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logo of World Conference to review and appraise the achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace

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World Conference to review and appraise the achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace

26 July 1985

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Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies. I. Equality

  1. Obstacles

  2. Basic strategies

  3. Measures for the implementation of the basic strategies at the national level

I. Equality

A. Obstacles

43. One of the objectives of the Decade entails the full observance of the equal rights of women and the elimination of de jure and de facto discrimination. This is a critical first step towards human resource development. In developing countries inequality is, to a great extent, the result of underdevelopment and its various manifestations, which in turn are aggravated by the unjust distribution of the benefits of the international economy. The United Nations systems, particularly the Commission on the Status of Women, has worked for four decades to establish international standards and to identify and propose measures to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex. Although much progress has been made in legislation, measures are necessary for effective implementation and enforcement. Legislative enactment is only one element in the struggle for equality, but an essential one as it provides the legitimate basis for action and acts as a catalyst for societal change.

44. /10a The inequality of women in most countries stems to a very large extent from mass poverty and the general backwardness of the majority of the world's population caused by underdevelopment, which is a product of imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, apartheid, racism, racial discrimination and of unjust international economic relations. The unfavourable status of women is aggravated in many countries, developed and underdeveloped, by de facto discrimination on the grounds of sex.

45. One of the fundamental obstacles to women's equality is that de facto discrimination and inequality in the status of women and men derive from larger social, economic, political and cultural factors that have been justified on the basis of physiological differences. Although there is no physiological basis for regarding the household and family as essentially the domain of women, for the devaluation of domestic work and for regarding the capacities of women as inferior to those of men, the belief that such a basis exists perpetuates inequality and inhibits the structural and attitudinal changes necessary to eliminate such inequality.

46. Women, by virtue of their gender, experience discrimination in terms of denial of equal access to the power structure that controls society and determines development issues and peace initiatives. Additional differences, such as race, colour and ethnicity, may have even more serious implications in some countries, since such factors can be used as justification for compound discrimination.

47. Fundamental resistance creates obstacles, which have wide-ranging implications for the objectives of the Decade. Discrimination promotes an uneconomic use of women's talents and wastes the valuable human resources necessary for development and for the strengthening of peace. Ultimately, society is the loser if the talents of women are under-utilized as a result of discrimination. Paragraph 48

The sharp contrasts between legislative changes and effective implementation of these changes are a major obstacle to the full participation of women in society. De facto and indirect discrimination, particularly by reference to marital or family status, often persists despite legislative action. The law as a recourse does not automatically benefit all women equally, owing to the socio-economic inequalities determining women's knowledge of and access to the law, as well as their ability to exercise their full legal rights without fear of recrimination or intimidation. The lack or inadequacy of the dissemination of information on women's rights and the available recourse to justice has hampered, in many instances, the achievement of expected results.

49. Some legislative changes are made without a thorough understanding of the relationship between existing legal systems. In practice, however, certain aspects of the law - for instance, customary provisions - may be in operation in societies with multiple and conflicting legal systems. Emerging and potential obstacles resulting from possible contradictions should be anticipated so that preventive measures can be taken. When passing new legislation, whatever its subject-matter, all possible care should be taken to ensure that it implies no direct or indirect discrimination so that women's right to equality is fully respected in law.

50. In some countries, discriminatory legislative provisions in the social, economic and political spheres still exist, including civil, penal and commercial codes and certain administrative rules and regulations. Civil codes in some instances have not yet been adequately studied to determine action for repealing those laws that still discriminate against women and for determining, on the basis of equality, the legal capacity and status of women, married women in particular, in terms of nationality, inheritance, ownership and control of property, freedom of movement and the custody and nationality of children. Above all, there is still a deeply rooted resistance on the part of conservative elements in society to the change in attitude necessary for a total ban on discriminatory practices against women at the family, local, national and international levels.

B. Basic strategies

51. The political commitment to establish, modify, expand or enforce a comprehensive legal base for the equality of women and men and on the basis of human dignity must be strengthened. Legislative changes are most effective when made within a supportive framework promoting simultaneous changes in the economic, social, political and cultural spheres, which can help bring about a social transformation. For true equality to become a reality for women, the sharing of power on equal terms with men must be a major strategy.

52. Governments should take the relevant steps to ensure that both men and women enjoy equal rights, opportunities and responsibilities so as to guarantee the development of their individual aptitudes and capacities and enable women to participate as beneficiaries and active agents in development.

