An evaluation of women status after thirty years of cedaw
An Evaluation of Women Status after
Thirty Years of CEDAW
Md. Saeed Anwar
Overview of CEDAW
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of
Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is the
international human rights treaty that is exclusively devoted
to gender equality.
It was adopted on 18 December 1979 by the UN General
Assembly, and is often described as an international bill of
rights for women.
Came into force in 1981 / Approved by 180 states
Internationally accepted principles and measures to achieve
equal rights for women everywhere (UNIFEM, 2009).
Came into force in 2000 / Approved by 71 states
Third-party complaints of state violations
Independent investigations of grave or systematic
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against
23 experts charged with oversight of compliance by
Sessions twice annually to consider progress reports by
States file reports once every 4 years
Authority to investigate violations and make
recommendations (UNIFEM, 2009).
Object: First international convention to define “discrimination
against women” comprehensively in all dimensions (art. 1)
Domains: “political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other
field” (art. 1)
Public sphere: To embody the principle of equality in “national
constitutions or other appropriate legislation” art. 2(a)(c)
Private sphere: To eliminate discrimination against women “by
any person, organization or enterprise” art. 2(e)
Cultural sphere: To “modify the social and cultural patterns to
achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all
other practices” art. 5(a)
– 60 states continue to have reservations to the Convention
Principles of CEDAW
• To incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in
their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt
appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;
• To establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the
effective protection of women against discrimination; and
• To ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against
women by persons, organizations or enterprises.
Significance of CEDAW
• CEDAW is the sole international legal instrument specially
designed to promote and protect women‟s rights in a holistic and
• CEDAW defines the principle of substantive equality between
men and women. Substantive equality‟‟ means real equality
which is based on the principle of equality between men and
women, guaranteeing not just equality of opportunity, but real
equality- equality of outcome.
• CEDAW provides a complete definition of discrimination.
• CEDAW legally binds all states parties that sign and ratify or
accede to the convention to fulfill, protect, and respect women‟s
human rights (Afroz, 2012).
• CEDAW addresses gender inequalities in all spheres and at all
levels within the family, community, market and state.
CEDAW recognizes and addresses violations of women‟s
human rights in the private sphere of the home.
• CEDAW requires States Parties to ensure that private
organization, enterprises and individuals promote and protect
• CEDAW requires States parties to eliminate prejudice and
customary and all other practices that obstruct women‟s
development that are grounded in the idea of inferiority of
either of the sexes (Afroz, 2012).
Article of CEDAW
• PART I
– Discrimination (Article 1)
– Policy Measures (Article 2)
– Guarantee of Basic Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms (Article 3)
– Special Measures (Article 4)
– Sex Role Stereotyping and Prejudice (Article 5)
– Prostitution (Article 6)
• PART II
– Political and Public Life (Article 7)
– Representation (Article 8)
– Nationality (Article 9)
• PART III
– Education (Article 10)
– Employment (Article 11 )
– Health (Article 12)
– Economic and Social Benefits (Article 13)
– Rural Women (Article 14)
• PART IV
– Law (Article 15)
– Marriage and Family Life (Article 16)
• PART V
– Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
– National Reports (Article 18)
– Rules of Procedure (Article 19)
– Committee Meetings (Article 20)
– Committee Reports (Article 21)
– Role of Specialized Agencies (Article 22)
• PART Vl
– Effect on Other Treaties (Article 23)
– Commitment of States Parties (Article 24)
– Administration of the Convention (Articles 25-30)
UN and CEDAW
• On 18 December 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Discrimination against Women was 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 have agreed to be bound by its provisions.
• The 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
International CEDAW Day
• 3 September is international Convention on the Elimination of
all forms of Discriminations Against Women (CEDAW) Day.
• CEDAW is the international bill of women's rights adopted by
the United Nations in 1979.
• Each member state ratifying the Convention is required to
submit a periodic four- yearly report on the status of
• Non-government organizations and women's groups can
submit an Alternate to the Committee (The Daily Star, 2012).
