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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development

Substantive Equality for Women: Connecting Human Rights and Public Policy (A Research-Advocacy-Policy Workshop)

Date: 15 Jun 2015



This workshop, a joint event of UN Women, UNRISD and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), will bring together key individuals from human rights bodies, UN agencies, civil society and academia to explore ways of implementing and operationalizing the policy recommendations of the UN Women flagship report Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016, entitled Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights.

Glaring gaps between formal and substantive equality

At a time when women and girls have almost equal opportunities when it comes to education, why are only half of women of "working age" in the labour force globally, and why do women still earn much less than men? In an era of unprecedented global wealth, why are large numbers of women not able to exercise their right to even basic levels of health care, water and sanitation? The latest edition of Progress of the World’s Women, Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights, focuses on economic and social rights, distilling and confronting the most glaring gaps between formal and substantive equality—between the laws and policies that guarantee equal rights for women and girls, and the reality on the ground.

International human rights treaties—such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)—encapsulate a substantive understanding of gender equality. Moving beyond the adoption of laws and policies, substantive equality is centrally concerned with results and outcomes: in other words, how they contribute to the equal recognition, exercise and enjoyment of rights by women and men, alleviating rather than maintaining "the inherent disadvantage that particular groups experience".

Bridging human rights norms and concrete policies: An action-oriented framework

How can we ensure that public policies effectively contribute to the achievement of substantive equality for women? Bridging the gap between global human rights norms and concrete policies on the ground, the report develops an action-oriented framework for the advancement of women’s rights in today’s challenging context. It argues that the achievement of substantive equality requires tackling the root causes of gender inequality by simultaneously: redressing women’s socioeconomic disadvantage; addressing stereotyping, stigma and violence; and strengthening women’s agency, voice and participation. Coordinated public action across all three of these dimensions has the potential to trigger lasting transformations in structures and institutions that constrain women’s enjoyment of their rights.

To do so, we need to think and act across institutional and ideational silos, connecting the normative content of human rights to policy design and implementation, integrating gender equality considerations more strongly into the work on economic and social rights, and ensuring that issues like employment, macroeconomic policy and social protection are given greater prominence in work on women’s rights.

The workshop Substantive Equality for Women: Connecting Human Rights and Public Policy aims to strengthen these links by bringing together key individuals from different institutional backgrounds to think creatively about how their work—within and outside of the UN System—can most fruitfully be combined to advance women’s rights at both normative and the practical levels.

The workshop will establish a dialogue between members of human rights bodies, OHCHR staff and policy analysts in much the same way as the report itself establishes this conversation between human rights and public policy. Presenters, discussants and participants are invited to critically reflect on the report’s approach and findings and to creatively explore how the collaboration—between those working on economic and social rights and those working on women’s rights, as well as between those working within the human rights system and those engaging in more technical policy analysis and advocacy work—can be enhanced to advance women’s economic and social rights within the UN system and beyond.

Workshop format and presenters

The workshop will consist of four sequential roundtable discussions. Each roundtable lasts 90 minutes and will be kicked off with short presentations/commentary by a panel, followed by an open debate among all participants, facilitated by a moderator. Presenters will speak for 10 minutes and discussants will speak for 5 minutes, leaving at least one hour for the interactive roundtable discussion. The event will be held English. Outputs will include an analytical report on the discussions on trends, challenges and opportunities, as well as proposals to better integrate gender equality in the work on economic and social rights.

Opening remarksCraig Mokhiber, OHCHR
Presentation of the reportShahra Razavi and Silke Staab, UN Women
Panel ISubstantive Equality for Women: Connecting Human Rights and Public Policy
Moderator: Nicole Ameline, CEDAW
Presenters: Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights; Sandra Fredman, Rhodes Professor of the Laws of the British Commonwealth and the USA at Oxford University
Discussant: Lucinda O’Hanlon, OHCHR
Open roundtable discussion
Panel IITransforming Work for Women's Rights
Moderator: Shauna Olney, ILO
Presenters: Sharan Burrows, ITUC; Valeria Esquivel, UNRISD
Discussant: Lene Wendland, OHCHR
Open roundtable discussion
Panel IIIMaking Social Policy Work for Women
Moderator: Magdalena Sepulveda, UNRISD
Presenters: Frances Raday, Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice; Maxine Molyneux, Professor of Sociology, University College London
Discussant: Virginia Dandan, UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity
Open roundtable discussion
Panel IVTowards an Enabling Macroeconomic Environment
Moderator: Susan Mathews, OHCHR
Presenters: James Heintz, Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts at Amherst; Isabel Ortiz, ILO
Discussant: Kate Donald, Center for Economic and Social Rights
Open roundtable discussion
Photo credits: "Education-Éducation-9" by DFATD-MAECD/Lana Slezic (Common creatives BY 2.0 via Flickr).