53. Changes in social and economic structures should be promoted which would make possible the full equality of women and their free access to all types of development as active agents and beneficiaries, without discrimination of any kind, and to all types of education, training and employment. Special attention should be paid to implementing this right to the maximum extent possible for young women.

54. In order to promote equality of women and men, Governments should ensure, for both women and men, equality before the law, the provision of facilities for equality of educational opportunities and training, health services, equality in conditions and opportunities of employment, including remuneration, and adequate social security. Governments should recognize and undertake measures to implement the right of men and women to employment on equal conditions, regardless of marital status, and their equal access to the whole range of economic activities.

55. Effective institutions and procedures must be established or strengthened to monitor the situation of women comprehensively and identify the causes, both traditional and new, of discrimination and to help formulate new policies and effectively carry out strategies and measures to end discrimination. These arrangements and procedures must be integrated within a coherent policy for development but cannot wait indefinitely for such a policy to be formulated and implemented.

56. The obstacles to the equality of women created by stereotypes, perceptions of and attitudes towards women should be totally removed. Elimination of these obstacles will require, in addition to legislation, education of the population at large through formal and informal channels, including the media, non-governmental organizations, political party platforms and executive action. Paragraph 57

Appropriate governmental machinery for monitoring and improving the status of women should be established where it is lacking. To be effective, this machinery should be established at a high level of government and should be ensured adequate resources, commitment and authority to advise on the impact on women of all government policies. Such machinery can play a vital role in enhancing the status of women, inter alia, through the dissemination of information to women on their rights and entitlements, through collaborative action with various ministries and other government agencies and with non-governmental organizations and indigenous women's societies and groups.

58. Timely and reliable statistics on the situation of women have an important role to play in the elimination of stereotypes and the movement towards full equality. Governments should help collect statistics and make periodic assessment in identifying stereotypes and inequalities, in providing concrete evidence concerning many of the harmful consequences of unequal laws and practices and in measuring progress in the elimination of inequities.

59. The sharing of domestic responsibilities by all members of the family and equal recognition of women's informal and invisible economic contributions in the mainstream of society should be developed as complementary strategies for the elimination of women's secondary status, which has fostered discrimination.

C. Measures for the implementation of the basic strategies at the national level

1. Constitutional and legal

60. Governments that have not yet done so are urged to sign the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women/6 and to take all the necessary steps to ensure its ratification, or their accession to it. They should consider the possibility of establishing appropriate bodies charged with reviewing the national legislation concerned and with drawing up recommendations thereon to ensure that the provisions of the Convention and of the other international instruments to which they are parties that are relevant to the role, status and material circumstances of women are complied with.

61. Governments that have not yet done so should establish appropriate institutional procedures whereby the application of a revised set of laws and administrative measures may be effectively enforced from the village level up and may be adequately monitored so that individual women may, without obstruction or cost to themselves, seek to have discriminatory treatment redressed. Legislation that concerns women as a group should also be effectively enforced and monitored so that areas of systemic or de facto discrimination against women can be redressed. To this end, positive action policy should be developed.

62. Agrarian reform measures have not always ensured women's rights even in countries where women predominate in the agricultural labour force. Such reforms should guarantee women's constitutional and legal rights in terms of access to land and other means of production and should ensure that women will control the products of their labour and their income, as well as benefits from agricultural inputs, research, training, credits and other infrastructural facilities.

63. National research institutions, both governmental and private, are urged to undertake investigations of the problems associated with the relationship between the law and the role, status and material circumstances of women. These should be integrated into the curricula of relevant educational institutions in an attempt to promote general knowledge and awareness of the law.

64. In the past decade there have been significant advances in the development of statistical concepts and methods for measuring inequality between women and men. The capabilities of national institutions concerned with statistics and women's issues should be improved to implement these concepts and methods in the regular statistical programmes of countries and to make effective use of these statistics in the policy-planning process. Training for producers and users of statistics on women should play a key role in this process.

65. In-depth research should be undertaken to determine instances when customary law may be discriminatory or protective of women's rights and the extent to which the interfaces between customary and statutory law may retard progress in the implementation of new legislative measures. Particular attention should be paid to double standards in every aspect of life, with a view to abolishing them.

66. Law-reform committees with equal representation of women and men from Governments and from non-governmental organizations should be set up to review all laws, not only as a monitoring device but also with a view to determining research-related activities, amendments and new legislative measures.

