on the Elimination of
All Forms of Discrimination against Women
18 December 1979, the Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women,
adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.
It entered into force as an international treaty on 3 September
1981 after the twentieth country had ratified it.
By the tenth anniversary of the Convention in 1989, almost one
hundred nations had agreed to be bound by its provisions.
Convention was the culmination of more than thirty years of work by the United
Nations Commission on the Status of Women, a body established in 1946
to monitor the situation of women and to promote women's rights.
The Commission's work has been instrumental in bringing to light
all the areas in which women are denied equality with men.
These efforts for the advancement of women have resulted in several
declarations and conventions, of which the Convention on the Elimination
of all Forms of Discrimination against Women is the central and most
the international human rights treaties, the Convention takes an important
place in bringing the female half of humanity into the focus of human
The spirit of the Conventions is rooted in the goals of the United
Nations: to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the equal
rights of men and women.
The present document spells out the meaning of equality and how it
can be achieved.
In so doing, the Convention establishes not only an international
bill of rights for women, but also an agenda for action by countries to
guarantee the enjoyment of those rights.
its preamble, the Convention explicitly acknowledges that "extensive
discrimination against women continues to exist", and emphasises that
such discrimination" violates the principles of equality of rights
and respect for human dignity".
As defined in article 1, discrimination is understood as "any
distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex... in the
political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field".
The Convention gives positive affirmation to the principle of
equality by requiring states parties to take "all appropriate
measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and
advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise
and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on basis of
equality with men" (article 3).
agenda for equality is specified in fourteen subsequent articles.
In its approach, the Convention covers three dimensions of the
situation of women.
Civil rights and the legal status of women are dealt with in great
In addition, and unlike other human rights treaties, the Convention
is also concerned with the dimension of human reproduction as well as with
the impact of cultural factors on gender relations.
legal status of women receives the broadest attention.
Concern over the basic rights of political participation has not
diminished since the adoption of the Convention on the Political Rights of
women in 1952.
Its provisions, therefore, are restated in article 7 of the present
document, whereby women are guaranteed the rights 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 (article 8).
Convention on the Nationality of Married Women-adopted in 1957 - is
integrated under article 9 providing for the statehood of women,
irrespective of their marital status.
The Convention, thereby, draws attention to the fact that often
women's legal status has been linked to marriage, making them dependent on
their husband's nationality rather than individuals in their own right.
10, 11 and 13, respectively, affirm women's rights to non-discrimination
in education, employment and economic and social activities.
These demands are given special emphasis.
These demands are given special emphasis with regard to the
situation of rural women, whose particular struggles and vital economic
contributions, as noted in article 14, warrant more attention in policy
15 asserts the full equality of women in civil and business matters,
demanding that all instruments directed at restricting women's legal
capacity "shall be deemed null and void".
Finally, in article 16, the Convention returns to the issue of
marriage and family relations, asserting the equal rights and obligations
of women and men with regard to choice of spouse, parenthood, personal
rights and command over property.
from civil rights issues, the Convention also devotes major attention to a
most vital concern of women, namely their reproductive rights.
The preamble sets the tone by stating that "the role of women
in procreation should not be a basis for discrimination".
The link between discrimination and women's reproductive role is a
matter of recurrent concern in the Convention.
For example, it advocates, in article 5, "a proper
understanding of maternity as a social function", demanding fully
shared responsibility for child-rearing by both sexes.
Accordingly, provisions for maternity protection and child-care are
proclaimed as essential rights and are incorporated into all areas of the
Convention, whether dealing with employment, family law, health care or
Society's obligation extends to offering social services,
especially child-care facilities, that allow individuals to combine family
responsibilities with work and participation in public life.
Special measures for maternity protection are recommended and
"shall not be considered discriminatory". (article 4).
Convention also affirms women's right to reproductive choice.
Notably, it is the only human rights treaty to mention family
States parties are obliged to include advice on family planning in
the education process (article 10.h) and to develop family codes that
guarantee women's rights "to 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" (article 16.e).
third general thrust of the Convention aims at enlarging our understanding
of the concept of human rights, as it gives formal recognition to the
influence of culture and tradition on restricting women's enjoyment of
their fundamental rights.
These forces take shape in stereotypes, customs and norms which
give rise to the multitude of legal, political and economic constraints on
the advancement of women.
Noting this interrelationship, the preamble of the Convention
stresses" that a change in the traditional role of men as well as the
role of women in society and in the family is needed to achieve full
equality of men and women".
parties are therefore obliged to work towards the modification of social
and cultural patterns of individual conduct in order to eliminate"
prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the
idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on
stereotyped roles for men and women" (article 5).
And Article 10.c. mandates the revision of textbooks, school
programmes and teaching methods with a view to eliminating stereotyped
concepts in the field of education.
cultural patterns which define the domestic sphere as man's world and the
domestic sphere as women's domain are strongly targeted in all of the
Convention's provisions that affirm the equal responsibilities of both
sexes in family life and their equal rights with regard to education and
Altogether, the Convention provides a comprehensive framework for
challenging the various forces that have created and sustained
discrimination based upon sex.
implementation of the Convention is monitored by the Committee
on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
The Committee's mandate and the administration the treaty are
defined in the Articles 17 to 30 of the Convention.
The Committee is composed of 23 experts nominated by their
Governments and elected by the States parties as individuals "of high
moral standing and competence in the field covered by the
At least every four years, the States parties are expected to
submit a national report to the Committee, indicating the measures they
have adopted to give effect to the provisions of the Convention.
During its annual session, the Committee members discuss these
reports with the Government representatives and explore with them areas
for further action by the specific country.
The Committee also makes general recommendations to the States
parties on matters concerning the elimination against women.