The United Nations and Women's Human Rights

last updated September 18, 2018

The United Nations is a global organization that includes nearly every country in the world. When a country becomes a member of the United Nations, it undertakes the obligations set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, which includes the promotion of women's human rights and fundamental freedoms for women and girls. Inextricably tied to the promotion of human rights is the elimination of violence against women.

The basic human rights to which all people are entitled are contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets forth two broad categories of rights: "civil and political rights" and "economic, social and cultural rights." Civil and political rights include such basic freedoms as the right to liberty and security of person, freedom from torture and degrading treatment and the right to an effective remedy when a human rights violation has occurred. Economic, social and cultural rights include the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to adequate medical care and social services and the right to education. Although it is not a treaty, the Universal Declaration has long been considered customary law.[i]{C}{C}{C}

The United Nations system protects human rights through the creation of specific treaties, declarations and resolutions. Many of these basic documents guarantee specific rights to women and girls. The United Nations human rights treaties establish the obligations of the state to enforce these rights.

The human rights treaties of the United Nations also create specific enforcement and monitoring mechanisms through which the UN itself and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can monitor compliance and individuals can seek redress for human rights violations.

Within the United Nations system, programs, funds, and specialized agencies work to improve the conditions of particular populations and oversee the enforcement of specific rights, such as the right to health, through the World Health Organization, and labor rights, through the International Labor Organization. United Nations' bodies, such as these, work in a number of interrelated fields, often in collaboration with each other, with national governments and with NGOs. These programs, funds and specialized agencies are the mechanisms through which the UN acts to put human rights ideals about protecting women from violence into practice.

[i]{C}{C}{C} Hurst Hannum, “The Status of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in National and International Law,” Georgia Journal of International & Comparative Law 25 (1995/96): 317–352.