CEDAW and Optional Protocol
The Optional Protocol provides an international complaints
procedure for individuals or groups to petition the UN when:
• State party is accused of grave/systematic violations of
European Convention on Human Rights
• All available domestic remedies have been exhausted
• Complaint is compatible with provisions of the Convention
• Complainant's allegations can be substantiated (i.e. the
complaint is not an abuse of the right to complain)
• Complaint is submitted after the state party ratified the
• Complaint relates to events arising after state party ratification.
CEDAW and Worldwide Women Status between 1979-
• Austria: Austria‟s Ending Violence against Women Law
Moves into Action. The CEDAW Committee under the
Optional Protocol to the Convention decided two complaints
against Austria concerning domestic violence in 2007
• Bangladesh: Bangladesh now prohibits sexual harassment,
thanks to a milestone decision issued in 2009 by the High
Court. A public interest litigation case, brought by the
Bangladesh National Women‟s Lawyers Association,
challenged the High Court to step in and take action as there
was no national law against sexual harassment.
• Cameroon: Traditional leaders in Cameroon are changing
traditional practices that are harmful to women after learning
about CEDAW and the rights that it provides for women.
• Colombia: After a groundbreaking decision by the
Constitutional Court in May 2006, women in Colombia may
now legally access abortion in certain circumstances.
• Egypt and Jordan: Egypt and Jordan have taken a positive
step towards strengthening their obligations under the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women (CEDAW) and, in so doing; have demonstrated
their commitment to advancing gender equality in their
• Hungary: One of the first complaints considered by the
Committee under CEDAW‟s Optional Protocol came from
Hungary in 2004. A woman belonging to the Roma minority
alleged that she had been subjected to forced sterilization by
medical staff in a Hungarian hospital
• India: Twelve years after the Supreme Court of India issued
a landmark judgment regarding sexual harassment,
significant strides have been made towards eliminating this
particular form of discrimination against women.
• Jamaica: While the impact of CEDAW is most noticeable at
the macro level, in instances of constitutional or legislative
reform, the changes that CEDAW have brought about in
individual women‟s lives all over the world cannot be
• Kyrgyzstan: More than 200 women in Kyrgyzstan joined
together in an innovative community art project titled
“CEDAW in Kyrgyzstan: Movement towards Justice” and
created an extraordinary quilt to bring visibility to
CEDAW‟s 30th anniversary and more importantly, to
express their experiences of discrimination.
• Tajikistan: More women are now successfully claiming their
right to own land and helping to avert the threat of feminized
poverty, due to comprehensive changes to the land reform
processes in Tajikistan.
• Mexico: Mexico has embarked upon a major transformation of
its response to violence against women, with the 2007 passage
of the Mexican General Law on Women‟s Access to a Life Free
• Morocco: The groundbreaking introduction of Morocco‟s new
Family Code in 2004 gave women greater equality and
protection of their human rights within marriage and divorce,
as mandated by Article 16 of the Convention.
• Philippine: A new gold standard for gender equality has been
created in the Philippines through the recent enactment of the
Magna Carta of Women (MCW). The new law will prevail over
existing laws and will be the basis of reform of discriminatory
elements of these laws.
• The Solomon Islands: Important changes to the law of
evidence in the Solomon Islands offer survivors of sexual
assault a greater chance of receiving justice after a new law, the
Evidence Act, was passed in 2009. Under the previous rules of
evidence, established by common law, women faced
discrimination during the court process, particularly with
respect to rape cases, as a result of archaic practices which left
women little chance of finding justice.
• Sierra Leone: Dramatic changes to Sierra Leone‟s legislative
framework offer hope for women who suffer discrimination in
areas such as marriage, divorce and inheritance, and many of
whom are vulnerable to domestic violence.
• Thailand: Fundamental women‟s rights are included in the
highest law of the land after the enactment of Thailand‟s 2007
Constitution. These important changes were brought about
through a collaborative process between the government‟s
Constitutional Drafting Committee and women‟s rights NGOs.
• Kenya: As a result of Kenya‟s courts‟ forcefully asserting that
the principle of gender equality must be respected despite
traditional biases in favour of men, women and girls are getting
a fairer share of inheritance (DAW, 2009).
