Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 1979

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 1979


The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly. Described as an international bill of rights for women, it was instituted on 3 September 1981 and has been ratified by 189 states. Over fifty countries that have ratified the Convention have done so subject to certain declarations, reservations, and objections, including 38 countries who rejected the enforcement article 29, which addresses means of settlement for disputes concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention. Australia's declaration noted the limitations on central government power resulting from its federal constitutional system. The United States and Palau have signed, but not ratified the treaty. The Holy SeeIranSomaliaSudan and Tonga are not signatories to CEDAW.

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.

Background of CEDAW

The Commission on the Status of Women was established in 1946 with the mandate to elaborate the general guarantees of non-discrimination from a gender perspective. The Commission was originally established as a subsidiary body of the Commission on Human Rights but was granted the status of a full commission as a result of pressure exerted by women’s activists. In response to a call to set international standards for the equal rights of men and women, the Commission on the Status of Women drafted a Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1967. This was not, however, a legally binding treaty. In 1972, the Commission asked the Secretary-General to call upon United Nations Member States to consider the possibility of preparing a legally binding treaty that would give normative force to the provisions of the Declaration. In 1974, it was agreed that a single, binding treaty on the elimination of discrimination against women should be drafted. The text of the CEDAW was prepared by working groups of the Commission during 1976 and was the subject of extensive deliberations by a working group of the Third Committee of the General Assembly between 1977 and 1979. The CEDAW was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979. On 2 September 1981, 30 days after the twentieth Member State had ratified it, the Convention entered into force—more rapidly than any previous international human rights convention.

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 the 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 Convention has a similar format to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, "both with regard to the scope of its substantive obligations and its international monitoring mechanisms”. The Convention is structured in six parts with 30 articles total.
Part I (Articles 1-6) focuses on non-discrimination, sex stereotypes, and sex trafficking.
Part II (Articles 7-9) outlines women's rights in the public sphere with an emphasis on political life, representation, and rights to nationality.
Part III (Articles 10-14) describes the economic and social rights of women, particularly focusing on education, employment, and health. Part III also includes special protections for rural women and the problems they face.
Part IV (Article 15 and 16) outlines women's right to equality in marriage and family life along with the right to equality before the law.
Part V (Articles 17-22) establishes the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women as well as the states parties' reporting procedure.
Part VI (Articles 23-30) describes the effects of the Convention on other treaties, the commitment of the state’s parties and the administration of the Convention.

A.    Effectiveness of CEDAW for advancing women’s rights
·         Educational opportunities

·         Violence against women and girls
·         Marriage and family relations
·         Political participation
·         Participation in the economy
·         Progress in the Health sector

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B.     Principle features of CEDAW
Under CEDAW, the meaning of women’s human rights is constructed on three main principles. These principles are given below
1.      The Principle of Equality: CEDAW’s primary concern with the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women is directed towards the achievement of gender equality.
·         Formal Equality: CEDAW imposes on states parties a ‘formal legal the obligation of equal treatment of women with men’.40 Formal (de jure) equality asserts that, as equals, women and men should be treated the same.
·         Substantive Equality: In addition to formal equality, CEDAW requires states parties to take all appropriate measures to ensure substantive (de facto) equality between women and men.
·         Transformative Equality: The principle of transformative equality underpins several of CEDAW’s provisions. Examples include arts 2(f) and 5, which together require states parties to address prevailing gender relations and the persistence of gender-based stereotypes.
2.      The Principle of Non-Discrimination: CEDAW requires governments to take steps towards ensuring that their policies, legislation, program and activities do not discriminate against women.
3.      The Principle of State Obligation: The Convention places legal obligations on States to ensure de jure (legislative) equality through laws and policies and de facto (actual) equality – the practical realization of equality in everyday life. The State cannot withdraw from these obligations once it has agreed to be held accountable at the national and international levels for the implementation of CEDAW

C.    What Does CEDAW Do?
1.      CEDAW helps girls and women of every age to claim their rights Even though CEDAW mainly refers to ‘women’ and not ‘girls’, CEDAW helps girls to claim Baha Uddin their rights at all stages of their lives: from when they are born to when they are little girls, adolescents, grown-up women and through old age. If a girl learns how to claim her rights while she is still a child, she is more likely to be able to enjoy her rights as a woman.
2.      CEDAW calls upon governments to take action to end discrimination of girls and women CEDAW demands that governments change laws and customs in their country so that girls and women are not discriminated against in any way. CEDAW protects girls and women from discrimination in areas such as education, health, work, marriage and family life.
3.      Being aware of girls’ and women’s rights is the first step towards ending discrimination faced by girls and women When girls and boys take time to learn more about girls’ and women’s rights and what governments should do to stop discrimination of girls and women, they are already helping. Girls and boys should know about they have same rights.

