UN’s Structure Does Not Ensure Women’s Equality

by Christina Charie '25 on March 2, 2023
Opinion Editor


An organization committed to safeguarding human rights has members that violently suppress women. The United Nations produces numerous statements condemning gender-based violence and discrimination in foreign states, but given their inability to enforce the precedents in individual states, women’s inequality persists. The ideals presented by documents such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women would protect women across the globe, if the standards were enforced adequately.  

According to the United Nations Charter, the organization “reaffirm[s] faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women.” State interests, however, prevent the United Nations from taking direct steps to carry out its mission globally, which harms vulnerable populations and shelters oppressive governments from facing consequences. In ideal circumstances, the United Nations would be an effective instrument of change on a global scale. Unfortunately, the world is far from ideal in the modern era. 

Without enforcement mechanisms, the United Nations cannot force regimes to comply with basic statutes relating to human rights, including gender-based discrimination. Each state can choose whether to enter conventions, which allows certain nations to avoid having the United Nations review their progress in terms of gender equality. Recently, this standard was demonstrated following the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian woman taken into custody by the country’s morality police. UN Women advocated “for the Iranian authorities to hold an independent, impartial, and prompt investigation into Ms. Amini’s death, to make the findings of the investigation public and to hold all perpetrators accountable.” Secret police physically assaulted a woman for having a lock of hair visible in public, but the United Nations cannot force the Iranian government to cooperate with the international community. The national sovereignty of oppressive regimes takes priority over human rights in the context of global politics. Without more oversight from the United Nations, women will continue to face various forms of persecution.  

Selective participation within the United Nations prevents the organization from enacting changes that protect the dignity of women and girls worldwide. In the United Kingdom, the government finally incorporated the Istanbul Convention into their national law, but the state refused to provide the same level of protection against violence for migrant women. If a state wants to reap the benefits and privileges of being part of the United Nations, some matters should be non-negotiable, especially when issues relate to human rights. Actions speak louder than words, and the world is telling women they are second-class citizens. Unfortunately, the United Nations places an excessive amount of trust in states to enforce agreements and protect human dignity.  

Conventions and statements are meaningless without change. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women attempts to facilitate action by asking states “to adopt appropriate legislative and other measures, including sanctions where appropriate, prohibiting all discrimination against women.” This declaration loses its weight and meaning when member states, including Egypt, Sudan, and Mali, allow a significant majority of their female populations to undergo genital mutilation procedures. This procedure has no medical advantages for patients. In fact, the practice causes serious complications including infection, complications during childbirth, and even death. The United Nations can issue thousands of statements advocating for states to safeguard women’s rights, but that does not prevent discrimination and violence from occurring in its member states. Without enforcement strategies, the United Nations is powerless against oppressive regimes.  

If human rights are the main priority within the United Nations, the organization needs more power over its members. All member states should be required to abide by certain conventions and agreements concerning human rights to avoid facing repercussions within the organization. The world cannot sit idly by as historically disadvantaged populations, including women, face physical and mental torture at the hands of regimes recognized by the United Nations. International investigations should become the standard when states are suspected of violating human rights. This will provide a system of checks and balances that prevents states from ignoring benchmarks set by the United Nations. 

The United Nations emerged from the horrors of two global wars to provide hope for the future, a future that included diplomacy and respect for human dignity. Unfortunately, states still refuse to cooperate to protect the most vulnerable populations. Nationalism obstructs the tools of international justice. If states refuse to accept principles set forth by the United Nations, then the organization must evolve to achieve its objectives. Ignoring the tragedies occurring across the world sets an appalling precedent that accepts violent discrimination.