CEDAW and the Women’s Rights in
• Women in Bangladesh have been subjected to exploitation and
negligence for decades. In a society, which is basically male
dominated, women, have always been kept oppressed by
religious fanaticism, superstition, oppression and various
discrimination. Their merit and labor have only been
recognized in domestic tradition.
• Though lately, Bangladesh has realized that „empowerment of
women‟ is a necessary condition for economic development to
keep pace with the world. In the international arena
Bangladesh ratified the Convention on Elimination of all forms
of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1984,
however, with some „reservations (The Daily Star, 2012).
The Government of Bangladesh ratified the CEDAW on
November 6, 1984. However, at the time of ratification,
the Government of Bangladesh made reservations to a
number of provisions of the Convention. These included:
• a. Article 2 : policy measures.
• b. Article 13(a) : equality as to the right to family benefits.
• c. Article 16(1)(c) : equal rights and responsibilities during
marriage and at its dissolution.
• d. Article 16(1)(f) : equal rights and responsibilities with
regard to guardianship, trusteeship and adoption of children
etc (The Daily Star, 2012).
Reasons for Reservations
The Government of Bangladesh has put forward the following
reasons for such reservations:
a) Bangladesh is a Muslim populated country. The prevalent Muslim
Personal Laws are essentially based upon Shariah Laws, which in
turn were formulated in light of the Holy Quran and Sunnah.
Therefore, the provisions of personal law could not be changed so
easily as required by the Convention as they were based on religion.
b) In addition, in the second periodic report of Bangladesh, it was
mentioned that it would not be easy to modify Hindu Personal Laws
because of the complex religious issues involved (Afroz, 2012).
Implementation of CEDAW in Bangladesh
The CEDAW activities in Bangladesh have so far been
undertaken under two broad categories, namely:
(1) CEDAW activities at the initiative of the Government.
(2) CEDAW activities undertaken by the non-government
organizations (Afroz, 2012).
CEDAW and Present Status of Women in Bangladesh
• Bangladesh is one of the seven countries in the world where
the number of men exceeds the number of women. According
to various indicators the status of women in Bangladesh is
much lower than that of men. Traditional cultural, social and
religious values and practices have reinforced the lower status
of women accorded to them in society and have limited their
opportunities for education, technical and vocational training,
employment and participation in the overall development
process (UN, 1997 ).
The overall literacy rate of the population (7 years and above)
is 32.4 (6). The rate is 38.9 for males compared to 25.5 for
females. Male children are still sent to school more frequently
and parents are still more likely to spend more on their books
made and education than that of girls as it is thought to be an
investment in the case of boys who are expected to look after
their parents financially in old age. Education for girls is
considered as less useful as they are expected to get married
and leave their families behind. Among rural households only
one fourth of total educational expenses are for girls.
Health and Nutrition
In Bangladesh, due to overall poverty health care receives
inadequate resource allocations. At household level too,
poverty results in limited expenditure on health care. Women
are more disadvantaged than man in terms of access to health
care and the quality of nutrition and health care received. Life
expectancy is lower by almost a year for women. This is
contrary to the norm in other countries where women tend to
live longer than men (UN,1997).
Population Control and Family Planning
In the last twenty years Bangladesh has achieved a great deal
in this area. Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has fallen to 3.4 with 49
percent of the total population in the reproductive age group.
Average age at marriage has increased from 13.5 years in the
17 to 19.9. Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) has increased
to 45 percent. The Planning Commission projections show a
population of 137.3 million by the year 2000 (UN,1997).
As regards employment, women in Bangladesh are far behind
men. Nearly 43 percent women are involved in agricultural
activities but 70 percent of them work as unpaid family labour.
The 1991 census indicated that 11 percent of all women were
economically active. Labour force participation rates for
females stood at 9.9 and 14.1 percent in the Labour Force
Surveys (LFS) of 1985-86 and 1990-91 respectively
Women in Development Plans
• Women are considered as a distinct target group by the national
development plans. The empowerment of women has been
emphasized in the latest plans.
