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BigLogo.gif UN Member States on the Record
In its 30 years, the CEDAW has changed the landscape of women’s rights
03 December 2009 / 03:31

 [Dateline: New York | Author: iSeek]

The UN marks today the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a treaty which has represented a huge step forward for all women and continues to be a key instrument in the protection and promotion of their rights. 

Thirty years after its adoption by the United Nations General Assembly, on 18 December 1979, the treaty remains the essential international tool for achieving women’s human rights. 

National action spurred by the CEDAW treaty has been wide ranging: new constitutional guarantees for women in Thailand, land-owning rights established for women in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, changes to the law of evidence benefiting women in the Solomon Islands, reproductive health rights established in Colombia, a new Magna Carta for women’s equality enacted in the Philippines.

The event is marked today, Thursday at UN Headquarters at 3:00 pm in the ECOSOC Chamber with the Secretary-General BAN Ki-moon, Hosted by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay and the Executive Director of UNIFEM, Inés Alberdi, and through regional and national events organized by UN offices around the world. 

Raising questions in a different way - through theatre - Sarah Jones, the Tony Award winning playwright and performer, will perform stories about the discrimination that women still face, despite 30 years of progress.

"It is a very practical document," said Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.  "It says concretely and explicitly what countries have to do at the national level to achieve women’s equality."

"The CEDAW has proven to be a very important strategic tool," said Lee Waldorf, Human Rights Adviser at the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), who is deeply committed to women's rights
and is an expert on the Convention, during a brief interview with iSeek.

Before the CEDAW, there were a number of international treaties that could be referred to, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but they were not specific enough.  On the other hand, even though the ratification of the CEDAW, as an International Treaty, takes time and is sometimes protracted, there are now concrete obligations that States have to comply with, she explained. 

Today, the CEDAW can be used a legal tool by women’s rights advocates, but also as a political tool through the review process. The fact that Member States have to report every four years to the Convention Secretariat actually puts pressure on national Governments to seek out information and show results. 

Ms. Waldorf pointed out that if being the person in charge of advocating women’s rights was not always the safest or the easiest in a given country, perhaps surprisingly Governments feel less threatened by the issue than by the wider question of human rights.  Of course, defending women’s rights is defending human rights, she noted, underlining that a very deep shift was needed in societies to modify men and women’s perspectives – some of which they might not even be aware of. 

The discrimination is built in the system even at the United Nations, declared Ms. Waldorf, in particular in terms of means and money put into supporting Women’s Rights.  But there is now good reason to hope that a new, more solid, UN body dedicated to this cause will see the light, after the General Assembly asked for a review of the question by the Secretary-General. 

A dedicated page on the UNIFEM web site has been developed for the occasion, and contains a calendar of regional and country level events being organized for the anniversary, publications and resources on CEDAW, and details of CEDAW's successful implementation around the world.

Currently, 186 countries are bound by the provisions of the international women’s human rights treaty, CEDAW.  A full list can be found on the UN Treaty Collection web site