Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

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Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women
Signed 18 December 1979
Location New York City
Effective 3 September 1981
Condition 20 ratifications
Parties 188 (Complete List)
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women at Wikisource

The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly. Described as an international bill of rights for women, it was instituted on 3 September 1981 and has been ratified by 188 states. Over fifty countries that have ratified the Convention have done so subject to certain declarations, reservations, and objections, including 38 countries who rejected the enforcement article 29, which addresses means of settlement for disputes concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention.[1] Australia's declaration noted the limitations on central government power resulting from its federal constitutional system. The United States and Palau have signed, but not yet ratified the treaty. The Holy See, Iran, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Tonga are not signatories to CEDAW.

The Convention[edit]

The Convention defines discrimination against women in the following terms:

Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or 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 other field.

It also establishes an agenda of action for putting an end to sex-based discrimination:

States must take measures to seek to eliminate prejudices and customs based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of one sex or on stereotyped role for men and women.

States ratifying the Convention declare intent to enshrine gender equality into their domestic legislation, repeal all discriminatory provisions in their laws, and enact new provisions to guard against discrimination against women. However, special protection for maternity is not regarded as gender discrimination (Article 4). Appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of trafficking in women and forced prostitution are also not regarded as gender discrimination (Article 6). Equal opportunity in education for female students and coeducation is encouraged.(Article 10), as is the Right to work for women as "an unalienable rights of all human being" with equal pay for equal work and right to social security, paid leave and maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits without loss of former employment and seniority or social allowance. Dismissal on the grounds of maternity, pregnancy or status of marriage shall be prohibited with sanction (Article 11). States ratifying the Convention must also establish tribunals and public institutions to guarantee women effective protection against discrimination, and take steps to eliminate all forms of discrimination practiced against women by individuals, organizations, and enterprises (Article 2,(e)).

CEDAW with UNSCR 1325 and 1820[edit]

A world map showing countries by CEDAW enforcement, 2010.

Resolutions 1325 10th anniversary events highlight use of CEDAW mechanisms[2]

The 10th anniversary of Resolution 1325 in October 2010 highlighted the increasing demand for accountability to UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Many expressed concern about the fact that only 22 Member States out of 192 have adopted national action plans. Women are still underrepresented, if not totally absent, in most official peace negotiations and sexual violence in peacetime and in conflict continue to increase.

These realities emphasized the need to use external legal mechanisms to strengthen the implementation of SCR 1325, particularly CEDAW. The well-established mechanisms of CEDAW – the Member States compliance report and the civil society shadow reporting process were cited as possible instruments to ensure accountability.

Several regional and international meetings including the High Level Seminar “1325 in 2020: Looking Forward…Looking Back,” organized by the African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, and the “Stockholm International Conference 10 years with 1325 – What now?” called for the use of CEDAW to improve 1325 implementation.

Intersection between SCR 1325 and CEDAW [3]

While CEDAW and UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820 on Women, Peace and Security are important international instruments on their own, there is also an intersection among the three standards that can be used to enhance their implementation and impact.

Resolutions 1325 and 1820 broaden the scope of CEDAW application by clarifying its relevance to all parties in conflict, whereas CEDAW provides concrete strategic guidance for actions to be taken on the broad commitments outlined in the two Resolutions.[4]

CEDAW is a global human rights treaty that should be incorporated into national law as the highest standard for women's rights. It requires UN Member States that have ratified it (185 to date) to set in place mechanisms to fully realize women's rights.

Resolution 1325 is an international law unanimously adopted by the Security Council that mandates UN Member States to engage women in all aspects of peace building including ensuring women's participation on all levels of decision–making on peace and security issues.

Resolution 1820 links sexual violence as a tactic of war with the maintenance of international peace and security. It also demands a comprehensive report from the UN Secretary General on implementation and strategies for improving information flow to the Security Council; and adoption of concrete protection and prevention measures to end sexual violence.

