(Oct. 7, 2010) The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted by consensus on October 1, 2010, at its 15th session, a resolution (A/HRC/15/L.15) to create a new mechanism for the acceleration of the elimination of discrimination against women in law and practice. The mechanism is a Working Group, comprising five independent experts “of balanced geographical representation,” that the HRC will establish to operate for three years to consider the issue.
The resolution requests the U.N. Secretary General and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide the necessary human and financial assistance to the Working Group, and the Working Group to help with the Office of the High Commissioner's provision of technical or advisory help to promote the elimination of discrimination against women. (Human Rights Council Establishes Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practise, HRC website (Oct. 1, 2010), http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10405&a
The resolution also calls on states, in fulfillment of their obligations and commitments, “to revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex and remove gender bias in the administration of justice, taking into account that those laws violate their human right to be protected against discrimination.” (Id.) In addition, it:
- recognizes that women's inequality before the law has resulted in the lack of equal opportunities for women in, among other areas, education and access to health and labor markets; caused disparities in salaries and compensation, access to decision-making processes, inheritance, land ownership, nationality and legal capacity, and so on; and women's increased vulnerability to discrimination and violence;
- emphasizes women's significant role in economic development and poverty eradication, stresses the need to promote equal pay for equal work or work of equal value as well as the recognition of the value of women's unremunerated work, and urges the development and promotion of policies to facilitate reconciling employment and family responsibilities;
- calls for particular attention to be paid by states to discrimination against women in situations of vulnerability, e.g., women living in poverty and migrant women; and
- decides to continue consideration of the issue in conformity with the annual HRC program of work.
The HRC discussed, but in the end rejected, an amendment to the resolution proposed by Saudi Arabia to include a reference to international legislation; the resolution's sponsors pointed out that full consultations were held on the text and “that the proposed amendment introduced limitations.” Supporters of the amendment argued for its inclusion on the grounds that protecting and promoting human rights “was ultimately the task of national Governments, in accordance with their commitments under international law to protect and promote women's rights and eliminate discrimination.” However, the HRC proceeded to adopt the resolution's original text, without a vote. (Id.)
According to the international human rights organization Equality Now, the Working Group experts are to be appointed at the HRC's next session, in March 2011; the group's first report is scheduled for the HRC's 20th session, in June 2012. Equality Now, by its own account, “has taken a leading role in systematically studying the pervasiveness of sex discriminatory laws across the globe and in 2005 it proposed the need for a new special procedure within the UN dedicated to eliminating discrimination against women in law.” (Press Release, Equality Now, Equality Now Hails Historic Creation of a New Un Mechanism That Will Focus on Eliminating Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice (Oct. 1, 2010), http://www.equalitynow.org/english/pressroom/press_releases/unmechanism_
Equality Now made the proposal after the deadline to revoke all such laws, set as 2005 by governments at the U.N. Fifth World Conference on Women in 2000, failed to be met. The organization notes that “2010 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Platform for Action adopted at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women at Beijing in 1995 where governments pledged to rescind all sex discriminatory laws.” (Id.)