• Among the previous plans, the First Five Year Plan(1973-78)
emphasized a welfare oriented approach and focused on the
rehabilitation of war affected women and children. Population
control was the most important area in which women were
considered as beneficiaries. However, their productive role was
not emphasized (UN,1997).
to Achieving Gender Equality
CEDAW is an “anti-discrimination” treaty, meaning that in
CEDAW gender inequalities are understood to have been produced
by sex-based discrimination. The State obligations imposed by
CEDAW are primarily obligations to eliminate the many different
forms of gender-based discrimination women face. CEDAW in that
sense embodies both a theory of women‟s subordination, and a
strategy for overcoming this subordination.
– It provides the highest level of normative authority
– It provides the definitive certainty of law.
– It responds to country realities and emerging issues
CEDAW Convention, Application of Quota and
Temporary Special Measures
The CEDAW Convention prescribed application of quota through
temporary special measures, to accelerate women‟s full and equal
participation in governance at all levels and women‟s leadership
in all decision-making process.
Articles 7 and 8 of CEDAW explicitly cover the rights of women
to non-discrimination in a country‟s public and political spheres,
• Their rights to equality with men in regard to the rights to vote.
• The rights to be eligible for election to all publicly elected
• The rights to participate in the formulation of government
policy and its implementation.
• The rights to hold public office and to perform all public
functions at all levels of government.
• The rights to participate in non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) and associations concerned with the public and
political life of the country.
• And the rights to represent the national government at the
international level and to participate in the work of
international organizations (Begum, 2012).
CEDAW and Women Leadership in Different Countries
• There have been some truly ground breaking results, in
countries such as Rwanda, Sweden, South Africa, Nicaragua,
Liberia and Nepal. Quotas are very effective in those countries.
• Bangladesh is an unique example of having women both as
Prime Minister and as Opposition Leader for more than a
• In Bangladesh , reservation of seats for women at the local
government levels has increased and the number of women in
politics at the grassroots level.
• A study of 2007 in India found that the increased presence and
visibility of female politicians in local government raised the
academic performance and career aspirations of young women
Role of CEDAW to Develop Minority and Indigenous
• Several organizations highlighted the need for CEDAW to
be used to better help minority and indigenous women
around the world. Minority and indigenous women are
often doubly discriminated because they are women and
because they are indigenous or a member of a minority
• Often they do not know where to seek help when they face
discrimination. It is important that they become more
aware of their rights due to CEDAW (WOMANKIND,
CEDAW and Improvement Women’s Rights
Women‟s Social Rights
(126 countries, 1981-2005)
Commitments to the CEDAW
weighted scale of reservations
(126 countries, 1981-2005)
The obstacles to Implement CEDAW’s Activities
• Hostile external environment (Peru, Zimbabwe).
• Lack of government commitment (South Africa)
• Poor information (Albania, Peru)
• Lack of awareness (Ghana, Nepal).
• Failure to enact national legislation (Nepal).
(WOMANKIND , 2009)
• Some clauses reflect a male dominant society
• Despite reporting requirements imposed by CEDAW, almost
none of the developing countries collect and report gender-
disaggregated data on rural household structure and operations,
income-generating activities, ownership of assets, use of land,
and participation in land markets.
• Gender policy is developing without broadly relevant
information about women‟s status and roles in developing
• CEDAW provides an incentive and forum for valuable data
collection. To date, however, that it is a lost opportunity (Singh,
• Women's rights have become the most inspiring rallying flag in
today's world. Seminars are held, debates are organized,
conventions are signed and of course, promises are made again
• But for the women of Bangladesh, it is still a long way ahead to
actually realize the standards of CEDAW Convention. No doubt
that, from the international market, their Government has brought
home a “magic-lamp”, called the „Women's Convention‟ and
promised them that all forms of gender discrimination would be
eliminated from the society at once. However, the reality falls far
apart. Prevalent age-old traditions, orthodox social norms,
conservative values, economic dependency, illiteracy, gender
discrimination, violence and above all the inadequate
governmental efforts and efficient policy measures all makes the
so-called “magic lamp” vulnerable to sustain the gusty wind.
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