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The importance of data to ensure gender equality

Liliana Ronconi[i]

Photo by Oxford Human Rights Hub

Although the principle of equality and the prohibition of discrimination have been recognized since the emergence of various international human rights treaties, only in recent years have we made progress in recognizing that there are certain groups that are disadvantaged and that positive actions are needed by the States to effectively enjoy these conditions of equality.[i] For example, the obligation to ensure the equal participation of women at the international level arises from Art. 8 of the CEDAW.[ii]

As the GQUAL Campaign has showed for several years, international and regional human rights protection bodies have been affected by the failure to guarantee equality in their composition. Particularly, different reports show the inequality in the historical composition of these bodies in terms of the equal participation of women and men.[iii]

GQUAL presents its Ranking 2022, which classifies the countries of the world according to the percentage of women that make up the nationals elected to positions in international tribunals and monitoring bodies. The data that emerges from it are relevant and serve to reflect on several issues: first, that there are women who can hold positions in the highest international spheres. This is linked to the false, but very common, argument that there are no women who can occupy these positions. The ranking shows that some countries have taken the egalitarian commitment seriously and have nominated women. Additionally, it offers an opportunity to discuss potential male and female candidates with concrete data and not assumptions, and thus, to make evidence-based decisions. However, this requires not only data, but also public, clear, and transparent internal procedures for the selection of candidates.

GQUAL World Ranking 2022

Furthermore, the ranking shows an unequal panorama, with a large number of countries that still have no or very few women in the organs analyzed. The reason for this? We couldn’t find it! Until these data and other productions by the Campaign were published, this information was not available. Essentially, we may have known that a certain body did not have women in its composition or that there were few of them; however, the ranking focuses on the States in a structural way and takes a panoramic picture of the situation of women in international justice.

The numbers reflect a structural inequality. The problem is not one woman in particular, but rather that there are not many women, in general, in international organizations. This had to be demonstrated by those interested in international law, but it is not something generally accounted for by States.

I am interested in highlighting the importance of gender-disaggregated data. I understand that it is not enough to achieve parity in general (global) terms; it is also important to achieve parity in each of the organizations. For this reason, it is necessary to ensure that women, where they exist in these bodies, are not concentrated in certain areas (for example, those related to children, or the bodies that work on women’s issues, such as the CEDAW Committee), but that they are equally represented in other areas. At the same time, it is important to analyze parity; achieving it is a starting point, but sustaining it is the long-term challenge. Likewise, the data should also be disaggregated in terms of multiethnic representation, including people with disabilities, among others. The ranking not only shows a situation of inequality with respect to women, but also a special impact on the countries of the global south, which are the ones that generally have fewer nationals holding positions. The number of nationals from the global south decreases considerably if we analyze only the situation of women in this region.

The existence of data such as those presented here provides tools for analyzing the behavior of States when nominating candidates in a comparative manner over time. Thus, the production and dissemination of data such as the GQUAL Ranking provide key information to influence state policies when selecting or supporting certain candidates.

🔗 More information about the GQUAL Ranking 2022

[i] D. in Law, Professor of Human Rights at the Law School of the University of Buenos Aires and Researcher at CONICET.

[ii] In particular, in 2007, the Human Rights Council (HRC), through Resolution 5/1, expressed the need to give due consideration to gender balance in the selection of members of Special Procedures. Furthermore, in 2019 it published Resolution 41/6 which highlights the lack of gender balance in UN human rights bodies, including Special Procedures, Treaty Bodies, and the Advisory Committee of the Council. Finally, in May 2021, the UN HRC published the report: “Current level of representation of women in human rights bodies and mechanisms: ensuring gender balance” by the Advisory Committee of the Council.

[iii] In this regard, v. Martin, C. (2017), Article 8 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: an essential stepping stone in ensuring gender parity in international bodies and courts, GQUAL Campaign.

[iv] HRC and GQUAL (2019), La falta de mujeres ocupando cargos en organismos internacionales ¿responsabilidad de los Estados?, 2nd report, UBA Law School. HRC and GQUAL (2017), La situación de las mujeres en los espacios de justicia internacional, Documento de trabajo Nro. 1, Facultad de Derecho UBA.