Resolutions 1325 and 1820, and CEDAW share the following agenda on women's human rights and gender equality:[2]

  1. Demand women’s participation in decision-making at all levels
  2. Rejection of violence against women as it impedes the advancement of women and maintains their subordinate status
  3. Equality of women and men under the law; protection of women and girls through the rule of law
  4. Demand security forces and systems to protect women and girls from gender-based violence
  5. Recognition of the fact that distinct experiences and burdens of women and girls come from systemic discrimination
  6. Ensure that women’s experiences, needs and perspectives are incorporated into the political, legal and social decisions that determine the achievement of just and lasting peace

A General Comment from the CEDAW committee could strengthen women’s advocacy for the full implementation of Resolutions 1325 and 1820 at the country and community levels. Conversely, CEDAW’s relevance to conflict-affected areas will be underscored further by the two Resolutions. In other words, all three international instruments will reinforce each other and be much more effective if used together in leveraging women’s human rights.[5]

Members and ratification[edit]

Participation in the CEDAW

The seven UN member states that have not ratified or acceded to the convention are Iran, Palau, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tonga, and the United States.[6]

The one UN non-member state that had not acceded to the convention is the Holy See/Vatican City.[6][7]

The Republic of China (Taiwan) in 2007 has also ratified the treaty in its legislature, but is unrecognized by the United Nations and is a party to the treaty only unofficially.[8]

The latest state to have acceded the convention was the State of Palestine on April 2, 2014.[6]

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women[edit]

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women is the United Nations (U.N.) treaty body that oversees the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The formation of this committee was outlined in Article 17 of the CEDAW, which also established the rules, purpose, and operating procedures of the committee.[9] Throughout its years of operation the committee has held multiple sessions to ensure the rules outlined in the CEDAW are being followed. Over time the practices of the committee have evolved due to an increased focus on women's rights issues.

History of the committee[edit]

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women was formed on 3 September 1981 after the CEDAW received the 20 ratifications required for it to enter into force. Article 17 of the CEDAW established the committee in order to ensure that the provisions of the CEDAW were followed by the countries that had signed and agreed to be bound by it.[9] The first regular session of the committee was held from 18–22 October 1982. In this session the first officers of the committee were elected by simple majority, with Ms. L. Ider of Mongolia becoming chairperson.[10] Other officers elected were three vice chairpersons: M. Caron of Canada, Z. Ilic of Yugoslavia and L. Mukayiranga of Rwanda. The final officer elected was D. P. Bernard of Guyana as rapporteur of the committee. During this session the committee also unanimously approved to adopt its rules of procedure.[10]


The rules regarding where and when the committee can hold sessions are laid out in their rules of procedure.[11]

The committee is allowed to hold as many meetings as are required to perform their duties effectively, with the states party to the CEDAW and the Secretary-General of the United Nations authorizing the number of regular sessions held.[11] In addition, special sessions can be held at the request of either a state party to the convention or the majority of the members serving on the committee.[11] Fifty-three sessions have been held to date, with the most recent taking place from 1 October 2012 to 19 October 2012.[12] The first thirty-nine sessions were held at the United Nations headquarters building in New York City, with the fortieth session and alternating sessions following it held in the Palais des Nations in Geneva.[12] During each of its regular sessions the committee hears reports from states party to the CEDAW on their progress in adhering to CEDAW and implementing its ideas in their countries.[13] The committee also holds pre-sessional work groups to discuss the issues and questions that the committee should deal with during the following session.


Under article 18 of the CEDAW states must report to the committee on the progress they have made in implementing the CEDAW within their state.[11] As most of the information the committee works with comes from these reports, guidelines have been developed to help states prepare accurate and useful reports.[14] Initial reports discussing the current picture of discrimination against women in the reporting states are required to specifically deal with each article of the CEDAW, and consist of no more than one-hundred pages.[11] States are required to prepare and present these initial reports within one year of ratifying the CEDAW.[9] Periodic reports detailing the state's progress in adhering to the articles of the CEDAW should be no more than seventy-five pages in length and should focus on the specific period of time since the state's last report.[11] States party to the CEDAW are typically required to provide periodic reports every four years, but if the committee is concerned about the situation in that state they can request a report at any time.[9]

