Global Commitments

International Law


The Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly provides the basis for realizing equality between men and women through the protection of women’s equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life. This includes in education, health, and employment across stable and emergency contexts. The countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. The integration of gender equality and women’s empowerment in humanitarian action protects these fundamental freedoms and rights.

The CEDAW general recommendation 19 (GR 19) adopted in 1992, clarifies that GBV against women is covered by the scope of CEDAW. This is defined as “violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately.” GR 19 requests States parties to include the following in their periodic reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW): statistical data on the incidence of violence against women; information on the provision of services for survivors; and legislative and other measures taken to protect women against violence in their everyday lives, including against harassment at the workplace, abuse in the family and sexual violence. 189 countries have ratified CEDAW, and these governments are obliged to submit regular reports to a committee of independent experts who monitor how the rights of the Convention are implemented. The CEDAW committee also accepts shadow reports from civil society organizations, which they use to evaluate government actions and commitments under the convention. Because the Convention is primarily enforced through a reporting system, the shadow reporting mechanism is an important way to ensure government accountability on CEDAW commitments.

​International Labour Organization Conventions for Gender Justice

The International Labour Organization articulates multiple Conventions and protocols pertinent for women’s economic empowerment and justice, which – when ratified by countries – can be used as an effective tool for advocacy and accountability:

These topics and more are covered in International Labour Organization's ABCs of Women Workers’ Rights and Gender Equality

Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993 calls on states to “condemn violence against women and… not invoke any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination.” Article 4 of this declaration specifies various policy measures that can be a useful reference point for advocacy with national governments.

Security Council Resolutions on Gender and Conflict

The adoption of the Women Peace and Security Framework (United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325) in October 2000 reaffirmed the role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and reconstruction. This resolution stresses the importance of women’s equal participation, and full involvement in all efforts to maintain and promote peace and security. It urges special measures to protect women and girls from GBV in situations of armed conflict, and the need to implement international humanitarian and human rights law that protects the rights of women and girls during and after conflict. The resolution specifically notes the need to take into account the particular needs of women and girls in refugee camps and settlements, including in their design.

Security Council Resolution 1820 was adopted in 2008 and condemns the use of sexual violence as a tool of war, and declares that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide”.