UN Working Group on the issue of Discrimination Against Women in Law and in Practice (WGDAW)



The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice (WGDAW) was created by the Human Rights Council in 2010, and consists of five independent expert members from different regions of the world as defined by the UN (LAC, WEOG, Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa).  Current and former mandate holders include:

  • Alda Facio (Costa Rica) (current)
  • Meskerem Geset Techane (Ethiopia) (current)
  • Melissa Upreti (Nepal) (current)
  • Elizabeth Broderick (Australia) (current)
  • Ivana Radacic (Croatia) (current)
  • Frances Raday (Israel) (former)
  • Eleonora Zielinska (Poland) (former)
  • Emna Aouij (Tunisia) (former)
  • Kamala Chandrakirana (Indonesia) (former)

Access the webpage of the WGDAW here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/WGWomen/Pages/WGWomenIndex.aspx


The UN Human Rights system has multiple arms which are serviced and supported by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  One major section consists of the Human Rights Treaty Bodies, committees made up of independent experts that monitor the implementation of legally-binding human rights conventions, such as CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) and the other nine treaty bodies. These Committees receive reports from states that have ratified the associated convention, as well as supplementary information (alternative or shadow reports) from national and international NGOs, and meet with state representatives periodically to consider their reports and engage in a “constructive dialogue” which results in a set of recommendations published in the form of “concluding observations.”

Another section involved in human rights monitoring is that of the “Special Procedures” of the Human Rights Council.  The Human Rights Council (HRC) is different from the treaty body committees in that it is a UN charter-based inter-governmental body made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights.  The HRC conducts a systematic periodic human rights review of all UN member states through the process known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  The Human Rights Council also creates “Special Procedures,” which are individuals or groups of independent experts that monitor and investigate particular human rights issues, and report back to the Human Rights Council.  These are known as Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts, and Working Groups. The current extensive list of Special Procedures and access to their pages can be found here:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

The WGDAW was thus created by the HRC, and provides information and reports to the Human Rights Council. The work and analysis of the WGDAW, which is focused on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice, is grounded in and related to the framework for women’s human rights as articulated in the CEDAW Convention and plays a complementary role to the work of CEDAW. Thus, CEDAW’s core principles of Non-Discrimination, Substantive Equality and State Obligation are central to the lens of the WGDAW. The WGDAW is closely related to and collaborates with other Special Procedures, including the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women.

Methods of Work

The UNWGDAW engages primarily in the following activities:

  1. Conducting 2-3 annual fact-finding “country visits” to assess the women’s human rights situation and the implementation of women’s human rights obligations, followed by the production of a report with recommendations submitted to the HRC and made available to the public. During these visits, WGDAW expert members meet with government officials and civil society representatives, and visit or tour areas of concern.
  1. Receiving communications: the WGDAW is able to receive communications from civil society on urgent issues or issues of concern and then communicate with governments based on the information received. These communications result in public statements and information is shared with the Human Rights Council.  To date, the WGDAW has issued over 170 communications.  These are available on the WGDAW website:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/WGWomen/Pages/Communications.aspx
  1. Annual thematic reports: The WGDAW chooses a series of thematic issues of concern related to their mandate, and the Chair coordinates a report on that theme which is submitted to the Human Rights Council and made available to the public on the WGDAW website.
  1. The WGDAW members also conduct and participate in various expert group meetings and panels throughout the year.  They can also be invited to undertake visits and participate in events in their unofficial capacity.
Activities to Date
A) Thematic Reports

Thematic reports published to date can be downloaded in all UN languages on the WGDAW website at:   http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/WGWomen/Pages/Annualreports.aspx

  1. Initial Report (2012) A/HRC/20/28 – Topic:  Information on mandate, conceptual framework and working methods: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Women/A-HRC-20-28_en.pdf
  1. Thematic Analysis: eliminating discrimination against women in political and public life, with a focus on political transition (2013) A/HRC/23/50: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Women/WG/A.HRC.23.50_English.pdf
  1. Thematic Analysis: eliminating discrimination against women in economic and social life, with a focus on economic crisis (2014) – A/HRC/23/50: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session26/Documents/A-HRC-26-39_en.doc
  1. Thematic Analysis: eliminating discrimination against women in cultural and family life, with a focus on the family as a cultural space (2015) A/HRC/29/40: – http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session29/Documents/A_HRC_29_40_en.doc
  1. Thematic analysis: eliminating discrimination against women in the area of health and safety, with a focus on the instrumentalization of women’s bodies (2016) – A/HRC/32/44: http://daccess-ods.un.org/access.nsf/Get?Open&DS=A/HRC/32/44&Lang=E
  2. Thematic analysis:  Compendium on Good Practices in the elimination of discrimination against women (2017) –  A/HRC/35/29  https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/WGWomen/Pages/CompendiumGoodPractices.aspx 
The 2017 Thematic Report:  Good practices in the eradication of DAW and the promotion of women’s empowerment

Built into the mandate of the group from its inception was the impetus to collect “good practices” and to prepare a “compendium of good practices” related to the elimination of discrimination against women in law and practice.  This was the topic of the 2017 annual report, coordinated by expert member Alda Facio, who presented the report as Chair of the Working Group to the Human Rights Council in June 2017.  Ms. Facio determined the focus of the “good practices” report in the context of the UNWGDAW’s mandate as follows:

The “good practices” compendium will use the law as a focal point for consideration of examples of meaningful change for women, by considering the processes by which good laws come into being and are implemented in ways that support women’s access to their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The entry point of the study will be a law that can be understood to be, in intention at least, a good law for women.  A “good law” for women is understood to be one that has as its purpose or goal the elimination of some form of discrimination against women or a particular group of women, and/or the promotion of substantive equality.

When a good or potentially good law is identified, the research methodology will consist of looking at the life-cycle of the law: how the law came into being, who was involved in its development, and to look at the impact it has had, and whether the impact is as intended and/or how the law has been meaningfully implemented.

The focus on process and methodology in mapping out how a good/promising practice related to the law came into being will provide a useful framework to support States in understanding how to create an ameliorating environment to enable meaningful change for women in the elimination of discrimination against women and fulfillment of their human rights.

A large transnational research team worked together under the WHRI to produce case studies for the good practices report.  The appendix highlighting some of those cases can be found on the website here.


B) Country Visit Reports

To date, the UNWGDAW has undertaken 15 country visits, with a 16th visit to Poland scheduled for December 2018.

All country visit reports can be found at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/WGWomen/Pages/CountryVisits.aspx