The committee chooses which reports to address by considering factors such as the amount of time the report has been pending, whether the report is initial or periodic (with more priority given to initial reports), and from which region the report originates.[11] Eight states are invited to give their reports during each session and it is required a representative from the state is in attendance when the report is presented.[11] The committee focuses on constructive dialogue when a report is presented, and appreciates careful time management on the part of the state presenting its report.[11] Due to the high backlog of overdue reports the committee has encouraged states to combine all of their outstanding reports into one document, and sends reminders to states who have reports five years overdue.[11] The CEDAW also requires that the committee provide an annual report that includes its activities, comments relating to the reports provided by states, information relating to the Optional Protocol of the CEDAW, and any other general suggestions or recommendations the committee has made.[11] This report is given to the United Nations General Assembly through the Economic and Social Council.[11] All reports, agendas and other official documents pertaining to the committee, including the reports provided by the states, are provided to the public unless otherwise decided by the committee.[11]

General Recommendations[edit]

Along with issuing its annual report and offering advice to reporting states, the committee has the ability to issue general recommendations that elaborate on its views of the obligations imposed by CEDAW.[14] To date, the committee has issued twenty-five general recommendations, the latest dealing with the committee's interpretation of the CEDAW's obligations relating to women's role in public life, and women's access to healthcare.[14] The recommendations issued by the committee in its first decade were short and dealt mainly with the content of states’ reports and reservations to the convention.[14] Since 1991, however, recommendations have been focused on guiding states’ application of the CEDAW in specific situations.[14] The formulation of a general recommendation begins with dialogue between the committee on the topic in the recommendation with various non-governmental organizations and other U.N. bodies.[14] The recommendation is then drafted by a member of the committee and discussed and revised in the next session, and finally adopted in the following session.[14]

In 2013, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women said in a general recommendation that states that have ratified the UN Women’s Rights Convention are obliged to uphold women’s rights before, during, and after conflict when they are directly involved in fighting, and/or are providing peacekeeping troops or donor assistance for conflict prevention, humanitarian aid or post-conflict reconstruction.[15] The Committee also stated that ratifying states should exercise due diligence in ensuring that non-state actors, such as armed groups and private security contractors, be held accountable for crimes against women.[15]

In November 2014, for the first time, the Committee joined with the Committee on the Rights of the Child to release a comprehensive interpretation of the obligations of States to prevent and eliminate harmful practices done to women and girls.[16]

Changes in the committee[edit]

For the first ten years the committee operated significantly differently from now. The only form of censure given to the committee by the CEDAW was their general recommendations and concluding comments following a report.[17] Due to the emergence of the Global Campaign for Women's Human Rights in 1991 more attention was given to the CEDAW, reviving the committee.[17] The committee made changes to the CEDAW that allowed it to meet more than once a year, and have taken advantage of this by meeting at least twice a year since 1997.[17] The committee originally only met for two weeks in its annual sessions, but that has now been changed to meeting multiple times a year in eighteen day sessions.[13] CEDAW also gained new complaint and inquiry proceedings allowing the committee to initiate inquiry proceedings if it believes a state is in severe violation of the articles of the CEDAW.[17]

Recommendations for improvement[edit]

Despite evolving since the committee was first formed, members believe there are ways in which the committee can better meet the goals outlined in the CEDAW.[9] One of the committee's main goals moving forward is expanding its information base, allowing it to more effectively deal with issues that arise concerning the CEDAW.[9] The committee is authorized in Article 22 of the CEDAW to invite specialized U.N. agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme to deliver reports discussing women's rights issues in the state under discussion.[9] Another method for gathering information is requesting reports from non-governmental organizations dealing with discrimination against women that are operating in the country under discussion.[9] This is recommended to insure that the committee is receiving the full, unbiased picture of affairs within the reporting state.[9]

Another recommendation for improvement involves interpreting and clarifying the language used in the CEDAW in order to make the document as useful as it can be.[9] A third improvement that has been suggested is improving the efficiency of the committee.[9] Due to the backlog in reports faced by the committee it has been suggested that the government officials who prepare reports presented to the committee should be trained, in order to make all reports uniform and more easily processed.[9] A final suggestion for improvement is the implementation of a right of petition in the CEDAW, allowing the committee to hear complaints from citizens of a state against the state, increasing the committee's strength and direct impact on the problem of discrimination against women.[9]


The official languages of the committee are English, Arabic, French, Russian, and Spanish, with any statement made in one of the official languages translated into the other four.[11] A speaker who does not speak one of the official languages provides a translator.[11] All formal decisions and documents issued by the committee are provided in each of the official languages.[11] The original rules of procedure adopted by the committee did not include Arabic as an official language, but the rule was amended in the committees second session to include Arabic.[10]