67. Employment legislation should ensure equity and provide benefits for women not only in the conventional and formal labour force but also in the informal sector, particularly with regard to migrant and service workers, by providing minimum wage standards, insurance benefits, safe working conditions and the right to organize. Opportunities for similar guarantees and benefits should also be extended to women making vital economic contributions in activities involving food production and processing, fisheries and food distribution through trade. These benefits should also pertain to women working in family enterprises and, if possible, to other self-employed women in an effort to give due recognition to the vital contribution of all these informal and invisible economic activities to the development of human resources.

68. Civil codes, particularly those pertaining to family law, should be revised to eliminate discriminatory practices where these exist and wherever women are considered minors. The legal capacity of married women should be reviewed in order to grant them equal rights and duties.

69. /10b Such social and economic development should be encouraged as would secure the participation of women as equal partners with men in all fields of work, equal access to all positions of employment, equal pay for work of equal value and equal opportunities for education and vocational training, and would co-ordinate the legislation on the protection of women at work with the need for women to work and be highly productive producers and managers of all political, economic and social affairs and would develop branches of the social services to make domestic duties easier for women and men.

70. Measures for the implementation of legislation relating to working conditions for women must be taken.

71. Legislative and/or other measures should be adopted and implemented to secure for men and women the same right to work and to unemployment benefits, as well as to prohibit, through, inter alia, the imposition of sanctions, dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy or of maternity leave and discrimination in dismissals on the grounds of marital status. Legislative and other measures should be adopted and implemented to facilitate the return to the labour market of women who have left it for family reasons and to guarantee the right of women to return to work after maternity leave.

72. Governments should continue to take special action to institute programmes that would inform women workers of their rights under legislation and other remedial measures. The importance of freedom of association and the protection of the right to organize should be emphasized, this being particularly relevant to the position of women in employment. Special measures should be taken to ratify and implement in national legislation the relevant conventions and recommendations of the International Labour Organisation concerning the rights of women as regards access to equal employment opportunities, equal pay for work of equal value, equal working conditions, job security and maternity protection.

73. Marriage agreements should be based on mutual understanding, respect and freedom of choice. Careful attention should be paid to the equal participation and valuation of both partners so that the value of housework is considered equivalent of financial contributions.

74. The right of all women, in particular married women, to own, administer, sell or buy property independently should be guaranteed as an aspect of their equality and freedom under the law. The right to divorce should be granted equally to both partners under the same conditions, and custody of children decided in a non-discriminatory manner with full awareness of the importance of the input from both parents in the maintenance, rearing and socialization of children. Women should not forfeit their right to custody of their children or to any other benefits and freedoms simply because they have initiated a divorce. Without prejudice to the religious and cultural traditions of countries, and taking into account the de facto situations, legal or other appropriate provisions should be made to eliminate discrimination against single mothers and their children.

75. Appropriate action is necessary to ensure that the judiciary and all paralegal personnel are fully aware of the importance of the achievement by women of rights set out in internationally agreed instruments, constitutions and the law. Appropriate forms of in-service training and retraining should be designed and carried out for this purpose, with special attention given to the recruitment and training of women.

76. Special attention should be given in criminology training to the particular situation of women as victims of violent crimes, including crimes that violate women's bodies and result in serious physical and psychological damage. Legislation should be passed and laws enforced in every country to end the degradation of women through sex-related crimes. Guidance should be given to law enforcement and other authorities on the need to deal sensibly and sensitively with the victims of such crimes.

2. Equality in social participation

77. A comprehensive and sustained public campaign should be launched by all Governments, in close collaboration with non-governmental organizations, women's pressure groups, where they exist, and research institutions, as well as the media, educational institutions and traditional institutions of communication, to challenge and abolish all discriminatory perceptions, attitudes and practices by the year 2000. Target groups should include policy-makers and decision makers, legal technical advisers, bureaucrats, labour and business leaders, business persons, professionals and the general public.

78. By the year 2000, all Governments should have adequate comprehensive and coherent national women's policies to abolish all obstacles to the full and equal participation of women in all spheres of society.

79. Governments should take all appropriate measures to ensure to women, on equal terms with men and without discrimination, the opportunity to represent their Government at all levels on delegations to subregional, regional and international meetings. More women should be appointed as diplomats and to decision-making posts within the United Nations system, including posts in fields relating to peace and development activities. Support services, such as educational facilities and day care, for families of diplomats and other civil servants stationed abroad, of United Nations officials, as well as employment of spouses at the duty station, wherever possible, should be strongly encouraged.

80. As future parents, young people and children should be educated and mobilized to act as stipulators for and monitors of changes in attitudes towards women at all levels of society, particularly with regard to the need for greater flexibility in the assignment of roles between women and men.

