chapter  3
Origins and development of international norms of sexual non-discrimination
Pages 25

Since the end of the Second World War, international and regional human rights regimes have been established that have shaped both the behaviour of individual states and relations between states in international society. From the outset, both the UN and European human rights systems have upheld the principle of equality. Along with its broad human rights instruments, the UN and its special agency the International Labour Organization (ILO) have developed a range of instruments enshrining norms of sexual non-discrimination. The most important of these is the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which, since its adoption in 1979, has been recognized at both the international and the regional level as the primary instrument regarding sexual non-discrimination. At the regional level, a number of human rights systems have been created, including the European, InterAmerican and African systems. Asia is the only region without a regional system of human rights. The most long-standing and comprehensive of the established regional human rights systems is the European system. However, the European Council has not created a regime designed specifically to eliminate sexual discrimination. Instead, the European Council upholds CEDAW as the pre-eminent instrument regarding sexual nondiscrimination in the regional context. The council’s reliance on the European Convention on Human Rights (1950) and the European Social Charter (1961) has attracted growing criticism, and the council has been accused of failing to take seriously the problem of sexual discrimination in Europe (Council of Europe Press 1995: 41). This has seen the EU, which has adopted a number of legally binding directives prohibiting sexual discrimination in employment, become central to the furthering of European women’s rights.