On June 15, 2015 Professor Sandra Fredman gave a presentation at the Substantive Equality for Women: Connecting Human Rights and Public Policy Workshop. The workshop brought 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, entitled Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights.
Professor Fredman presented the background paper that was prepared by Professor Sandra Fredman and Associate Professor Beth Goldblatt, with the assistance of Deputy Director, Meghan Campbell. The background paper was used extensively in the Progress of the World’s Women Report. In particular, chapter 1 of the Report uses the multi-dimensional approach to substantive equality developed in Fredman’s previous work, and elaborated in the background paper by Fredman and Goldblatt, to establish a framework of substantive equality in human rights. The Report emphasised that a key challenge around the world in the realisation of women’s rights is transforming formal rights into reality to enable women’s practical enjoyment of their human rights. Fredman and Goldblatt’s paper shows how the substantive equality framework developed in Fredman’s earlier work, derived from human rights treaties as well as the work of the treaty bodies, supports governments and other key actors to make this change happen. The framework identifies three interconnected dimensions along which actions need to be taken in order to transform existing structures and institutions so that all women are able to enjoy their rights: redressing women’s socio-economic disadvantage; addressing stereotyping, stigma and violence; and strengthening women’s agency, voice and participation; resulting in a transformation of institutions and structures.
The Workshop asked some pertinent questions and explored challenging issues around gender 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? In April 2015, UN Women launched the latest edition of Progress of the World’s Women, entitled Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights. Focusing on economic and social rights, the report distils and confronts 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.
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. The Progress of the World’s Women Report 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.