CEDAW and Women Rights | Bangladesh

What is CEDAW?

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 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 that rejected the enforcement of 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 See, Iran, Somalia, Sudan and Tonga are not signatories to CEDAW.

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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.

CEDAW 1979: Effectiveness, Principles and Significance in Bangladesh

Background of CEDAW

The Commission on the Status of Women was established in 1946 to elaborate on the general guarantees of non-discrimination from a gender perspective. The Commission was established initially as a subsidiary body of the Commission on Human Rights. Still, it was granted the status of a full commission due to 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 eliminating discrimination against women should be drafted. The text of the CEDAW was prepared by working groups of the Commission in 1976. It 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 based on sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, based on 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 adequate protection of women against discrimination; and
  • to ensure the elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organisations or enterprises.

The Convention provides the basis for realising equality between women and men by ensuring women's equal access to political and public life opportunities, including the right to vote and stand for election and education, health, and employment. States Parties agree to take all appropriate measures, including legislation and unique temporary standards so that women can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Convention is the only human rights treaty that affirms women's reproductive rights 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 against 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 submitting national reports on measures to comply with their treaty obligations every four years. The Convention has a similar format to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, "both about the scope of its substantive obligations and its international monitoring mechanisms". The Convention is structured in six parts, with 30 articles in 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, emphasising political life, representation, and rights to nationality.

Part III (Articles 10-14) describes women's economic and social rights, mainly focusing on education, employment, and health. Part III also includes special protections for rural women and their problems.

Part IV (Article 15 and 16) outlines women's right to equality in marriage and family life and the right to equality before the law.

Part V (Articles 17-22) establishes the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and 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.


Effectiveness of CEDAW for advancing women's rights

a) Educational opportunities;

b) Violence against women and girls;

c) Marriage and family relations;

d) Political participation;

e) Participation in the economy; and

f) Progress in the Health sector.


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 eliminating all forms of discrimination against women is achieving gender equality.

Formal Equality: CEDAW imposes on states parties a ‘formal legal the obligation of equal treatment of women with men’. 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 toward 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 realisation 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 to implement CEDAW.


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 allows girls to claim their rights at all stages: from when they are born to when they are little girls, adolescents, and 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 against 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 education, health, work, marriage and family life.

3.   Being aware of girl's and women's rights is the first step toward 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 against girls and women, they are already helping. G girls and boys should know that they have the same rights.


Significance of CEDAW

To fully understand Articles 7 and 8, one must read them with the agreement's so-called Framework Articles (1–5 and 24). These contain obligations concerning conduct and results for states parties regarding their actions (legislation, policies and programmes) to empower women and engender cultural change. Thus, states parties are obliged:

a) to eliminate direct and indirect discrimination;

b) to implement the concepts of both formal equality and substantive or de facto equality;

c) to embody the principles of equality and non-discrimination in their constitutions and laws; to pursue the realisation of these principles in practice by taking appropriate measures against persons, organisations 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;

d) to act without delay (and without considering financial resources);

f) to undertake all appropriate measures to ensure the full development and advancement of women in all fields; and

g) 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 sex.


CEDAW is the sole international legal instrument specially designed to promote and protect women's rights holistically and systematically.

CEDAW defines the principle of substantive equality between men and women. Substantive equality" means absolute equality based on equality between men and women, guaranteeing not just equality of opportunity but complete equality- equality of outcome.CEDAW provides a comprehensive definition of discrimination.

CEDAW legally binds all states parties that sign and ratify or accede to the Convention to fulfil, protect, and respect women's human rights

CEDAW addresses gender inequalities in all spheres and levels within the family, community, market and State. CEDAW estates 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 customary patriarchal law all work in concert to disempowered women. To protect and promote women's rights and equality as human beings in all regions, the role of law and CEDAW is inevitable. All discriminatory laws must be repealed, and gender equality laws and policies must be promulgated to achieve a conducive, socio-political environment. A gender mainstreaming strategy must be employed to address the effects of discriminatory religious and customary practices. U 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 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 society, they are friends, philosophers and guides. Like anywhere globally, the women in Bangladesh also form an integral part of the human race and almost half of the human populace. Therefore, neglecting or ignoring women's rights is an inhuman act. In Bangladesh, women rule the roost in politics and governance; we cannot undermine women and their role, nor can we 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 this in 1993. The declaration came after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted. Eight years after the 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 of women's rights as a human rights violation and focuses on the connection between gender and human rights violations. The rights of women and their empowerment have been an issue all around the globe, and still, many countries have not ratified CEDAW.

