The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

CEDAW:  The Convention  and the Committee 

The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an international bill of rights for women.  Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.

The Convention defines discrimination against women as “…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.”

By accepting the Convention, States commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including:

  • 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.

 The Convention provides the basis for realizing equality between women and men through ensuring women’s equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life — including the right to vote and to stand for election — as well as education, health and employment.  States parties agree to take all appropriate measures, including legislation and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Convention is the only human rights treaty which affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relations.  It affirms women’s rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality and the nationality of their children.  States parties also agree to take appropriate measures against all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of women.

Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice.  They are also committed to submit national reports, at least every four years, on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations.

 The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), an expert body established in 1982, is composed of 23 experts on women’s issues from around the world.

The Committee’s mandate is very specific: it watches over the progress for women made in those countries that are the States parties to the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. A country becomes a State party by ratifying or acceding to the Convention and thereby accepting a legal obligation to counteract discrimination against women. The Committee monitors the implementation of national measures to fulfil this obligation.

At each of its sessions, the Committee reviews national reports submitted by the States parties within one year of ratification or accession, and thereafter every four years. These reports, which cover national action taken to improve the situation of women, are presented to the Committee by Government representatives. In discussions with these officials, the CEDAW experts comment on the report and obtain additional information. This procedure of actual dialogue, developed by the Committee, has proven valuable because it allows for an exchange of views and a clearer analysis of anti-discrimination policies in the various countries.

The Committee also makes recommendations on any issue affecting women to which it believes the States parties should devote more attention. For example, at the 1989 session, the Committee discussed the high incidence of violence against women, requesting information on this problem from all countries. In 1992, the Committee adopted general recommendation 19, which requires national reports to the Committee to include 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, such as harassment at the workplace, abuse in the family and sexual violence. As of the end of 2007, the Committee has issued 25 general recommendations.

CEDAW Membership

The 23 members of CEDAW, acknowledged as experts “of high moral standing and competence in the field covered by the Convention”, are elected by the States parties. These elections have to meet the Convention’s demands for equitable geographical distribution in membership and the requirement that CEDAW members represent “different forms of civilization as well as principal legal systems”. Their terms last four years, with only half of the Committee members replaced each time elections take place. The meeting of States parties is convened every other year by the Secretary-General at UN Headquarters in New York.


NGO Participation

Since its early sessions, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against
Women has invited non-governmental organizations to follow its work. In order to ensure
that it is as well informed as possible, the Committee and the pre-session working group
invite representatives of national and international non-governmental organizations to
provide country-specific information on States parties whose reports are before it. The
Committee and the pre-session working group also provide an opportunity for
representatives of non-governmental organizations to provide oral information. The
Committee encourages international non-governmental organizations and United Nations
organizations, funds and programmes to facilitate attendance at Committee sessions by
representatives of national non-governmental organizations.

NGO reports/information for the Committee at its sessions

The Committee welcomes country-specific information from non-governmental
organizations, in the form of alternative or shadow reports. NGOs can submit their
reports to the Committee prior to or at the session concerned. NGO representatives
attending the session should bring at least 40 copies to the session itself, so that they can
be distributed during the meeting of the Committee with NGOs. NGOs not attending the
session should send 40 copies to the Division for the Advancement of Women, preferably
so they arrive at least one week prior to the beginning of the session.

NGOs can also email their reports to IWRAW Asia Pacific, a non-governmental
organization that has made arrangements with the Committee to distribute NGO
shadow/alternative reports electronically and/or in hard copy directly to experts in
advance of the session. NGOs wishing to have their reports sent electronically to experts
must email them to IWRAW Asia Pacific at least 3 weeks before the session. Those
wishing to have hard copies of their shadow/alternative reports distributed to experts in
advance of a session must email their reports to IWRAW Asia Pacific at least 7 weeks
before the opening day of the session concerned so that IWRAW Asia Pacific can print
and mail them to Committee experts. Please contact IWRAW Asia Pacific for more

IWRAW Asia Pacific’s contact details are as follows:
Wisma Dicklin, 80-B, Jalan Bangsar,

 CEDAW website