In this section we present the most important documents, declarations and conventions which are crucial from the perspective of gender equality and women empowerment. Among them some of them concern womens rights in development,aid effectiveness. There are also emphasized documents issued by the European Union concerning women in development.

What international documents and conventions regulate women’s rights?

  • Women’s rights in development

The key documents in this area are the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).


Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action

These documents are the outcome of the 4th World Conference on Women, organized by United Nations in Beijing, in 1995. During the conference, the representatives of 189 countries adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action as the program for action, identifying twelve key areas in which to elevate the status of women. It was planned that in the following years governments, international institutions, NGOs and the private sector would undertake action to elevate the status of women in the following areas: poverty, education, health, violence, armed conflict, economy, government and decision-making processes, institutional mechanisms for empowering women, women’s rights as human rights, media, environment and young women. The term gender mainstreaming appeared for the first time during this conference and in documents that followed.


Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

CEDAW was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979. It defines international standards in the area of protection of women’s rights in all areas of life (e.g. political and public life, education, employment, access to medical services and family planning). CEDAW was the first international document which introduced the definition of discrimination against women. The convention obliges its signatory states to fight the stereotypes regarding the role of men and women, being the basis of discrimination. The convention was ratified by 186 countries – ca. 90% of UN members. States-signatories of the convention are required to report on compliance with the convention every 4 years. The CEDAW Committee monitors progress in implementing the convention through monitoring those reports, as well as alternative reports prepared by civil society organizations and independent experts.


  • Gender equality and aid effectiveness

In 2005, the member states of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) signed the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness, which radically changed the concept of aid, defining five principles of effective development aid: ownership of development concepts, alignment of aid with the strategies of beneficiaries, harmonization of procedures regulating aid transfers, orientation on results of aid activities, mutual accountability.

The lack of direct commitments ofParis Declaration in the area of gender equality was harshly criticized. In 2008, the Accra Agenda for Action, revisiting the Paris Declaration, included gender equality as a cross-cutting issue.[1]

The most recent, 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4) took place in Busan, South Korea, on November 29-December 1, 2011. For the first time in the history of the aid effectiveness process, NGOs were represented at the negotiation table.

The final document of HLF4, entitled Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, emphasizes the principle of ownership, necessity to utilize the so-called country systems, and further steps towards untying aid. Section 20 is devoted to gender equality and women’s empowerment, which are considered as a prerequisite of any effective actions for development. What can have negative impact on women, however, is the fact that the document defines development mostly as economic growth, and not as the process respecting mainly human rights.

The Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action were monitored by OECD. In Busan, the paradigm shift took place from aid effectiveness to development effectiveness, a notion encompassing many more activities. A more democratic structure of the process was proposed, and UN was invited to cooperate. The principles of cooperation are currently being developed.


  • Gender equality in documents of the European Union

The European Union (EU) considers development as based on poverty reduction and realization of human rights based on the fundamental values of gender equality. Article 208 of the Treaty establishing the European Community states that the EU development cooperation has a complementary character. Instead of substituting for activities undertaken by particular member states, the European Community attempts to complement them. The European Community is also obliged to fight poverty, gradually integrate the world economy and work towards sustainable economic and social development, the basic aim of which is to implement policies influencing partner countries. The legal foundations of the EU’s external aid in the area of gender equality can be found in the 1998 Council Regulation on integrating of gender issues in development cooperation.[2] In 2004, the European Parliament and the Council adopted Regulation on promoting gender equality in development cooperation.[3] These obligations informed the development of policy documents which frame development cooperation and ensure that the EU and Member States’ development cooperation supports women’s empowerment.


The European Consensus on Development (ECD) (2005) and Increasing the impact of EU Development Policy: an Agenda for Change (2011)

Development cooperation on the EU level is regulated in the European Consensus on Development (ECD). ECD, adopted jointly by the European Parliament and the Council in 2005, states the common vision of development in which gender equality is an important objective, and not just means for reducing poverty. The EU will include a strong gender component in all its policies and practices in its relations with developing countries (section 19). ECD priority issues include poverty reduction and promoting good governance, democracy and human rights, as well as the growth of official development aid to 0.56% GDP in 2010 and 0.7% GDP in 2015. It also provides the framework for alignment and harmonization of bilateral development cooperation of the Member States and European Community, which has come to be perceived as groundbreaking in the context of the Paris Declaration. ECD is politically binding and constitutes the foundation for future financial instruments of the EU, as well as cooperation of the EU institutions.

The interim review of the ECD started at the end of 2010, simultaneously with the consultations on the Green Papers,[4] and the new Agenda for Change of EU Development Policy, proposed in October 2011 by the EU Commissioner for Development. The twelve-item Agenda for Change will be increasingly important in shaping the development policy and program. The Ministers for Development shall discuss the Agenda for Change in May 2012, during the meeting of Foreign Affairs Council. When it is adopted, it shall replace the interim review of the European Consensus on Development. Following the international trends, the main objective of European Development Policy has shifted from poverty reduction towards understanding development as economic growth, and the private sector has become an equal actor in development cooperation, alongside the governments and civil society organizations. This shift may have important negative consequences for women and girls. The new direction, set by this document, shall also be the basis for negotiations of the Multiannual Financial Framework after 2013.


EC Communication on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Development Cooperation (2007) and related Council Conclusions (2007)

Based on the ECD principle, which states that gender equality is a basic human right and a precondition for sustainable growth, the Communication presents a common vision for gender equality and calls on member states to promote clear objectives and indicators of gender equality through appointing clear objectives and responsibilities to key donors in all sectors. Strengthening the twin-track approach, especially through defining actions aimed at achieving gender equality in all areas, goes even beyond Millennium Development Goals.

Related to the EC Communication are the Conclusions of the Council and the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States, also known as Council Conclusions. It recognizes the Member States’ specific responsibility to support developing country partners in eliminating discrimination and gender inequality by increasing visibility and accountability on gender equality and women’s empowerment in development cooperation and to promote and engage in an enhanced political dialogue at all levels, including the highest political level, which incorporates gender equality explicitly as a central theme.[5]


EU Plan of Action on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Development (2010-2015)

The EU Plan of Action, adopted in June 2010 as part of Council Conclusions on the Millennium Development Goals, is supposed to establish parallel support in the implementation of 2007 Communication on gender equality and women’s empowerment. The Plan of Action is based on a complex approach to deliver on gender equality commitments and increase impact on the ground. It focuses on (1) political dialogue with partner countries; (2) inclusion of gender issues in all programs; and (3) specific action requiring targeted support. The plan establishes concrete steps to be carried out jointly by the Member States and the Commission and requires annual reporting against set targets.

How does the European Union promote gender equality?

The EU applies the so-called three-pronged approach, introduced in the EU Plan of Action on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (2010-2015), which combines the following three activities:

  • political dialogue
  • gender mainstreaming
  • special actions aimed at leveling the existing inequalities.


[1] Brief on EU and Gender Equality, Veronique Dion, p.3 KARAT Coalition, 2010

[2] EC/2836/98

[3] EC/806/2004

[4] Green papers are the documents for discussion regarding a particular Policy area and inviting interested stakeholders to participate in the debate and consultation process.