December 18, 1979

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

The Commission on the Status of Women worked for a number of years for the passage of the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women which was secured on November 7, 1967. This was the first step in the movement towards a convention on women’s rights (conventions are legally binding instruments that create international norms and standards, which governments who ratify agree to meet. UN declarations are aspirational documents that often indicate the direction of emerging ideas that are not yet agreed upon in mandatory legal instruments). The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979 to serve as an international bill of rights for women. Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to its provisions. These countries must also submit national reports every four years on the progress of their compliance. The Women’s Convention has one of the highest numbers of signatories and ratifications by state parties of any UN treaty. Paradoxically, it is also the one with the highest number of reservations filed against some of its articles, particularly Art.2 which defines what constitutes discrimination against women.

The Convention was ground breaking in that it addresses state responsibility for human rights violations by both state and non-state actors and seeks to end discrimination against women in all forms by ensuring equality not only within state legal systems but also by eliminating all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations, or enterprises. It is the only human rights treaty which explicitly affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles. While the text of the Convention does not address violence against women directly, it does require state parties to take appropriate measures against the trafficking and exploitation of women.

Further, the CEDAW Committee also makes general recommendations (GR) that interpret issues to which it believes the States parties should devote more attention in line with the treaty. At the 1989 session, the Committee adopted GR12 that discuss the high incidence of violence against women, requesting information on this problem from all signatory countries. In 1992, the Committee adopted GR 19 on violence against women, asking States parties to include in their periodic reports to the Committee statistical data on the incidence of violence against women, information on the provision of services for victims, and legislative and other measures taken to protect women against violence in their everyday lives.

 Sidenote: On July 14, 2017, the CEDAW Committee adopted GR 35 on gender-based violence against women as an update to GR 19.