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Gender equality between aspirations and realities

By Ioan Voicu - posted Wednesday, 29 June 2011


By a happy coincidence, a large international debate on gender equality considered from a multicultural perspective is taking place during the International Year of Youth (August 12, 2010 - August 11, 2011). It was proclaimed by consensus by the United Nations to be celebrated with the central theme of dialogue and mutual understanding. A world youth conference having the form of a high level meeting of the General Assembly, will be held at United Nations Headquartersin New York on 25 and 26 July 2011.

Reaching the goal of gender equality is both a crucial aspiration and a topical global issue on which the United Nations multilateral diplomacy has been called upon to use all its potentialities. It has to give tangibility to an ambitious and generous goal, at planetary level.

The gradual but inconclusive success of long diplomatic efforts on the matter is reflected in significant international legal instruments, offering an impressive corpus of legal principles and norms meant to lead to a real equality of status between men and women.

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At a conceptual level, an important characteristic of the present debate on such issues is the increasing recognition of the fact that it is necessary to shift the focus from women to gender.The main reason is that the whole structure of human society, and all relations between men and women within it, has to be re-evaluated in light of the present irreversible process of globalisation.

If a profound restructuring of society and its institutions can really be accomplished, then women would have the chance to be fully empowered to take their rightful place as equal partners with men in all sectors of life. Such transformations would crystallize the firm conviction that, indeed, women's rights are genuine human rights and that gender equality is an issue of universal and vital importance.

It is true that the movement towards gender equality resulted in changes to national laws, to attitudes, to social views, including the proclamation of "equal pay for equal work." Most occupations and professions became equally available to men and women in numerous countries.

"Gender equity" is one of the objectives of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals to end world poverty by 2015. The project specifically proclaims: "Every single goal is directly related to women's rights, and societies where women are not afforded equal rights as men can never achieve development in a sustainable manner." Consequently, promoting authentic gender equality is considered as a mandatory passport to the reality of greater economic and social prosperity.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (a preamble and 30 articles) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in New York, on December 18, 1979 and entered into force on September 3 1981. It has been ratified by 186 countries, thus reaching a nearly complete universality. This legal instrument is described as an international bill of rights for women. It clearly defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up a large agenda for national action to end such discrimination.

According to the Convention, discrimination against women refers to "...any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field."

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This Convention is unique by the very fact that it affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relations.

In conformity with Article 24 of the Convention, States Parties undertake to adopt all necessary measures at the national level in order to achieve the full realization of the rights recognized in this universal legal instrument.

New promising developments took place quite recently in the process of implementing the Convention. We will deal first with institutional aspects.

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About the Author

Dr Ioan Voicu is a Visiting Professor at Assumption University in Bangkok

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