Equality between men and women is recognized across the OSCE as a fundamental aspect of a just, secure, and democratic society. Nonetheless, inequalities persist in both the private and public spheres on the basis of stereotypes and conventions that are maintained at both the state and societal level.
OSCE participating States have committed themselves to safeguarding women’s rights and actively supporting the equal participation of women in democratic governance. ODIHR supports efforts by participating States to follow through on their gender-equality commitments and to address the roots of inequality between men and women in all spheres.
ODIHR provides assistance to participating States to strengthen their national mechanisms for the advancement of women. This includes hosting expert roundtables, facilitating the sharing of good practices, and organizing training seminars on protecting women’s rights. ODIHR also assists participating States with the development of non-discriminatory legal and policy frameworks, including by supporting the creation of national action plans for gender equality.
In addition, ODIHR promotes policy discussions on gender equality and facilitates networking among gender-equality advocates, civil society, and governmental counterparts from across the OSCE region.
Women’s participation in politics
ODIHR aims to increase women's participation in political and public life by identifying discriminatory laws, policies, and practices and by sharing good practices and effective measures for promoting women’s engagement in democratic processes.
Under a project aimed at fostering women’s participation in political parties, ODIHR is currently compiling and sharing best practices with respect to voluntary measures that have been successful in promoting women’s involvement in political parties. Trends in women’s participation in politics are outlined in the study Gender Equality in Elected Office: A Six-Step Action Plan.
In addition, ODIHR implements activities that promote women’s contributions to local governance, facilitate dialogue between elected officials and civil society, and strengthen women’s political and leadership skills across the OSCE region.
Women's participation in elections
The low level of women’s political participation is often particularly evident during elections. Therefore, ODIHR promotes women’s participation in all aspects of the election process, including in its own election observation missions.
To this end, ODIHR published a Handbook for Monitoring Women’s Participation in Elections, which provides detailed guidance on promoting women’s participation throughout the election cycle.
In addition, ODIHR includes gender analysts in many of its observation missions. They analyze the level of women’s participation, liaise with government and civil society entities working on gender and women’s issues, and suggest measures to increase women’s political and electoral participation.
In order to ensure follow-up on gender-related recommendations and findings, ODIHR also facilitates meetings for current and former gender analysts.
Violence against women
Violence against women and girls is a persistent problem across the OSCE region. It is exacerbated by its lack of visibility and the context of institutionalized gender inequality and stereotyping in which it often takes place. It is often viewed as a private or domestic concern rather than as a specific, widespread human rights violation. Even when addressed by specific policies and strategies, or targeted acts of legislation, preventing it can still remain a challenge.
Violence against women has far-reaching implications for women’s inclusion in society. It should be recognized as a manifestation of control over women, which can limit women’s ability and power to make their own decisions in the political, economic, social, and cultural spheres. In essence, if women cannot be guaranteed the basic right to personal dignity and safety, how can their political rights be guaranteed?
Preventing and combating violence against women should be seen as a precondition for all other activities aimed at promoting women’s rights. In turn, ODIHR's activities to prevent and combat violence against women are often linked with other activities, including those focused on women’s security and women’s participation in politics.
ODIHR’s work on this issue focuses on four main areas:
- strengthening the legal and policy framework for preventing and combating violence against women;
- building the capacity of law-enforcement and judicial authorities to play an effective role in prevention and prosecution;
- promoting co-operation between security-sector entities and NGOs; and
- increasing the gender sensitivity of security sector personnel and security-sector reform processes.
ODIHR has organized a number of meetings for law-enforcement officials that have been particularly valuable venues for sharing best practices among police forces in developing a curriculum on combating domestic violence.