An international gender equality regime has emerged alongside the development of the UN International Bill of Human Rights. The gender equality regime includes norms, principles, legal instruments and compliance mechanisms. It has been important for the development of gender equality policy and legislation in Norway, as well as in many other countries.
The International Bill of Human Rights consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols. The Bill recognises the formal equal status of men and women:
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
The International Bill of Human Rights secures men and women:
• the right to bodily integrity and autonomy
• the right to vote
• the right to hold public office
• the right to work
• the right to fair wages
• the right to own property
• the right to education
• marital rights
• parental rights
• religious rights
• the right to serve in the military
• the right to enter into legal contracts
However, the gender neutral UN human rights regime seemed inadequate to address women’s human rights properly. The 1978 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) marks a milestone in the gender equality regime building process. CEDAW was the first legally binding international instrument for the protection of women's rights. It is the first international treaty to comprehensively address fundamental rights for women in politics, health care, education, economics, employment, law, property, and marriage and family relations.
CEDAW defines discrimination against women as:
“Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” (Article 1)
In addition the convention recognised that legal right alone is not enough, but that gender equality needs to be promoted through gender specific actions if the goal of gender equality is to be realised.
CEDAW has, beyond its original mandate, increased the attention paid to gender issues in general within the UN human rights framework. A series of special procedures related to gender equality and gender equality units within the UN has been established. The World Conferences through their published final documents have also been important to further develop international gender equality norms and standards. The last development in the international gender equality regime is Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which calls for the full protection of women in wars and conflicts, impunity for gender based violence, and for women’s participation in all levels of peace processes.