Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) monitors the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations by its resolution 34/180 on 18 December 1979. The Convention entered into force on 3 September 1981 as the first global and comprehensive legally binding international treaty aimed at the elimination of all forms of sex- and gender-based discrimination against women. As of December 2008, it had been accepted by 185 State parties. Although preceded by a number of general human rights treaties explicitly providing that the rights they establish shall be available to women and men on an equal basis, as well as those which address particular forms of discrimination against women, the rationale for the Convention is clearly stated in its Preamble which indicates “despite these various instruments extensive discrimination against women continues to exist”.
Women at the United Nations: 1945-1995
(28 minutes, Full Version)
Women’s Human Rights under the Human Rights Treaties
The primary treaty that addresses women’s human rights is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Ratification of other human rights treaties, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), also imposes an obligation to eliminate discrimination and to provide for women’s equal enjoyment of those rights. Most countries have ratified one or more of the human rights treaties so women from almost everywhere can use the treaties to claim their human rights.
States that ratify the CEDAW Convention (States parties) agree to take all appropriate measures to improve the status of women and to change laws and customs that impede women’s advancement in political, economic, social, cultural, civil, and all other fields. As of February 2014, the CEDAW Convention had been ratified by 187 countries. The sixteen substantive articles of the Convention outline the obligations to eliminate discrimination and pursue equality as to nationality, legal status, education, health, employment, family life, and participation in public and political life. Most significantly, States parties undertake to eliminate prejudices and customs that perpetuate stereotyped gender roles and inequality.
States parties are obligated to report on the status of women and girls within one year of ratification and every four years thereafter. A 23-member group of independent experts, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee), monitors Convention implementation, reviewing country reports on implementation and addressing individual complaints and inquiries. When a State party’s report is scheduled for review, any NGO with knowledge of sex discrimination issues in that country may submit a shadow report to be considered by the CEDAW Committee.
The CEDAW Committee issues Concluding Observations (previously called Concluding Comments) at the end of every Session. These remarks are the official opinion of the CEDAW Committee on the progress the reporting States parties have made in complying with the obligations of the CEDAW Convention.
With the adoption in 2000 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, women from States parties gained an avenue for making individual claims of Convention violations as well as an opportunity to request a CEDAW Committee inquiry into situations of “grave or systematic” violations of women’s human rights. Under the complaints procedure, when a woman’s human rights have been violated, and she has exhausted all possible remedies within her country, she may petition the CEDAW Committee to hear her complaint. Under the inquiry procedure, the Committee may initiate inquiries into situations of “grave or systematic” violations of women’s rights.
Smashing the patriarchy: why international law should be doing more
The concept of “patriarchy” has been both a call to action and an analytical tool for feminist understandings of women’s place in the world as we know it. Over the past 100 years, feminist activists have made signs, worn on their chests, or loudly exclaimed the mantra: “smash the patriarchy”. In this article Cassandra Mudgway presents analysis on how patriarchy is used in international law and by treaty monitoring bodies, cautioning against limiting the scope and meaning of patriarchy by only associating it with some beliefs and practices and not also seeing it as a system of power.