On the matter of human rights, Thomas Weiss argues that the UN’s activity often displays an enormous gap between the law on the books and the law in action. States continuously shape the agenda and action on human rights. However, the UN has been able to go beyond state’s influence through advocacy and effective promotion. One example of this situation has been the work of the UN regarding women’s rights.
The Compliance Gap and Women’s Rights
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) against Women is one of the main human rights treaties negotiated through the UN. From this treaty, a created special committee charged with reviewing national reports covers the actions taken to improve the situation of women. Alongside these lines, the UN Security Council also addressed this issue in its Resolution 1325 (2000). This resolution reaffirms the role of women in conflict prevention and peacekeeping, while making the Council more aware of the situation of women in conflict states.
Nonetheless, Eric Posner demonstrates in his article that even though 188 countries have ratified CEDAW, it does not mean that women are not still victims of violence in their home states. Furthermore, only 43 countries have adopted a National Action Plan for the Implementation of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security to date.
The Political Value of Treaties
Without substantial success on the protection of legal standards, the UN has resorted to more targeted actions of promotion and advocacy for women. Launched in 2008, the UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign’s objective is to raise public awareness and increase measures preventing and ending all forms of violence against women and girls in all parts of the world. Several states have started promoting the issue through cultural initiatives of awareness and prevention in countries like South Africa, Kazakhstan and Bosnia due to this campaign.
Most recently, the UN launched the HeForShe campaign in 2014, as a solidarity movement for gender equality. Accompanied by a powerful speech by British actor Emma Watson, this campaign aims to engage men and boys as agents of change for the achievement of gender equality and women’s rights. Since its beginning, the campaign has gained wide support by the media and several heads of state have pledged support for its objectives, like the United States’ President Barack Obama.
These initiatives show that the UN’s work can surpass the legal perspective. Pushing a more progressive agenda in terms of prevention and protection is vital for states. Weiss recognizes that states use their sovereignty to agree on international human rights obligations. However, the UN gets to push for full commitment and respect of those obligations. It remains a true advocate for people around the world. Without the UN’s support and promotion, human rights would remain as a matter of state’s sovereignty. It is the UN’s task then to react and engage with both state and civil society through concrete messages. Campaigns and initiatives such as the ones discussed do not undermine members’ states sovereignty, but instead raise awareness. In turn, states can take substantial steps towards full human rights protection, which at the end serves the purpose of securing international peace and security.