More Than Fair: GQUAL Campaign Mobilizes Law to Change Picture of International Justice

Globally, women occupy only 33% of the 599 seats found on the 91 adjudicatory bodies of international law. But when one excludes the committees and working groups on the rights of women and children, that number drops to 24% of the remaining 533 seats. Only one woman sits on each of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the appellate body of the World Trade Organization, and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The paucity of women on international bodies reveals a gross imbalance of power that tips against a community that makes up roughly half the world’s population.

During the first week of October, ambassadors, legal experts, practitioners, and activists from around the world gathered in The Hague to strategize changing this male-dominated picture of international justice during the GQUAL Campaign’s international conference marking its second anniversary. The Action Plan adopted at the conference begins with an important reminder that achieving gender equality on international bodies is not solely a policy of fairness and institutional legitimacy but an action mandated by law. Together with the International Human Rights Law Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law, GQUAL released at the conference a working paper that identifies the international legal basis for the Campaign’s aim of realizing gender parity.

States establish the nominating and voting procedures that apply to any particular international body, making them ultimately responsible for this state of affairs. Though political will is needed to remedy the stark and pervasive gender imbalance on international bodies, reform should be guided by international law and State practice, both of which support the fair representation of women in global governance.

The positive obligation to eliminate sex-based discrimination is deeply rooted and widely reflected in international human rights law. Numerous instruments, most notably the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, not only prohibit States from adopting discriminatory laws but also require that States work to dismantle obstacles that result in discriminatory outcomes for women. The working paper looks beyond CEDAW for additional support to further strengthen the legal foundation of the GQUAL Campaign.

We identified several human rights treaties and policy statements that embody the non-discrimination principle and which enumerate three international human rights norms that require gender equality within different contexts relevant to the GQUAL Campaign—the right of access to decision-making within public bodies; the right of access to equal opportunity in employment; and the right of access to justice. In short, women on equal terms with men, are entitled to shape our governments, to employment that reflects our capabilities, and to the protection, recognition, and advancement of international law. Continue reading