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.
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
- 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.