“In a fast changing world, it is essential that CEDAW remains constant as the universal charter for women’s human rights – an international benchmark by which we judge oursevles and by which UN member states will judge each other.”

- Deputy Minister for Women and Equalities, Babara Follett

United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1979, the CEDAW Convention is often referred to as the Women’s International Bill of Rights.

Unlike domestic UK and European Community legislation on sex discrimination and equal treatment, the Convention is solely concerned with the position of women rather than discrimination faced by both sexes (which would include discrimination and inequalities faced by men).

The Convention places obligations on State parties (countries that have agreed to the Convention) to eliminate discrimination against women, which is defined 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.” (see the full text of the Convention here).

The Convention provides a framework for States to take responsibility for tackling (often embedded and historical) discrimination against women and achieving substantive equality for women in both the private and public spheres. It outlines a comprehensive set of rights for women in all fields (civil, political, economic, social, cultural and other fields) 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.

By signing-up (i.e. ratifying or acceding) to the Convention, States commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to:

  • End all forms of discrimination against women;
  •  Protect women; and
  • Promote equality within the legal system, public institutions and other organisations and amongst individuals

Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions (Articles and General Recommendations) into practice, except where they have Reservations (when the country’s government cannot agree to implement a certain part of the Convention).

State parties agree to take all appropriate measures, including legislation and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

There is also an Optional Protocol attached to the Convention. This allows individuals to take their case to the CEDAW Committee if all national options to resolve allegations of discrimination have been exhausted. The UK Government has agreed to the Optional Protocol and it came into force in 2005.

As of January 2013, 187 State parties (over 90% of UN members) were party to the Convention.

The UK government ratified the Convention in 1986.

The Convention has a preamble (introduction) and 30 Articles (clauses) which cover:

  • Sex roles and stereotyping
  • Trafficking and prostitution
  • Political and public life
  • Participation at the international level
  • Nationality
  • Equal rights in education
  • Employment
  • Article 12: health and family planning
  • Economic and social benefits
  • Rural women
  • Equality before the law
  • Marriage and family law

There are also a number of General Recommendations attached to the Convention which cover a wide range of issues such as violence against women, women migrant workers and older women.

The Convention is overseen and implemented by a UN committee of 23 experts on women’s rights from around the world, known as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

State parties who have signed-up to the Convention are obliged to report to the Committee who examine the measures implemented by the country to comply with its obligations under the Convention. The Committee meets twice a year and countries are examined on a rolling basis, approximately every four years. The UK was examined in July 2013. Alongside a country’s written report, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) submit shadow reports and the Committee invites direct NGO input via written reports and informal and formal meetings in order to bring women’s real concerns to national and international attention.

Use the CEDAW toolkit on the tabs above to find out more about CEDAW and other international women’s rights instruments.

Monitoring a Convention means watching, recording and analysing information about CEDAW. The Convention outlines a number of groups that need to be involved in the monitoring of the Convention. These are:

  • The Government: who has to submit regular reports to a UN Committee to tell them about how well they think they are doing on implementing the Convention. In the UK the Government Equalities Office (GEO) has been tasked with monitoring the Convention and writing the report on behalf of the Government
  • An Independent Body: who collects their own data and reviews the Government’s report. They can then also submit a report to the UN Committee to tell them about how well they think the Government is doing in achieving the obligations it has under the Convention. In the UK, the Equality and Human Rights Commission(EHRC) is acting as the independent body
  • Civil Society: women, the organisations that support them and other organisations and projects that work with women, can submit an additional report which tells the UN Committee the situation for women in the UK. The Committee consider this report very closely as it will contain important information about the real lives of women and an analysis of policies. The UN Committee members, however, only have a limited amount of time, so they want to receive information in one place rather lots of individual submissions. Women’s Resource Centre (WRC) in collaboration with the CEDAW Working Group and other organisations will be compiling the report that will go to the UN on behalf of the women’s sector in 2012

Why is it important for the women’s sector to submit a report?

WRC and the CEDAW Working Group want to ensure that women have a strong voice when the UN committee assesses the Government’s record on upholding and protecting women’s rights. The best way of doing this is to ensure that a detailed report is sent to the UN Committee to help them to think about what questions to put to the Government and to influence their final report and recommendations. Because women and women’s organisations will lead this report it can show the real situation on the ground.

What will the UN Committee do with the evidence?

Once the UN Committee has considered all of the evidence it will publish its own report detailing what it thinks about the country’s actions, outline areas of improvement and reflect on areas for concern. From this they will produce recommendations (also called concluding observations) to the Government on what actions they need to take to improve women’s rights in the UK. See the recommendations from this year (July 2013)’s examination:

Concluding Observations

Women’s Resource Centre – CEDAW toolkit – Resources to support the work of women’s organisations

WRC is currently developing a comprehensive online toolkit for women and women’s organisations, to provide everything that you need to know about CEDAW and how to use it in the UK.