Members and Officers of the Committee[edit]

Twenty-three members serve on the committee, described as experts for their experience and expertise in women's issues.[18] The members are nominated by their national governments and elected through a secret ballot by states party to the convention.[18] Upon winning the election and taking up their responsibilities the members of the committee recite the following statement, known as the solemn declaration, “I solemnly declare that I shall perform my duties and exercise powers as a member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women honourably, faithfully, impartially and conscientiously”.[11] The members come from a wide range of occupations including doctors, lawyers, diplomats and educators, providing various viewpoints to the committee due to their diversity.[18] Many members continue to hold full-time jobs outside the committee and receive little monetary payment for their work on the committee.[18]

To insure that the nationality of members encompasses all the diverse states who have signed the CEDAW, members are elected according to regions divided into Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Western Europe, and Eastern Europe.[18] The members of the committee differ from those of other treaty bodies of the United Nations in that they have all been women with only one exception.[9] In the event a member of the committee is unable to continue serving on the committee before her term is up the state that had nominated the resigning member shall nominate another expert from their country to fill in her seat.[11] Committee members and experts also attend an annual luncheon, hosted by the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, NY (NGO CSW/NY), where key issues are discusses and the efforts of the committee are honored.[19]

Officers of the Committee

The officers of the committee are composed of a chairperson, three vice-chairpersons and a rapporteur.[20] Officers of the committee are nominated by another member of the committee, as opposed to a government which nominates members for the committee.[10] All officers are elected by majority vote to a two-year term of office, and remain eligible for re-election after their term expires.[11] The chairperson's duties include declaring a meeting to be open or closed, directing the discussion in a session, announcing decisions made by the committee, preparing agendas in consultation with the secretary-general, designating the members of pre-sessional working groups and representing the committee at United Nations meetings which the committee is invited to participate in.[11] In the case the chairperson is unable to perform any her duties she designates one of the three vice-chairpersons to take over her role. If the chairperson fails to designate a vice-chairperson prior to her absence then the vice-chairperson with the first name in English alphabetical order takes over.[11] In the event an officer is unable to continue serving on the committee before her term expires a new officer from the same region as the original officer shall be nominated, elected and will take over the vacated office.[11] As of January 2015, the 23 members are:

Nicole Ameline, French deputy and chairperson of CEDAW
Name State Term Expires
Bakhita Al-Dosari  Qatar 2016
Theodora Oby Nwankwo  Nigeria 2016
Hilary Gbedemah  Ghana 2016
Nicole Ameline (Chairperson)  France 2016
Nahla Haidar  Lebanon 2016
Dalia Leinarte  Lithuania 2016
Barbara Evelyn Bailey (Rapporteur)  Jamaica 2016
Niklas Bruun  Finland 2016
Silvia Pimentel  Brazil 2016
Biancamaria Pomeranzi  Italy 2016
Xiaoqiao Zou  China 2016
Ayse Feride Acar  Turkey 2018
Gladys Acosta Vargas  Peru 2018
Louiza Chalal  Algeria 2018
Naela Mohamed Gabr  Egypt 2018
Ruth Halperin-Kaddari  Israel 2018
Yoko Hayashi  Japan 2018
Ismat Jahan (Vice-Chairperson)  Bangladesh 2018
Lilian Hofmeister  Austria 2018
Pramila Patten (Vice-Chairperson)  Mauritius 2018
Lia Nadaraia  Georgia 2018
Patricia Schulz   Switzerland 2018
Magalys Arocha Dominguez  Cuba 2018

Optional Protocol[edit]

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is a side-agreement to the Convention which allows its parties to recognise the competence of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women to consider complaints from individuals.[21]

The Optional Protocol was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 6 October 1999 and entered into force on 22 December 2000.[22] Currently it has 80 signatories and 105 parties.[23]


In an article in Moment magazine in February 2011, Paula Kweskin, in discussing so-called "honor" killings taking place in the Palestinian Authority, writes that two-thirds of all murders in the Palestinian Authority and Gaza are “honor” killings. These crimes go unpunished and laws grant impunity to those who kill based on “family honor.” In interviews and press releases on their websites, many NGOs, including Badil, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, and the Women's Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, have decried "honor" killings and the lack of legal protection for Palestinian women; yet these NGOs are silent when given a forum at CEDAW to address these problems.[24]

