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Ethiopian women

166 countries had ratified the treaty by 11 Mar 2001

Other Treaties:


The International Covenants

Racial Discrimination



Regional Courts

UN Human Rights Commission

International Criminal Court

Vienna Declaration



Treaty in full

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

Declaration and reservations

WomenAid International

US Opposition


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Elimination of Discrimination Against Women


Another international treaty adopted by the UN is designed to protect the rights of women.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979), sometimes referred to as CEDAW, entered into force on 3 September 1981 after the twentieth country had ratified it.

Definition of discrimination:

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.

Check what your country has ratified

State parties pledge:

  • To guarantee women have the right to vote, to hold public office and to exercise public functions. This includes equal rights for women to represent their countries at the international level.

  • That "the role of women in procreation should not be a basis for discrimination".

  • To include advice on family planning in the education process and

  • To develop family codes that guarantees that women can "decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights".

The Convention is the only human rights treaty to mention family planning and to target culture as an influential force shaping gender roles and family relations.

Many countries have taken out reservations. For a full list click here. Supporters of the Convention argue that some are drawn so widely as to cast doubt on whether they are compatible with the relevant state being a party to the treaty.


The implementation of CEDAW is monitored by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women - composed of 23 experts nominated by their governments and elected by countries which have ratified the treaty.

They are individuals "of high moral standing and competence in the field covered by the Convention".

Within one year of ratifying, countries are required by article 18 to submit an initial report on the legislative, judicial and administrative measures which they have adopted and which give effect to the provisions of the Convention. Subsequently, reports must be submitted every four years, indicating the measures they have adopted.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women provides a Communications Procedure which allows individuals to submit individual complaints to the Committee.

Before a complaint is considered, the Committee must determine that all domestic remedies have been exhausted and the complaint has been examined by other international procedures. The Protocol also creates an inquiry procedure enabling the Committee to examine situations of grave violations of women’s rights.

Appointing an Expert

A Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on violence against women, its causes and consequences was established in 1994. Radhika Coomaraswamy from Sri Lanka has held the position since its creation.



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