Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment
Over the past 10 years, many countries have adopted
new laws or amended legislation to advance gender
equality, seeking to eliminate all forms of discrimination
based on sex as well as to prevent genderbased
violence and increase penalties for those who
Among the countries adopting legislation to outlaw
discrimination based on sex are Malta, Mauritius
(this legislation also ensures equal rights for women
regardless of their pregnancy or marital status) and
Mexico. Colombia and Slovenia enacted laws to promote
equal opportunities for women with men, and
a decree in Costa Rica calls for improvements in the
living conditions and opportunities of poor women.
Djibouti passed legislation adopting a National
Strategy for the Improvement of Women in Development
and a National Action Plan, which states that
all policies and laws will be evaluated based on their
impacts on the integration of gender into development.
The law also details activities the Government
will take to promote reproductive health and equal
education for women, and to improve women’s participation
in decision-making (in the public sphere
and the family) and in economic development.
The Republic of Korea passed a law establishing a
Commission on Gender Equality to manage policies
A number of constitutions, newly drafted or amended,
contain strong provisions on gender equality. For example,
Bahrain’s 2002 constitution, while noting the Shari’a
is the principal source for laws, affirms the equality
of women and men in politics and in the economic,
social and cultural spheres. Cuba’s 2002 constitution
affirms that spouses are equal in rights and duties.
Timor-Leste’s post-independence constitution affirms
equal rights for women and men in marriage and the
family and within social, economic and political life.
Rwanda’s 2003 constitution also guarantees equal
rights of spouses in marriage and divorce, outlaws
discrimination based on sex, and establishes a
National Human Rights Commission and a National
Council of Women. It also guarantees the right of
women and men to vote and run for office, calls for
equal pay for equal work and establishes the right to
education. In 2002, Togo amended its constitution
to ensure gender equality before the law and in
Poland has established a Plenipotentiary for
the Equal Status of Women, located in the Prime
Minister’s office, to analyse women’s legal and social
status and promote equity through laws and policies.(6)
In 2000, in Azerbaijan, a presidential decree
instructed the Government to ensure women and men
are represented equally in the state administration
and have equal opportunities under ongoing reforms.
Government institutions were also directed to appoint
a gender focal point in each district office.(7)
GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE. Addressing domestic and
sexual violence directed against women is another
priority for many governments’ legislative action.(8) In
Bangladesh, new laws make violence against women
a punishable offence, and codes of conduct address
sexual harassment in the workplace. Belgium, Peru
and Yugoslavia have amended laws to define sexual
harassment and make it a crime for which victims
can sue and seek restitution.
Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Portugal, Spain
and Uruguay, among others, have passed laws increasing
penalties for gender-based violence. In Brazil, a
2003 law established a national, cost-free telephone
hotline operated by specially trained staff for women
to report domestic abuse.
Human trafficking has also been the subject of
legal changes. Many countries enacted laws to combat
trafficking of women and girls and many ratified
international treaties.(9) The Democratic Republic of
the Congo outlawed trafficking in children in its 2002
While most governments say they recognize the
importance of promoting gender equity and women’s
empowerment, many find it difficult to work directly
with women at the community level. Accordingly, in
countries such as Jamaica, Malaysia and Mozambique,
women’s NGOs are implementing such programmes.
NGOs are often more effective in working with
victims of gender-based violence, since they are
perceived as being more sympathetic and are more
likely to be trusted.
NGOs are also training police officers, judges and
others in how to deal with victims of gender-based
violence when they seek help. In Ethiopia, for example,
the Association of Women’s Lawyers is working
against domestic violence and sexual abuse. Ethiopia’s
National Council on Traditional Practices and other
NGOs are actively working to eradicate harmful
traditional practices like female genital cutting.
In the Philippines, NGOs have established women’s
crisis centres for victims of domestic violence.
Jamaican NGOs including the Association of
Women’s Organizations in Jamaica, Fathers’
Incorporated and the Bureau of Women’s Affairs
collaborated between 1999 and 2002 to increase public
awareness of gender-based violence. They worked to
increase media coverage of the issue, and to educate
police, the judiciary, and health and legal professionals
about the importance of a strong response to
violence against women and of support systems
REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS. During the past decade,
NGOs in many countries have become increasingly
involved in monitoring reproductive rights and using
the reporting procedures for international human
rights instruments that their governments have ratified.
Many submit “shadow reports” to complement those
submitted by the government and attend sessions of
the relevant monitoring committee when the report
of their country is being examined.
In some countries such as India, Indonesia,
Malaysia and Nigeria, human rights commissions can
play an important role in ensuring that reproductive
rights are observed and can provide redress in cases of
violations. Other countries have ombudsmen or other
mechanisms that civil society groups can use.
MALE INVOLVEMENT. NGOs are recognized as often
being more effective than government agencies in
encouraging men to take responsibility for their
sexual and reproductive behaviour and their social
and family roles. In Cambodia, for example, Men
against Violence against Women actively participated
with women’s and other NGOs in a 16-day campaign
on gender-based violence.
In the Philippines, NGOs are actively promoting
male support for women’s empowerment and rights
with respect to reproductive health. And the Women’s
Centre of the Jamaica Foundation counsels young
male parents and trains male peer educators through
its programme, Young Men at Risk.