By Adrienne Schillemans

On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2015 (Summary Workshop 9 March 2015)

On the day after the international celebrations of International Women’s Day, an interesting dialogue with three experts from Utrecht University was held. On Monday 9 March 2015, Ineke BoerefijnCees Flinterman and Tineke Lambooy each presented an introduction to the subject: do we really need an International Women’s Day? Are we not done making women equal to men in The Netherlands? Women can work, vote, drive, win competitions, share care for children and split the tasks in a household. But are we finished? Or do we need to keep up the fight for both Dutch women and their sisters worldwide? And if yes, what do we need to fight for?

Mrs. Adriënne Schillemans opened the workshop by welcoming everyone and started her introduction with a reference to the opening of the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in the United Nations headquarters in New York that morning, the 9th of March 2015. She mentioned that the main focus of this 59th session is on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which was produced at the fourth United Nations Women’s Conference in Beijing, twenty years ago. Mrs. Adriënne Schillemans: ‘the Commission on the Status of Women was established by Council Resolution 11 of 21 June 1946. From the beginning of the United Nations and was a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). In 1975 the United Nations created an International Women’s Years and in this year the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March. But today there is a lot of work to do for gender equality making reality.’ Mrs. Adriënne Schillemans illustrated this by a video with the results of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2014 about gender-based disparities around the world. Also she showed a video of the CEDAW: the principle of state obligation and a video of Human Rights and Business. Then she introduced the first speaker.

The women’s convention

The first speaker was Ineke Boerefijn, staff member of the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights, Utrecht.

Ineke Boerefijn discussed the general features of the Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This convention focuses, on women in the fields of discrimination against women. Discrimination is any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect of purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any others field. For eliminating discrimination against women states must take special measures such as maternity protection and in the public and private sphere. States shall take measures against discrimination by State organs, by non-state actors, including enterprises and private individuals. Some substantive issues are : trafficking and exploitation of prostitution (art.6), public and political participation (art.7-8), nationality (art.9), education (art.10), Work (art. 11), health (art.12) economic facilities and sports (art.13), rural women (art.14), equality before the law (art. 15), family (art. 16).

She further mentioned the types of obligations states have. These are eliminate discrimination in law (art.2), improve de facto position (art.3 and 4), address underlying causes (art.5). She continues to the convention’s core obligations (art.2) which include constitutional guarantees, legislative measures, if necessary: sanctions, protection by courts and tribunals, modify existing laws, regulations, customs and practices.

Further, Ineke Boerefijn highlighted the monitoring function of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This committee has 23 members (only 1 men) from around the world and monitors the implementation of the convention by states parties. The procedure for monitoring is first of all reporting by the states parties (art.18 convention). After examination of the report, the committee adopts concluding observations. It can also adopt general recommendations which are addressed to all States parties. On 22 December 2000 the Optional Protocol of the CEDAW entered into force. The Optional Protocol contains an individual complaints procedure and an inquiry procedure.


The second speaker was Cees Flinterman, emeritus professor of human rights at Utrecht University and Maastricht University; he was a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (2003-2010) and of the United Nations Human Rights Committee (2011-2014).

Professor Flinterman began his presentation by highlighting the preamble of the United Nations Charter (1945) in which the peoples of the United Nations (UN) inter alia reaffirmed their faith in the equality of men and women. This marked the beginning of a long struggle within the UN aimed at the realization in practice of this principle. A milestone in this combat was the adoption in 1979 by the UN General Assembly of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This Convention has now been ratified by 188 States. It constitutes one of the most innovative and far-reaching human rights instruments, the implementation of which is supervised by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, also referred to as the Women’s Committee, which is composed of 23 independent experts..

But yet discrimination against women persists in most if not all countries even though the CEDAW Convention obliges States parties to adopt temporary special measures (TSMs) which should be aimed at accelerating de facto (i.e. substantive equality) between women and men; see article 4(1). Such TSMs shall not considered discrimination as defined in the Convention, article 4(1) further provides. The obligation of States parties to adopt such TSMs has been further clarified by the Women’s Committee in General Recommendation no 25 of 2004. Professor Flinterman mentioned a few important elements of this General Recommendation. The obligation of States to adopt TSMs should be read against the background of the fundamental obligation of States to give women an equal start and to empower them through an enabling environment in order to achieve equality of results. In some situations non-identical treatment of women is required. The Women’s Committee further calls on States to use the Convention terminology of TSMs in stead of referring to similar, although often quite confusing concepts as “positive action”, “positive discrimination”, “reversed discrimination”, or “positive measures”.

He further highlighted a number of key elements of TSMs. TSMs should be part of a necessary strategy; they do not constitute discrimination of men; they are not permanent, although they may be necessary for quite some time; they are special in the sense that are aimed at serving a particular goal; TSMs may consist of variety of legislative, executive or administrative measures, including quota and finally the obligation of States to adopt TSMs if such measures can be shown to be necessary and appropriate to achieve substantive equality of women and men.

Professor Flinterman continued by expressing his surprise that in the Netherlands there seems to be such a wide spread reluctance to adopt TSMs; even many women are opposing such measures. An example in point is the underrepresentation of women in the management and supervisory boards of corporations. The idea of setting mandatory quota enforced by appropriate sanctions is facing sometimes vehement criticism and opposition in the Netherlands. He wondered why that is the case. Is it because women would like to appointed in such boards on their own merits and not because they are women. Or do women consider other gender issues, such as equal pay for work of equal value and the elimination of violence against women, as more important? Even if that would be so, professor Flinterman underscored how significant and important it is to have gender balanced management and supervisory boards in trying to achieve over all gender equality in society.

He concluded by stating that the time has come to set by legislation mandatory quota for the composition of management and supervisory boards. Such quota should be enforced by firm sanctions. Intermediary targets should be set which should be regularly monitored. Such quota’s (TSMs) should be part of a comprehensive gender equality policy. Almost seventy years after the adoption of the UN Charter and 36 years after the entering into force of the CEDAW Convention it is unacceptable that in a country like the Netherlands the promise of full equality of women and men has not yet been fully realized.

The last speaker was Tineke Lambooy, Associate Professor Corporate Social Responsibility at Utrecht University and Professor Corporate Law at Nyenrode Business University. Her statement is to follow.