Working Group on the Issue of Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice


The Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice is one of the thematic special procedures overseen by the United Nations Human Rights Council. It encourages the elimination of laws that discriminate against women and the adoption of constitutional and legal reforms that integrate women’s human rights into domestic law. The Working Group is especially conscious of the patriarchal stereotyping and imbalances of power that fuel discrimination against women in both the public and private spheres. The Working Group thus identifies and promotes best practices with regard to eliminating discriminatory laws and communicates with States on laws that have discriminatory impacts on women.

The Working Group strives to contribute to the realization of the Millennium Development Goals, in particular Goal 3 on the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.


Five independent experts make up the Working Group, with equitable geographic representation being one of the criteria for appointment. The Working Group meets for three sessions per year, with each session lasting approximately four days. The mandate of the Working Group lasts for a period of three years.

The Human Rights Council established the Working Group in 2010 with Resolution 15/23, and extended the mandate in 2013 with Resolution 23/7.

In fulfilling its mandate, the Working Group may undertake country visits, communicate with governments concerning information and complaints received regarding alleged rights violations, engage in dialogue with relevant stakeholders, and submit activity reports to the Human Rights Council.

Country Visits

One important function of the Working Group is to conduct country visits, which it does on the basis of an invitation from the country concerned. Country visits provide the Working Group an opportunity to examine the situation of discrimination against women in law and practice at the national and local levels. The Working Group identifies best practices for eliminating discrimination and makes recommendations to governments to improve the protection of women’s human rights.

The Working Group undertakes two to three country visits per year, to States that have extended an invitation. View the list of previous country visits and the Working Group’s subsequent reports here.

More than 100 countries have extended standing invitations to country visits by all thematic special procedures. View the list of countries that have extended standing invitations here.

Receiving Information & Complaints

The Working Group receives information and complaints about individual cases or general situations of alleged discrimination against women. Importantly, the Working Group does not issue decisions concerning individual complaints and cannot require the State to remedy any alleged violation; rather, the Working Group raises the issue of concern with the relevant State. The Working Group may contact the government concerned to invite comment on the allegation, seek clarification, remind the government of its international obligations, or request information on steps being taken by the government to redress the situation.

Generally called “communications,” these exchanges with the government can take a variety of forms of varying degrees of significance. Specifically, the Working Group contacts a government through either an allegation letter or an urgent appeal.

The Working Group keeps confidential all communications to and from the government until he or she includes them in the joint communications reports to the Human Rights Council, which are public.

In all of its communications, the Working Group is careful not to draw any conclusions about the facts of the case. Instead, the Working Group simply presses for the government to ensure that the right to be free from discrimination is not violated.

Allegation Letters

Generally, the Working Group sends an allegation letter in circumstances where the alleged violation has already occurred, relates to a general pattern of violations, or is not so pressing as to warrant sending an urgent appeal. An allegation letter generally contains a request for the government to clarify the substance of the allegation and to forward any information related to the allegation to the Working Group.

Urgent Appeals

The urgent appeals procedure is reserved for cases in which there are sufficiently reliable allegations that a person’s rights may be violated and that the situation is time-sensitive in terms of loss of life, life-threatening situations, or imminent or ongoing damage of a grave nature. If it appears that the allegation letters procedure is unlikely to address the situation in a timely enough manner, the Working Group will send an urgent appeal to the government concerned.

Dialogue with Governments, Civil Society, and Other Actors

The Working Group also engages in dialogue with UN entities, States, civil society groups, expert on different legal systems, and other relevant actors, in order to identify, promote, and exchange views on best practices related to eliminating laws that discriminate against women or have a discriminatory impact on women.

Reports to the Human Rights Council

The Working Group reports annually to the Human Rights Council on all of its activities relating to its mandate. These reports are available on the Working Group’s Annual Reports webpage.


Complaints and other submissions to the Working Group should comply with its guidelines, and include, at minimum, the following information:

  • identity and other details of the alleged victim(s);
  • identity of the alleged perpetrator(s) of the violation;
  • identity of the person(s) or organization(s) submitting the communication, which will be kept confidential; and
  • the date, place, and detailed description of the circumstances of the incident(s) or alleged violation.

For cases that involve laws, policies, or practices discriminating against women, the communication should include:

  • a summary of the draft law, enacted law, policy, or practice;
  • a description of the effects of its implementation on women’s human rights; and,
  • if available, concrete examples of discrimination against women.

To aid in the complaint submission process, the Working Group provides information on the framework of discrimination, including the definitions of key terms.

Complaints may be submitted by:

  • Mail:

Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice
c/o Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
CH-1211 Geneva 10

To contact the Working Group on a different matter (not a complaint), use the email address: [email protected].