D. Significance of CEDAW
In order to fully understand Articles 7 and 8, one must read them in conjunction with the agreement’s so-called Framework Articles (1–5 and 24). These contain obligations with respect to conduct and results for states parties as regards their actions (legislation, policies and programmes) to empower women and engender cultural change. Thus, states parties are obliged:
§  to eliminate direct and indirect discrimination;

§  to implement the concepts of both formal equality and substantive or de facto equality;
§  to embody the principles of equality and non-discrimination in their constitutions and laws; to pursue the realization of these principles in practice by taking appropriate measures against persons, organizations and enterprises that discriminate against women; and to protect women from discrimination both through legal proscriptions, including sanctions, and competent national tribunals and other public institutions;
§  to act without delay (and without considering financial resources);
§  to undertake all appropriate measures to ensure the full development and advancement of women in all fields; and
§  to modify and eliminate social and cultural patterns based on prejudice, customary and traditional practices, sex-role stereotypes and the alleged inferiority or superiority of either of the sexes.


Ü  CEDAW is the sole international legal instrument specially designed to promote and protect women’s rights in a holistic and systematic way.

Ü  CEDAW defines the principle of substantive equality between men and women. Substantive equality’’ means real equality which is based on the principle of equality between men and women, guaranteeing not just equality of opportunity, but real equality- equality of outcome.
Ü  CEDAW provides a complete definition of discrimination.
Ü  CEDAW legally binds all states parties that sign and ratify or accede to the convention to fulfill, protect, and respect women’s human rights
Ü  CEDAW addresses gender inequalities in all spheres and at all levels within the family, community, market and state. CEDAW recognizes and addresses violations of women’s human rights in the private sphere of the home.


CEDAW guarantees equality and non-discrimination, but in reality, watered-down non-discrimination clauses, biased citizenship laws, antiquated common law, and patriarchal customary law all work in concert to disempowered women. To protect and promote women’s rights and equality as human being all regions, the role of law and CEDAW is an inevitable for. Thus, all discriminatory laws must be repealed and gender equality laws and policies must be promulgated in order to achieve a conducive, socio-political environment. A gender mainstreaming strategy must be employed to address, particularly, effects of discriminatory religious and customary practices. Ultimately, the aim is to bridge the gap between de jure and de facto equality so that women may finally come out of their socially constructed cocoons and contributes to the society in their own way.

Women's Rights: An integral part of protecting human rights in Bangladesh

Within four walls of the house they are mothers, daughters, sisters and wives. In the society they are friends, philosophers and guides. Thus, the women, like anywhere in the world, in Bangladesh also, form an integral part of human race and almost half of human populace.  Therefore, neglecting or ignoring women's rights is an inhuman act. Though in Bangladesh women rule the roost in politics and governance, but we cannot undermine women and their role in anyway nor can see them as downtrodden compared to their men.

Neglecting women's rights is a violation of human rights - the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna confirmed in 1993. The declaration came 45 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted, and eight years after UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) came into force.

It was striking that this statement was even necessary as women's status as human beings entitled to rights inherited at birth should have never been in doubt. Yet this identifies negligence to women's rights as a human rights violation and also brings focus on the connection between gender and human rights violation. Rights of women as well as their empowerment have been an issue all around the globe and still many countries have not ratified to CEDAW.

Women are very important part of the society and it is impossible to achieve societal development leaving them behind. Most of the developed countries have ensured the rights of women. In spite of that, the debate goes on whether women are treated equally in those countries as men. The situation is much worse in developing and under-developed countries including Bangladesh.

Human rights, a crucial widely admitted right matter in today's world, cannot be considered separate from women's rights as even in Bangladesh, according to Bureau of Statistics, women are around fifty per cent of the total population. Even if we want, we cannot deny their contribution in our family, society or economy.  Women's rights are the fundamental human rights that were preserved by the United Nations for every human being on the planet in 1945. Numerous international and regional instruments have drawn attention to gender-related dimensions of human rights issues, the most important being CEDAW, adopted in 1979. 

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted in 1995 at the UN's Fourth World Conference in Beijing, was a rallying cry to embed gender equality and women's rights in every facet of life.  These rights broadly include the right to live free from violence, slavery, and discrimination; to be educated; to own property; to vote; and to earn a fair and equal wage. In Bangladesh, there are several aspects of women's rights that need to be addressed to ensure women empowerment. The government and the human rights organization are actively working for the last two decades to improve the lives of women in Bangladesh. But still there is a huge scope of improvement, especially in rural areas. It is true that our women have come out of the dark ages but they are still not much aware of their rights and what they are entitled to.