Women are a significant part of society, and it is impossible to achieve societal development, leaving them behind. Most developed countries have ensured the rights of women. Despite 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 proper matter in today's world, cannot be considered separate from women's rights. According to the Bureau of Statistics, women are around fifty percent of the total population, even in Bangladesh. Even if we want, we cannot deny their contribution to our family, society or economy. Wo n's rights are the fundamental human rights 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 critical 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. The rights broadly include living free from violence, slavery, and discrimination, being educated, owning property, voting, and earning a fair and equal wage. Seve, all aspects of women's rights need to be addressed in Bangladesh to ensure women's empowerment. The government and the human rights organisation have been actively working to improve women's lives in Bangladesh for the last two decades. But still, there is a vast scope for improvement, especially in rural areas. Our omen has come out of the dark ages, but they are still unaware of their rights and what they are entitled to.

The greatest curse faced by Bangladeshi women must be child marriage. We arr rank fourth in the world in terms of child marriage as around 59 per cent of females experience that in Bangladesh despite 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 'exceptional cases, which is definitely an addition to the misery of women in our country. Underage marriage and early childbearing create enormous risks for a girl as she has to endure everything for which she needs to reach a certain maturity. 

Mostly, girls married at kinder ages drop out of school 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 from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes worldwide. Dowry, another alarming factor, is a custom in practice in Bangladesh and neighbouring countries. Women are often tortured and killed for dowry. Many 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 globally. It knows no social, economic or national boundaries. An estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse. Gender-based violence undermines its victims' health, dignity, security, and autonomy, 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 ha e hundreds of incidents happening every day where women become victims of murder, rape, acid attack, eve-teasing, torture, etc. 

They are not even safe in their homes or in their immediate neighbourhood, in school or at a park. Almost one-third of households in city areas experience domestic violence incidents, 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 work. They can never become independent and cannot fight for their rights in the process.


Women are entitled to similar wages as men as per the Constitution or law. But still, they receive lower salaries and wages than men for the same level of work. In Bangladesh and many countries globally, the scenario is the same. Women s participation in economic and political works is much lower than it should be. Though our prime minister and the largest opposition party's chairman and former prime minister are 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 worldwide. 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. Artic e 10 of the Constitution provides that steps shall be taken to ensure the involvement of women in all spheres of national life. 

The State shall pay endstate to ensure equal opportunity for all citizens as Article 19 (1). Artic e 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 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).

a) To prevent violence and discrimination against women, it is necessary to practice the rule of law, reduce poverty and discrimination,n and implement existing laws protecting women. 

b) 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.

c) Most importantly, strong emphasis must be provided on women's education. Our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken a few vital steps that have brought good results, yet a lot needs to be done. The n nationwide coordinated campaign should be carried out by the government, NGOs and administration. The r rights of women should be included in textbooks from junior level schooling. If ou women get educated and people know women's rights, the situation will improve significantly.

d) NGOs and law enforcers should focus on activities that protect women from violence and discrimination. They are only focusing on victim support which is not helping much as crimes against women increase every day. Moreover, they are not sometimes beneficial to the victims as they try to capitalise on the incidents by harassing even the innocents. To improve the scenario, they must ensure that women get equal opportunities as men and are treated respectfully in their homes, offices, streets, and everywhere.

e) Only improving women's lives 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, have an equal voice in their family and community, and decide when they get married or have children will we be able to say that they have equality and justice. 

f) To become a developed country, we must ensure women's rights are integral to human rights development goals. We believe, with a little more planned and coordinated effort, we can achieve that goal soon. And h re, the much talked about "zero tolerance" policy may play magic!

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