Table of CEDAW recommendations 2013

The concluding observations made by the CEDAW Committee are a powerful tool to stop the state backtracking on its promises and obligations under CEDAW.

Find out what the recommendations were from the 2013 session, and then use our template letter to let the UK government know you are holding them to account. Ask them what they are doing about CEDAW by writing to your MP or arranging for your MP to ask a question in Parliament about the implementation and promotion of CEDAW.

Template letter for MPs on CEDAW’s 2013 recommendations

Countries across the world have seen CEDAW influence their constitutions and motivate changes in the law. CEDAW is not directly binding on UK law (although it is binding internationally), but it is still persuasive in UK courts. This means it can be used to interpret a UK law in favour of women’s rights.

There is also a briefing that you can download which provides an overview and some useful links.

CEDAW briefing for women’s organisations 2013

Briefing for public bodies 2013

The more people that are aware of CEDAW, the more useful it will be to mainstream it in your work.

There are 78 different observations and recommendations made by the CEDAW Committee to the UK this year. These include recommendations to mitigate the impact of austerity measures on women, assess the impact of legal aid reforms on women,  to work on the over representation of BME women in prisons, adopt a comprehensive national framework to tackle trafficking of women and girls and create more opportunities for women with disabilities to access employment among other issues.

While general recommendations apply to all the states signed up the Convention, concluding observations only apply to the country they are given to. The next state report will be expected to explain what the state has done to address these observations.

Use CEDAW to lobby for the issues that your organisation works on or that the women you work with face using the relevant Articles and General Recommendations.

General Recommendations

Why not discuss implementing some aspects of CEDAW as local bye-laws, for example on street harassment, or at a local policy level. At low expense a local borough could lead the country on best practice and soon be receiving positive comments from the UN. By creating a local or regional women’s network or CEDAW forum, women’s organisations can build and share their capacity to allow them to achieve a lot more with CEDAW, by sharing out work and planning together, than they could alone. Use the below resource to monitor the Government’s budget for compliance with CEDAW. Use the CEDAW Committee’s statements on particular issues to support your work. For example, the 2011 statement on gender and climate change.

Monitor the Government’s budget for compliance with CEDAW

The Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women may be particularly useful for raising issues in the UK.

We want to ensure that women’s voluntary and community sector organisations, women’s projects and other organisations and groups that work with women, are fully involved in monitoring the UK’s performance in implementing the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

We will monitor the Convention by collecting evidence about the experiences of women in the UK. We need your story or relevant information that you may have as part of the evidence.

We will use this evidence to show the UK Government where they need to improve law, policies and practice to ensure women can fully enjoy their human rights.

We will also use it to create a shadow report  for the next examination by the CEDAW Committee in 2017/18, outlining where the UK is not meeting the standards and international obligations required.

Through this we hope to give the UK Government and the UN the information they need to ensure that the UK complies with its obligations under CEDAW to:

  • End all forms of discrimination against women;
  • Protect women; and
  • Promote equality within the legal system, public institutions and other organisations and amongst individuals to ensure the human rights of women in the UK.

Use the links and information below to find out more about the Convention, the work we did, and how you can get involved in the reporting process for the next session.

Timeline:

  • UK government reported to CEDAW Committee – June 2011
  • List of issues and questions sent to the CEDAW Committee – October 2012
  • Pre-session working group in Geneva – October 22nd 2012
  • UK government respond to list of issues and questions – December 2012
  • Report due to the CEDAW Committee – May 2013
  • UK Examination – July 2013

Lists of issues and questions have also been sent by:

Shadow reports:

How does CEDAW operate alongside human rights in the UK and internationally?

The ratification of the CEDAW Convention has been used to improve women’s rights across the world.

View the  UK shadow report and the CEDAW Committee’s concluding comments from 2013.

See the UK government’s report to CEDAW(June 2011).

UK government  reservations to CEDAW.

Learn more about CEDAW and download resources for NGOs from International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW).

In March 2009, the Women’s Resource Centre and the Equality and Human Rights Commission held a conference on the Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Watch the film from the conference.

Download the conference report (326KB)

See the event report (1940KB) from CEDAW in Action: Global South / North exchange, a WRC and Womankind Worldwide event in November 2009.

See the report (395KB) from the capacity building training and regional ‘Using CEDAW in the UK’ events and consultations in February 2011 in partnership with the Equality and Human Rights Commission.