Skip to main content area Skip to main content area Skip to institutional navigation Skip to search Skip to section navigation

Penn Law and UNESCO discuss gender equality and international law

April 22, 2016

UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) recently wrote a piece on a panel held at the organization’s headquarters, in which UNESCO and Penn Law representatives discussed gender equality and international law. Currently, UNESCO and Penn Law are hoping to sign a Letter of Cooperation for internships.

The story featured below was authored by UNESCO and is also posted on the UNESCO website.

The Gender Equality division and Penn Law come together to ignite a global conversation on Gender Equality and International Law


In Celebration of International Women’s Day 2016, the Gender Equality division (ODG/GE) organized several programs, and closed out the celebration with a panel discussion on Gender Equality and International Law, which took place on March 10th.

Director of the Division of Gender Equality at UNESCO (ODG/GE) Ms. Saniye Gülser Corat, gave the opening remarks and welcomed Chris Hegadorn, Deputy Permanent Delegate of the USA to UNESCO, Theodore Ruger, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Associate Dean for International Programs at the University of Pennsylvania Law School (Penn Law).

Since the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the specific goals 4 (education for all) and 5 (gender equality) it was apt that UNESCO and the University of Pennsylvania Law school collaborate on this topic. The panel discussion focused on how to take existing frameworks and initiatives and turn them into real, enforceable action on the ground.

Chris Hegadorn spoke on behalf of the United States mission to UNESCO, and remarked that in his twenty years of foreign service he has seen firsthand how gender issues are intrinsic to every facet of sustainable development. The rule of law needs to better address gender in all areas of its development, from food security to the rise of extremism.

Theodore Ruger, Dean of Penn Law School, gave opening remarks on behalf of the University of Pennsylvania Law school. He outlined the important role Penn Law plays in bringing policy issues, like gender discrimination, to light through all its advocacy work and highlighted importance of collaborating with international organizations like UNESCO to strengthen their mission to advance gender equality.

As Moderator, Ms. Corat introduced the expert panelist, Rangita de Alwis de Silva, Associate Dean for International Programs at the University of Pennsylvania Law school. Ms. Corat and Ms. de Silva engaged in a lively discussion about the role of law in promoting gender equality and how the new SDGs can be transferred into enforceable laws that promote gender equality.

Rangita de Silva de Alwis focused her comments on the connections between law, culture and gender. She argued that law is normative and can be used as a tool for cultural and systematic change in terms of promoting education for all (SDG 4) and gender equality (SDG 5). She spoke about the existing cultural norms that constrain laws that try to end discrimination. She stated that this confluence of oppressive cultural regimes and discriminatory laws go against international frameworks that support equal opportunity for both sexes and that policy-makers must use a human rights framework to challenge these laws. She also iterated that law schools, like Penn Law play a critical role in turning international frameworks and principles into enforceable laws that strengthen the rule of law and help society flourish.

Among the guests, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Mr. Kishore Singh, was asked to share his insights as well. He stated that gender equality goes hand in hand with the right to education and they are both fundamental human rights that need to be better enforced in law.

Ms. Corat concluded the panel discussion and stated that continuing this conversation about gender equality and international law is one important step in the road to achieving universal equality for all.

Gender Equality has been a global priority at UNESCO since 2008 and continues to be today. The division welcomes further collaboration with universities around the world.