The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted by the United Nations over thirty years ago. It has been an important tool used by national and international advocates for the equality of women, and the Committee established under the Convention has played a significant role in encouraging the implementation of the treaty. This paper provides an overview of the Convention‘s impact resulting from its use by Governments and civil society.
The paper first provides an overview of the challenges involved in identifying and evaluating the impact of human rights treaties, and sets out the indicators used to evaluate the Convention‘s impact on domestic law and practice in the States chosen for this analysis. It then describes the status of Convention and Optional Protocol ratification, patterns of reservations to the Convention and of their withdrawal, and of States parties’ discharge of their reporting obligations under the treaty.
The paper argues that there is considerable evidence that the Convention has contributed to increasing women‘s enjoyment of the right to equality in many countries, but that this impact is variable, and an enormous amount remains to be done before women enjoy full equality with men in all States. This paper was prepared as a background paper for the World Bank’s World Development Report 2012 on Gender Equality and Development.
- Change has often been slow and hard-won—ratification of the Convention does not necessarily lead to immediate reform even of laws which should be relatively easy to amend. In many cases change is only observed over a number of reporting cycles when the CEDAW Committee, informed by local NGOs and its own expertise, has pressed government to comply with the Convention. Initial response has often been slow and partial, with governments making only some of the recommended changes, requiring further scrutiny and lobbying to bring laws into full compliance.
- Domestic NGOs play an essential role in the process of reform, and in enhancing the impact of the CEDAW reporting process. In most cases domestic NGOs that have been campaigning on equality issues bring their issues to the CEDAW Committee to strengthen their domestic campaign by putting international pressure on governments and exploiting the desire (at least of some) to be seen as constructive in their engagement with human rights.
- International reporting provides an occasion for governments to reflect on their record in the light of the Convention’s standards and the Committee’s recommendations—now seen in the many government reports that specifically detail the measures they claim to have taken in response to, or consistent with, the Convention’s requirements and the Committee’s recommendations.
- The impact of CEDAW standards and the CEDAW reporting procedure must be seen in the context of States’ other international treaty commitments and State party reviews by other bodies. If States are parties to other human rights treaties with overlapping obligations, they will have multiple accountability for certain issues, and sex discrimination cuts across all the human rights treaties.