The CEDAW has been controversial for statements that have been made by some of its members which were seen by a number of states and NGOs as promoting Western-style feminism. Often referenced is a 2000 report which said that in Belarus, "the Committee is concerned by the continuing prevalence of sex-role stereotypes and by the reintroduction of such symbols as a Mothers' Day and a Mothers' Award, which it sees as encouraging women's traditional roles."[25] Other controversial positions of CEDAW include supporting the decriminalization of prostitution in specific countries[not in citation given], criticizing Slovenia because only 30% of children are in daycare, and pressuring numerous states to decriminalize abortion[not in citation given].[26] Other requests are seen by groups as a backdoor to forcing states parties to adopt an Equal Rights Amendment or comparable national legislation, which is seen as a violation of the CEDAW treaty mandate and the sovereignty of states parties.[27]

More recently, the controversy concerning CEDAW has centered around the question of easy access to abortion and contraception. According to C-FAM (the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute), at UN meetings officials pressed the delegation from Slovakia to liberalize its abortion laws and to inaugurate campaigns encouraging contraceptive use and "reproductive health awareness".[28]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ "Declarations, Reservations and Objections to CEDAW". Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  2. ^ a b "Ensuring Accountability to UNSCR 1325 and 1820 using CEDAW reporting mechanisms". Global Network of Women Peacebuilders. November 2010. Retrieved jule 5, 2014.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  3. ^ GNWP-ICAN (18 July 2011). "Written Statement submitted to CEDAW on the occasion of the General Discussion on Women in Conflict and Post-conflict Situations". Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) – International Civil society Action Network (ICAN). Retrieved 25 August 2014. 
  4. ^ UNIFEM (2006). "CEDAW and Security Council Resolution 1325: A Quick Guide". Women, Peace & Security. Retrieved 25 August 2014. 
  5. ^ CEDAW with UNSCR 1325 and 1820 « Global Network of Women Peacebuilders
  6. ^ a b c "'Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women'". Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  7. ^ Note: See New Zealand No 47 Declarations and Reservations New Zealand has signed this treaty on behalf on Niue.
  8. ^ Government Information Office, Republic of China (Taiwan). "Taiwan Aims to Sign Up Against Discrimination." 8 September 2006.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. "Fact Sheet No. 22, Discrimination Against Women: The Convention and the Committee". United Nations. Retrieved 18 October 2012. 
  10. ^ a b c d United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1989). The Work of CEDAW: Reports of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. New York: United Nations. p. 5. ISBN 9211301327. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. "Rules of Procedure of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women". United Nations. Retrieved 18 October 2012. 
  12. ^ a b U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. "Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women – Sessions". United Nations. Retrieved 6 November 2012. 
  13. ^ a b United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. "Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women". United Nations. Retrieved 18 October 2012. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. "Overview of the current working methods of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women". United Nations. Retrieved 18 October 2012. 
  15. ^ a b
  16. ^ "UN human rights experts set out countries’ obligations to tackle harmful practices such as FGM and forced marriage". United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. November 5, 2014. Retrieved November 15, 2014. 
  17. ^ a b c d Reilly, Niamh (2009). Women's human rights : seeking gender justice in a globalizing age (Reprinted. ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press. p. 62. ISBN 9780745637006. 
  18. ^ a b c d e Merry, Sally Engle (2006). Human rights and gender violence : translating international law into local justice ([Nachdr.]. ed.). Chicago [u.a.]: Univ. of Chicago Press. p. 82. ISBN 0226520730. 
  19. ^ "NGO CSW, NY / About / How We Work". 26 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  20. ^ U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. "Membership of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women". OHCHR. Retrieved 18 October 2012. 
  21. ^ Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Article 1.
  22. ^ "Optional Protocol to Women's Convention Comes into Force". 21 December 2000. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  23. ^ "Parties to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women". UN OHCHR. Retrieved 2009-10-03. 
  24. ^ elisniv (24 February 2011). "NGOs Fail Palestinian Women at the UN". Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  25. ^ "Womenwatch report". Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  26. ^ "Nations Pressured by CEDAW". Archived from the original on 23 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  27. ^ "Concerned Women for America – Exposing CEDAW". Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  28. ^ "UN Committee Pressures Slovakia over its Concordat with the Catholic Church". 

External links[edit]