81. Research activities should be promoted to identify discriminatory practices in education and training and to ensure quality at those two levels. One priority area for research should be the impact of sexual discrimination on the development of human resources.

82. Governments and private institutions are urged to include in the curricula of all schools, colleges and universities courses and seminars on women's history and roles in society and to incorporate women's issues in the general curriculum and to strengthen research institutions in the area of women's studies by promoting indigenous research activities and collaboration.

83. New teaching methods should be encouraged, especially audio-visual techniques, to demonstrate clearly the equality of the sexes. Programmes, curricula and standards of education and training should be the same for females and males. Textbooks and other teaching materials should be continuously evaluated, updated and, where necessary, redesigned, rewritten to ensure that they reflect positive, dynamic and participatory images of women and to present men actively involved in all aspects of family responsibilities.

84. Governments are urged to encourage the full participation of women in the whole range of occupations, especially in fields previously regarded as male preserves, in order to break down occupational barriers and taboos. Employment equity programmes should be developed to integrate women into all economic activities on an equal basis with men. Special measures designed to redress the imbalance imposed by centuries of discrimination against women should be promoted to accelerate de facto equality between men and women. Those measures should not be considered discriminatory or entail the maintenance of unequal or separate standards. They are to be discontinued when the objectives of equality of opportunity and treatment have been achieved. Governments should ensure that their public service is an exemplary equal opportunity employer.

85. High priority should be given to substantial and continuing improvement in the portrayal of women in the mass media. Every effort should be made to develop attitudes and to produce materials that portray positive aspects of women's roles and status in intellectual and other activities as well as egalitarian relations of sexes. Steps also should be taken to control pornography, other obscene portrayals of women and the portrayal of women as sex objects. In this regard all measures should be taken to ensure that women participate effectively in relevant councils and review bodies regarding mass media, including advertisement, and in the implementation of decisions of these bodies.

3. Equality in political participation and decision-making

86. Governments and political parties should intensify efforts to stimulate and ensure equality of participation by women in all national and local legislative bodies and to achieve equity in the appointment, election and promotion of women to high posts in executive, legislative and judiciary branches in these bodies. At the local level, strategies to ensure equality of women in political participation should be pragmatic, should bear a close relationship to issues of concern to women in the locality and should take into account the suitability of the proposed measures to local needs and values.

87. Governments and other employers should devote special attention to the broader and more equitable access and inclusion of women in management in various forms of popular participation, which is a significant factor in the development and realization of all human rights.

88. Governments should effectively secure participation of women in the decision-making processes at a national, state and local level through legislative and administrative measures. It is desirable that governmental departments establish a special office in each of them, headed preferably by a woman, to monitor periodically and accelerate the process of equitable representation of women. Special activities should be undertaken to increase the recruitment, nomination and promotion of women, especially to decision-making and policy-making positions, by publicizing posts more widely, increasing upward mobility and so on, until equitable representation of women is achieved. Reports should be compiled periodically on the numbers of women in public service and on their levels of responsibility in their areas of work.

89. With respect to the increase in the number of couples in which both partners are employed in the public service, especially the foreign service, Governments are urged to consider their special needs, in particular the couple's desire to be assigned to the same duty station, with a view to reconciling family and professional duties.

90. Awareness of women's political rights should be promoted through many channels, including formal and informal education, political education, non-governmental organizations, trade unions, the media and business organizations. Women should be encouraged and motivated and should help each other to exercise their right to vote and to be elected and to participate in the political process at all levels on equal terms with men.

91. Political parties and other organizations such as trade unions should make a deliberate effort to increase and improve women's participation within their ranks. They should institute measures to activate women's constitutional and legal guarantees of the right to be elected and appointed by selecting candidates. Equal access to the political machinery of the organizations and to resources and tools for developing skills in the art and tactics of practical politics, as well as effective leadership capabilities, should be given to women. Women in leadership positions also have a special responsibility to assist in this field.

92. Governments that have not already done so should establish institutional arrangements and procedures whereby individual women, as well as representatives of all types of women's interest groups, including those from the most vulnerable, least privileged and most oppressed groups, may participate actively in all aspects of the formulation, monitoring, review and appraisal of national and local policies, issues and activities.


6/ General Assembly resolution 34/180, annex.

10a/ The United States reserved its position on paragraph 44 because it did not agree that the obstacles listed should be considered the main reasons for the inequality of women in most countries.

10b/ The United States reserved its position on paragraphs 69, 72 and 137 specifically because it did not agree with the concept of "equal pay for work of equal value~ and maintained the principle of "equal pay for equal work".