UN Working Group on the Issue of Discrimination Against Women in Law and in Practice Visit to the US

Mon Nov 30, 2015 to Fri Dec 11, 2015
Washington, DC; Austin and McAllen, TX; Montgomery, AL; and Portland, Salem, and Eugene, OR.
Washington, DC 20001
United States

UN Experts on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice to Visit US (Nov 30 - Dec 11, 2015)                      

Overview of the Working Group: The UN Working Group on the Issue of Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice [UN WGDAW] is one of the special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council. The Special Procedures are comprised of independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. With the support of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Special Procedures undertake country visits; act on individual cases of alleged violations and concerns of a broader, structural nature by sending communications to States; conduct thematic studies and convene expert consultations, contributing to the development of international human rights standards; engage in advocacy and raise public awareness; and provide advice for technical cooperation. Special Procedures report annually to the Human Rights Council and the majority of the mandates also report to the General Assembly.

Mandate: The mandate of the working group includes: working on its thematic priorities, namely, political and public life, economic and social life, family and cultural life, and health and safety, and to dedicate specific attention to good practices that have contributed to mobilizing society as a whole, including men and boys, in the elimination of discrimination against women.

The Working Group is to offer support to States’ initiatives to address multiple forms of discrimination against women and girls when implementing their obligations as State parties to relevant international human rights treaties with regard to civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, and related commitments, where applicable.

Country Visits: The UN WGDAW conducts two to three country missions per year following invitations received from Member States. Country visits are conducted in the spirit of promoting constructive dialogue with States as well as collecting good practices in the elimination of discrimination against women in law and in practice.  At the end of their visits, special procedures' mandate-holders engage in dialogue with the State on their findings and recommendations and present a report to the Human Rights Council.

Overview of the US Visit: The UN WGDAW will conduct an official visit to the United States November 30-December 11, 2015. The group will spend 3 days in Washington, DC at the beginning of their trip and will conclude their trip in Washington, DC on December 9-11. In addition to visiting Washington, DC the group’s trip will include visits to 3 additional communities in the United States. They will visit Texas, including Austin and the Rio Grande Valley area, where they will focus on the reproductive justice issues there and in particular the lack of access to health services for migrant women. They will also visit the South East, going to Montgomery, Alabama, where they will focus on documenting issues affecting rural and Black women. They will also be documenting good practices in the state of Oregon, including a number of progressive laws in the areas of economic life and health.

Purpose of the visit, is to:

  • to prepare a compendium of best practices related to the elimination of laws that discriminate against women or are discriminatory to women in terms of implementation or impact;
  • to undertake a study on the ways and means of cooperation between the Working Group and States to eliminate discrimination against women in law and in practice; and
  • To make recommendations on the improvement of legislation and implementation of law to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Importance: This is the first time that this Working Group—a relatively new Special Procedure—will visit the United States. This is an opportunity to raise issues of formal and indirect discrimination against women, and the group is particularly interested in issues related to health and safety,[1] which is the theme of their next thematic report to the Human Rights Council. Women of color and other women who experience multiple forms of discrimination will be a focus during their visit. In the last 4 years, the US replied to only 56 of 95 letters of allegations and urgent appeals from UN experts, and the last official UN visit to the US was over 2 years  ago.[2]

Needs/Timeline: Because the U.S. lacks a UN Country Team to arrange visits by UN Special Procedures, the WG and its staff will rely heavily on U.S. civil society to help coordinate this visit. USHRN has brought together a coordinating group of organizations that work on issues related to the mandate of this working group to organize this visit. USHRN and the coordinating group will work to schedule civil society roundtable meetings in Washington, DC with various partners and the WG. The WG had requested briefing materials from civil society, including recommendations of locations to visit during their trip, contact information of civil society representatives and brief issue area overviews of the suggested locations to visit, which US civil society sent to them this summer. They would also like more detailed briefing materials from civil society by the end October, on the laws and practices within their mandate in the States they are visiting  as well as Federally, which USHRN is compliling, includig:

  • Stakeholders (governmental or non-governmental) that the Working Group should consider meeting;
  • Suggestions on regions/localities to visit;
  • Challenges and good practices which could be highlighted;
  • Any relevant issue/information relating to the mandate.

Focus: The group’s recent work has highlighted economic and social rights (poverty). Women of color and other women who experience multiple forms of discrimination will be a focus during the visit, and US Civil Society will recommend issue areas and site visits that promote an intersectional analysis. We will also aim to include the situation of LGBT and particularly transgender women. Indicated areas of interest in line with the thematic priorities of the WG include:

  1. Economic and Social Life
  2. Participation in Political and Public Life
  3. Health and Safety
  4. Family and Cultural Life

Members of the Group to Visit:[4] Chairperson-Rapporteur Ms. Eleonora Zielinska, (Poland), Vice-chairperson Ms. Alda Facio (Costa Rica), and Ms. Frances Raday (Israel/United Kingdom). Plus two staff members of the working group, Bernadette Arditi and Hannah Wu, Human Rights Officers, OHCHR, Special Procedures Branch, Human Rights Council Mechanisms Division.

For more information or to get involved contact: Rebecca Landy, US Human Rights Network, Human Rights Outreach and Advocacy Manager, rlandy@ushrnetwork.org or wgdiscriminationwomen@ushrnetwork.org

Preliminary Findings of the Working Group (December 11, 2015) can be found here 

End of Visit Press Release - Shattering the myth: “US women lag behind” – UN experts on discrimination against women (December 11, 2015)

[1] Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, Good practices in the elimination of discrimination against women with regard to the right to health and safety, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/WGWomen/Pages/Goodpracticesintheeli....

[2] See United States of American, Compilation prepared by the Office of the United Nations Hugh Commissioner for Human Rights, for Human Rights Council (UPR), A/HRC/WG.6/22/USA/2, 2 Mar. 2015, available at www.ushrnetwork.org/sites/ushrnetwork.org/files/compilation_of_un_inform....

[3] Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Mission to the United States, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/17session/A.HRC.17.26.Add.5_AEV.pdf.

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