Women are under-represented in international bodies. We are joining the GQUAL campaign to change that.

From 4-5 October, we will be cosponsoring the GQUAL Conference, hosting high level representatives of States and members of international tribunals and organizations, international law and gender experts, academics, advocates and activists from all over the world that will gather at the GQUAL Conference in the Hague to build on the work done by the GQUAL campaign over the past two years. Participants will discuss the multiple angles that influence the representation of women and possible avenues for improvement, at the national and international level.

In 2015, the UN Secretary-General expressed concerns about the “stark gender imbalance” in treaty body membership. A year later the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights indicated that men were overrepresented in most treaty bodies. If you excluded the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which focuses on women’s rights, the representation of women in treaty body membership was only 31%. This figure rose slightly by mid-2017 to 36%.

The goal of the Conference will be to approve an Action Plan that will further build upon the campaign’s three main strategies, highlighted in the GQUAL Declaration. This document has been signed by more than 1,500 people, ranging from Presidents to Human Rights Activists, working on international justice from more than 90 countries. Through the Action Plan, it is expected that participants will be able to move forward and build concrete policies, proposals and calls to action which nations, International Organizations, civil society, and other stakeholders can take on to improve the representation of women across international bodies.

The need to strengthen the membership of the treaty bodies has been a recurring theme of past treaty body reform discussions. There is consensus that the credibility, quality and success of the treaty body system depend highly on the performance of its members. Yet the nomination and election processes often lack transparency and are marked by political trade-offs.

While we do not support named individuals as candidates, we do campaign for a more transparent process in which candidates are selected. Along with several partners, we have worked to set up the United Nations Treaty Body Elections Initiative in order to encourage States to establish an open, transparent and inclusive process at the national level to identify and nominate candidates to treaty bodies, including through consultations with civil society. These processes should take full consideration, at a minimum, of the criteria established in the relevant treaty and in General Assembly Resolution 68/268, and ensure the nomination of candidates with relevant human rights experience, including the nomination of expert women to the treaty bodies

The objective is to enable the States parties and other stakeholders to better understand and assess the expertise and experiences of nominees in advance of the elections in relation to the relevant treaty and to encourage States parties to carefully review the competence and experience, independence and impartiality, and geographical and gender diversity in a treaty body’s composition and to vote only for the most suitable candidates. This also includes taking specific measures to encourage women to come forward for treaty body positions and refrain from vote trading when electing members to UN expert mechanisms. The initiative does not support or oppose individual candidates. 

Leading up to the 2017 elections to the Committee against Torture, we have worked with the APT and the IRCT and six partner NGOs to develop a checklist which was circulated to States parties. Among the five key criteria for membership is for States to consider promoting diversity of membership including balanced gender representation. The checklist is followed up by a questionnaire that is distributed to all nominees and replies are made available on www.UNTBelections.org with the view to enable States parties to better understand the skills and experience of the candidates running for election. So far, the ratio of candidates nominated for the 2017 election is: seven men to two women. Elections will be held on 5 October 2017.

We are also working extensively with the appointment processes of new Special Procedure mandate holders, to ensure the best procedure for appointments is in place and that highly qualified, expert and independent individuals put themselves forward for appointment. As with the treaty bodies, we also take no position in support of, or against, individuals standing for these or other positions but emphasises criteria for expertise.

In May, we and five other NGOs wrote to the Consultative Group of the Human Rights Council in relation to the appointment of four Special Procedure mandate holders at the Human Rights Council’s 35th regular session. The appointment of independent, impartial, competent and expert persons from all regions of the world is essential to ensuring a well-functioning system of Special Procedures, which, in turn, is of crucial importance to the functioning of the Human Rights Council. The selection and appointment of mandate holders, through a transparent and merit based process, on the basis of relevant expertise for the mandate in question, real and perceived independence, impartiality, personal integrity and objectivity are of crucial importance for the effective functioning of the mandates. The organizations also called for urgent consideration to be given to gender diversity in the selection process and for the adoption of gender parity guidelines.