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Women, Human Rights & Decision-Making
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Human Rights & Decision-Making | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Women, Human Rights & Decision-Making

What is the Human Right to Full and Equal Participation in Power and Decision-Making?

Issues of women's empowerment and their full and equal participation in public life are human rights issues. Human rights norms and standards guarantee women the human rights to non-discrimination in all aspects of political, economic, and social life, and to full and equal participation in decision-making and access to power at all levels. At the same time, realization of the full spectrum of human rights for women depends on women's full and equal participation in decision-making.

The Human Rights at Issue

The human right to full and equal participation in power and decision-making includes:

  • The human right to participate on equal terms with men in shaping and implementing decisions and policies affecting themselves, their families, communities, and societies, at the local, national and international levels.

  • The human right to equal access to public service.

  • The human right to equal access to education and information.

  • The human right to freedom of expression and opinion.

  • The human right to equality between men and women and to full and equal partnership in the family and society.


Human Rights & Decision-Making | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Full and Equal Participation in Power and Decision-Making:

What provisions of human right law guarantee everyone the Human Right to Full and Equal Participation?

Includes excerpts from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169).

"States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and ... shall ensure to women, on equal terms with men, the right ... to participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government.... States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure to women on equal terms with men ... the opportunity to represent their Governments at the international level and to participate in the work of international organizations.... States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas ... and ... shall ensure to such women the right ... to participate in the elaboration and implementation of development planning at all levels...."
--Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Articles 7, 8, and 14

"Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country.... Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country...."
-- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 21

"Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity ... to take part in the conduct of public affairs ....; to have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country."
-- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 25

"The States Parties...recognize the right of everyone to education.... They ... agree that education shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society...."
-- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 13

"States Parties undertake to ... guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of ... political rights,... the rights to take part in the Government as well as in the conduct of public affairs at any level and to have access to public service...."
-- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Article 5

"... Governments shall:...Establish means by which [indigenous] peoples can freely participate ... at all levels of decision-making in elective institutions and administrative and other bodies responsible for policies and programmes which concern them.... The peoples concerned shall have the right to decide their own priorities for the process of development as it affects their lives, beliefs, institutions and spiritual well-being and the lands they occupy or otherwise use, and to exercise control, to the extent possible, over their own economic, social and cultural development. In addition, they shall participate in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of plans and programmes for national and regional development which may affect them directly."
-- ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169), Articles 6 and 7


Human Rights & Decision-Making | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Full and Equal Participation in Power and Decision-Making:

What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to Full and Equal Participation?

Includes commitments made at the Earth Summit in Rio, the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, and the Habitat II conference in Istanbul.

"Women's empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision-making process and access to power, are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace...."
-- Beijing Declaration, para. 13

"... [E]veryone has the right to take part in the Government of his/her country.... [W]omen's equal participation in political life plays a pivotal role in the general process of the advancement of women. Women's equal participation in decision-making is not only a demand for simple justice or democracy but can also be seen as a necessary condition for women's interests to be taken into account. Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women's perspective at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved.... Actions to be taken ... By Governments: Commit themselves to establishing the goal of gender balance in governmental bodies and committees, ... public administrative entities, ... judiciary.... Protect and promote the equal rights of women and men to engage in political activities and to freedom of association.... Provide leadership and self-esteem training to assist women and girls ... to encourage them to take decision-making positions.... Develop mechanisms and training to encourage women to participate in the electoral process, political activities and other leadership areas."
-- Beijing Platform for Action, paras. 181, 190, and 195

"Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens.... Each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment ... and the opportunity to participate in decisionmaking processes....Women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development."
-- Rio Declaration, Principles 10 and 20

"The human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights. The full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life, at the national, regional and international levels, and the eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex are priority objectives of the international community.... The World Conference on Human Rights urges Governments and regional and international organizations to facilitate the access of women to decision-making posts and their greater participation in the decision-making process. It encourages further steps within the United Nations Secretariat to appoint and promote women staff members in accordance with the Charter..., and encourages other ... organs of the United Nations to guarantee the participation of women under conditions of equality."
-- Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, Part I, para. 18, and Part II, para. 43

"The human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights. The full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life, at the national, regional and international levels, and the eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex are priority objectives of the international community.... The World Conference on Human Rights urges Governments and human rights, as well as on non-discrimination ... and participation of all people.... We commit ourselves to equality..., and to ... enhancing the participation ... of women.... We will ... ensure gender balance in decision-making...."
-- Copenhagen Declaration, Commitments 4 and 5

"We recognize the particular needs of women, children and youth for safe, healthy and secure living conditions. We shall intensify our efforts to ... to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.... We shall ... ensure the full and equal participation of all women and men ... in political, economic and social life. We shall promote ...gender equality in policies, programmes and projects for shelter and sustainable human settlements development..."
-- Istanbul Declaration, para. 7

"....as a result of a number of factors, including the persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women and discrimination against women, women face particular constraints in obtaining adequate shelter and in fully participating in decision-making related to sustainable human settlements. The empowerment of women and their full and equal participation in political, social and economic life, the improvement of health and the eradication of poverty are essential to achieving sustainable human settlements.... We commit ourselves to ... enabling all ... actors in the public, private and community sectors to play an effective role - at the national, state/provincial, metropolitan and local levels - in human settlements and shelter development.... We commit ourselves to ... gender equality in human settlements development....; to ... Integrating gender perspectives in human settlements related legislation, policies, programmes and projects ...; Formulating and strengthening policies and practices to promote the full and equal participation of women in human settlements planning and decision-making."
-- Habitat Agenda, paras. 15, 44 and 46


For more information, please contact PDHRE

The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;
e-mail: pdhre@igc.org