further Implementation of the Programme of Action of ICPD and set new benchmarks for measuring progress towards ICPD goals, including several aimed at promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is an international bill of rights for women. The General Assembly adopted the Convention in December 1979, and as of 2004, 179 countries had ratified it. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, CEDAW defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to foster greater equality. CEDAW is often referred to as the Women’s Convention because, unlike conference declarations, it sets legally-binding principles and standards for realizing women’s rights

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted at the September 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW) by representatives from 189 countries. The Platform reflects a new international commitment to the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere. It builds on commitments made during the United Nations Decade for Women, 1976-1985 and on related commitments made in the cycle of United Nations global conferences held in the 1990s.

Beijing + 5 was a special session of the General Assembly entitled "Women: 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-First Century” that took place in June 2000 at United Nations Headquarters, New York. At that session, governments reaffirmed their commitment to the goals of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and also adopted future actions and initiatives for the year 2000 and beyond.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history. It was drafted over the course of 10 years (1979-1989) with the input of representatives from all societies, all religions and all cultures. Ratification formally binds governments to meet the obligations and responsibilities outlined in the Convention. It includes protection of children from early and forced marriage, recognition of adulthood as 18 years, rights to education

The United Nations Millennium Declaration was unanimously adopted at the conclusion of the Millennium Summit, the first General Assembly of this century and the largest-ever gathering of world leaders. It contains a statement of values, principles and eight specific goals with related targets that constitute an international agenda for the twenty-first century. Goal 3 is “to promote gender equality and empower women”. However, gender equality and women’s empowerment are widely recognized as being essential to achieving the other seven Millennium Development Goals as well.

Security Council Resolution 1325 was passed unanimously on 31 October 2000. Resolution (S/RES/1325) is the first resolution ever passed by the Security Council that specifically addresses the impact of war on women, and women's contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace.

Adopted in 1993, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines violence against women and calls on states to take specific measures against it.

A number of regional conventions and declarations, such as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women, identify regionally specific definitions of rights that apply in those regions.