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At the time of adoption of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1966, the concept of gender had not entered the international arena. Relations between women and men in the allocation and enjoyment of rights were addressed through the concept of non-discrimination, inter alia on the basis of sex. The term ‘gender’ began to enter the international agenda in the 1980s, first through the global conferences on women. The World Conference on Human Rights at Vienna in 1993 continued this trend, referring to gender-based violence, gender bias, and gender-disaggregated statistics. It also called for ‘the human rights of women [to] be integrated into the mainstream of United Nations system-wide activity’. Two years later, the Fourth World Conference on Women made a commitment to gender equality, as well as to non-discrimination on the basis of sex. Following the Beijing Conference, ‘gender mainstreaming’ rapidly became the dominant international institutional strategy and tool to respond to women’s inequality.


This material was originally published in Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in International Law: Contemporary Issues and Challenges, edited by Eibe Riedel, Gilles Giacca, and Christophe Golay and has been reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press. For permission to reuse this material, please visit