CEDAW 40 Years In: What Have We Learned and What Has Improved

Introduction

CEDAW is a key international human rights treaty aimed at the achievement of gender equality worldwide. It helps women around the world to bring about change in their daily life.

For the purposes of the present Convention, the term "discrimination against women" shall mean 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. CEDAW, Article 1.

Why do we need CEDAW?

Discrimination against women violates the basic premise of human rights which is that all human beings are inherently entitled to equal rights and respect for their dignity. It also hinders political, social and economic participation of women, negatively influences economic growth and development, decreases chances of societal prosperity, leads to poverty and isolation, decreases access to nutrition, health services, education, training, employment and contributes to exclusion of women from the mainstream of their communities.

CEDAW Dossier

women rights are human rights

This text is part of our dossier 40 Years CEDAW - The International Bill of Rights for Women.

In December 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted in by the United Nations General Assembly. Our authors sum up the contributions CEDAW has made to the position, rights and everyday life of women is several countries.

 


So what is CEDAW?

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted in December 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly. The Convention entered into force two years later in September 1981 when it was ratified by twenty countries. At the end of that decade, close to a hundred states accepted the convention and forty years later 189 countries are State Parties, another two are signatories (Palau and the USA), while only six countries have not taken any action regarding the Convention (Holy See, Islamic Republic of Iran, Niue, Somalia, Sudan, Tonga).

Graphic: CEDAW-Country Status

CEDAW is a key international human rights treaty aimed at the achievement of gender equality worldwide. It is dubbed the “women’s bill of rights” because it accentuates women’s right to equality, bans discrimination of women and outlines the actions each country must undertake to achieve its aims. CEDAW helps women around the world to bring about change in their daily life. In countries that have ratified the treaty, CEDAW has been invaluable in opposing the effects of discrimination, which include violence, poverty, and lack of legal protections, along with the denial of inheritance, property rights, and access to finances.

CEDAW is structured in six parts where the first four parts (Articles 1-16) are dedicated to battling and preventing violations of women’s rights, provision of political, legal and civil rights of women as well as their social and economic rights and protection of their health. Special considerations are awarded women in rural areas who are subject to increased pressure and discrimination. Furthermore, women’s right to equality in marriage and family life is asserted alongside equality before the law. Parts five and six are dedicated to the establishment of the CEDAW Committee and the procedures necessary for the implementation of the Convention as well as the interplay of CEDAW and other human rights treaties and state obligations and commitment.

How does it work?

All the states which ratified CEDAW are obligated to eliminate discrimination against women and all its forms. They must ensure equal development and advancement for women and enable them to enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms in the same way that men do. States are obliged to submit reports in regular intervals to the CEDAW Committee which reviews the reports and provides recommendations to states on how to improve CEDAW’s implementation. Opinions of civil society actors such as NGOs are frequently taken into consideration by the Committee when issuing its Concluding Observations.

The implementation of CEDAW is monitored by the UN’s CEDAW Committee comprised of 23 independent experts including the Chairperson, three Vice-Chairpersons and a Rapporteur. The experts are elected by States parties and tasked with reviewing the reports submitted by States parties in accordance with article 18 of the Convention. Moreover, the Optional Protocol to the Convention (since 2000.) empowers the Committee to consider individual or group complaints of violations of the Convention. The Committee can also launch inquiries into grave or systematic violations of the Convention.

This series of articles…

The articles before you represent an overview of the state of implementation of CEDAW across several countries on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Convention’s adoption in 1979. From the USA and Colombia to Senegal, Poland and Cambodia, our authors sum up the contributions CEDAW has made to the position, rights and everyday life of women in these countries and outline what is left to be done.