The greatest curse faced by Bangladeshi women must be child marriage. We rank fourth in the world in terms of child marriage as around 59 per cent females experience that in Bangladesh in spite of decades-old law banning marriage before 18 years for women and 21years for men.  Regretfully, a new law was passed where girls can be allowed to marry before 18 years of age in 'special cases', which is definitely an addition to the misery of women in our country. Under-age marriage and premature childbearing create huge risks for a girl as she has to endure everything for which she needs to reach a certain maturity. 

Mostly, girls married in kinder ages drop out of schools and lose their opportunity to be self-sufficient and independent. The situation gets even worse as they face health issues during untimely pregnancy. Over half a million women die each year from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes throughout the world. Dowry, another alarming factor, is a custom in practice in Bangladesh and neighbouring countries. Women are often tortured and killed for dowry. A large number of women meet premature deaths due to such incidents where the husband and in-laws tortured the wife to death for non-payment of promised or expected dowry. It is also a psychological burden on the women which cripples them from the very beginning of their married life.

Violence against women is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. It knows no social, economic or national boundaries. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime. Gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains masked in a culture of mystery and silence. Women in Bangladesh are often victims of several types of violence including domestic violence. We have hundreds of incidents happening every day where women become victims of murder, rape, acid attack, eve-teasing, torture and many things. 

They are not even safe at their homes or in their immediate neighbourhood, in the school or at a park. Almost one-third households in city areas experience incidents of domestic violence and from that we can guess the situation in rural areas. Taking birth as a woman generates lots of challenges in Bangladesh. The girls are often deprived of education. The parents especially in suburbs and rural areas do not feel the importance of educating their girls as they are taken for granted for household works. In this process, they can never become independent and cannot fight for their rights.

The women are entitled to similar wages as men as per the constitution or law. But still they receive lower salary and wages than men for the same level of works. Not only in Bangladesh but also in many countries of the world, the scenario is the same. Women's participation in economical and political works is much lower than what it should be. Though our prime minister as well as the largest opposition party's chairman and former prime minister are both women for which we take a lot of pride, women's participation in such works is not satisfactory. Other than these, women are the greatest victims of human trafficking around the world. Moreover, in many countries, women's right to property is not ensured. These are serious violations of women's rights.

In the Constitution of Bangladesh, women's rights are protected under the broad and universal principles of equality and participation. Article 10 of the Constitution provides that steps shall be taken to ensure the participation of women in all spheres of national life. 
The State shall endeavour to ensure equality of opportunity to all citizens as per Article 19 (1). Article 27 specifies that all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law. 

Moreover, Article 28 (1) provides that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth while article 28 (2) more directly says that women shall have equal rights as men in all spheres of the State and of public life. 
Other than that, several special laws prohibit certain forms of violence against women like; the Penal Code 1860, the Anti-Dowry Prohibition Act (1980), the Cruelty to Women Ordinance (1983), the Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act (1993) and the Prevention of Repression against Women and
Children Act (2000).
  • In order to prevent violence and discrimination against women, it is necessary to practice the rule of law, to reduce poverty and all kinds of discrimination and to implement existing laws protecting women. 
  • At the same time, it is necessary to ensure the security of witnesses and victims and corruption must be fought from when a case of violence is filed until the trial is finished and political pressure must be stopped.
  • Most importantly, strong emphasis must be provided on women's education. Our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken a few strong steps which have brought good results but yet a lot needs to be done. The nationwide coordinated campaign should be carried out by the government, NGOs and administration. Rights of women should be included in textbooks from junior level schooling. If our women get educated and people are aware of women's rights, the situation will improve a lot.
  • The NGOs and law enforcers should focus on activities which will protect women from violence and discrimination. Right now, they are only focusing on victim support which is not helping much as crimes against women are increasing every day. Moreover, they are not sometimes very helpful to the victims as they try to capitalize on the incidents by harassing even the innocents. To improve the scenario, they must work to ensure that women get equal opportunity as men and are treated respectfully in their home, office, on streets and everywhere.
  • Only improving the lives of women in city areas will not ensure women's rights in Bangladesh. We must focus on the whole country. Only when women are safe and free from violence; can earn their livelihood; can have an equal voice in their family and community; can decide when they get married or have children, then we will be able to say that they have equality and justice. 
  • To become a developed country, we must ensure women's rights, an integral part of human rights development goals. We believe, with a little more planned and coordinated effort, we can achieve that goal soon. And here, the much talked about "zero tolerance" policy may play a magic!


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