Canada’s commitment to gender equality and the advancement of women’s rights internationally


Canada is a world leader in the promotion and protection of women’s rights and gender equality. These issues are central to Canada’s foreign and domestic policies. Canada is committed to the view that gender equality is not only a human rights issue, but is also an essential component of sustainable development, social justice, peace, and security.

These goals will only be achieved if women are able to participate as equal partners, decision makers, and beneficiaries of the sustainable development of their societies. This is explicitly recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The UDHR was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, of which Canada is a member, in 1948. Canada ratified the CEDAW Convention in 1981.

The adoption of CEDAW set new benchmarks for governmental accountability and international action. This firm legal foundation, complemented by increasing emphasis by the UN on the promotion and protection of human rights, has enabled significant advances in gender equality and women’s human rights internationally. However, the struggle is far from over.

The UN World Conferences on Women have been important catalysts in moving the agenda forward on gender equality and women’s human rights. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing) resulting from the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, and the reviews held every five years since then, are far-reaching in their goals for the achievement of gender equality and for the advancement and empowerment of women.

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meets every year to evaluate progress on gender equality and identify areas where challenges remain. Following the adoption of Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, every five years the CSW annual meeting has reviewed Beijing and reaffirmed the international community’s commitment to its full and accelerated implementation.

Women’s Human Rights

Protection and advancement of women’s human rights remains a central foreign policy priority for Canada, both in bilateral discussions and in multilateral fora. At the United Nations (UN), Canada has worked to make women’s human rights a strong focus of the Commission on the Status of Women and the Human Rights Council. Canada actively promotes the integration of women’s human rights throughout the UN system.

Canada was one of the first countries to sign and ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which set international standards for eliminating gender discrimination. In 2002, Canada ratified the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW, which was adopted by the UN General Assemply in December 2000. The Protocol provides an international remedy for violations of women’s human rights through a communications and an inquiry procedure. The communications procedure allows individual women or groups of women to submit complaints to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women after having exhausted all national remedies. The inquiry procedure entitles the Committee to conduct investigations and inquiries into grave or systemic violations of the Convention.

Canada participated in the development of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action in 1993, which affirmed that “women’s rights are human rights” and called for action to integrate the equal status and human rights of women in the mainstream of UN system-wide activity. Canada also played a key role at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, which identified 12 critical areas of concern and set out a course of action to ensure comprehensive protection and advancement of women’s rights around the world.

Women in Decision Making


One of the most effective ways of improving the status and well-being of women is by ensuring their full, equal and effective participation in decision-making at all levels of political, economic and social life. This approach promotes and protects women’s human rights while allowing society to benefit from the diverse experiences, talents and capabilities of all its members.

In 1995 Setting the Stage: the Federal Plan for Gender Equality, the federal government of Canada established the incorporation of women’s perspectives in governance as a central priority in foreign and domestic policy on gender equality and women’s rights.

Internationally, Canada is working with like-minded governments to ensure the UN attains its goal of equal representation for women and men within the UN system. Canada promotes similar efforts in other international fora such as the Commonwealth, the Francophonie (in French only), the Organization of American States, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Foreign Policy Priorities

Canada’s foreign policy priorities include the elimination of violence against women, ending child, early and forced marriage, improving maternal, newborn and child health, the full and equal participation of women in decision-making, and the mainstreaming of a gender perspective. Canada pursues these priorities in multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, in bilateral discussions with individual countries, and through the development cooperation programm delivered by Global Affairs Canada. Canada supports an inclusive and representative approach to international diplomacy which gives a greater role to non-governmental organisations, such as those working for gender equality. All in all, Canada supports a broad range of projects which encourage an enhanced decision-making role for women in developing countries.

For information on how Canada integrates gender equality analysis into its international development programs, see Development Challenges and Priorities: Gender Equality.

Canada’s work internationally complements efforts at the domestic level. Status of Women Canada is the federal government agency responsible for promoting gender equality and women’s rights.