The concept of substantive gender equality combines formal gender equality with equality of outcome, meaning that equality in law, equal opportunities and equal treatment of women and men are complemented by equality in impact, outcome or result. Substantive gender equality requires that equality is interpreted according to the broad context or realities of women’s disadvantages and the impact of these circumstances in terms of eliminating disadvantage in outcome or result. It is a channel by which women can exercise and fully enjoy all human rights and freedoms on an equal footing with men.
The concept of substantive equality has special relevance in addressing disadvantage based on sex and gender. The scrutiny of gender-neutral formal laws, policies and programmes that treat women and men alike becomes necessary to evaluate whether they will accelerate the achievement of gender equality in practice and eliminate discrimination against women.
See also: formal gender equality; equality of outcome
CEDAW Committee. General Recommendations and the committee’s Concluding Observations. Available at: