The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, commonly known as CEDAW, is an international treaty opposing the institutionalised, and ongoing, discrimination of women all over the world in all areas of society.
CEDAW was formally enforced by the United Nations (UN) in 1981 and today 189 countries/states have ratified the treaty, with Malaysia ratifying in 1995. CEDAW comprises of 30 articles, with the first 16 comprehensively addressing the discrimination of women in all aspects of life.
CEDAW is considered the international bill of rights for women and is part of international law and, therefore, is legally binding for countries that have ratified the convention.
The treaty recognises that when half of the world’s population is systematically oppressed and discriminated against based on gender, it does not only affect women but the entire world.
CEDAW acknowledges that in order to improve life for all, substantive equality between men and women needs to be achieved. The enforced obligation for ratifying states to actively end discrimination against women helps to achieve this.
The compliance to CEDAW by ratifying states is under ongoing scrutiny by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which has the authority to investigate issues and give recommendations. 23 experts make up the committee, who assess member-state progress reports bi-annually and examine state-filed reports every four years.
Summary of Articles 1-16
Article 1 – Defining ‘Discrimination Against Women’
‘Discrimination against women’ means any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex that prevents women from enjoying their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Article 2 – State Duties
States acknowledge that discrimination in their legal system must be addressed, by eliminating laws, policies and practices that encourge inequality and by introducing new measures to encourage equality.
Article 3 – Equality in All Spaces
States must take all appropriate measures to ensure women’s equality in all aspects of life – particularly in the political, social, economic and cultural fields.
Article 4 – Temporary Special Measures
States are allowed to enforce temporary special measures to accelerate women’s equality and this can be continued until the objectives of equality have been achieved.
Article 5 – Stereotypes and Prejudices
States shall take measures to eliminate prejudices and discriminatory cultural customs based on the assumption of an inferior sex and on stereotyped roles of men and women, including in the upbringing of children.
Article 6 – Prostitution and Trafficking
States must take steps to end all forms of exploitation of prostitution and trafficking in women.
Article 7 – Political and Public Life
States shall uphold women’s equal rights with men to vote, hold public office and participate in civil society.
Article 8 – International Participation
States must allow women to internationally represent their governments and participate in international organisations without discrimination.
Article 9 – Nationality
States must grant women the equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality and that of their children.
Article 10 – Education
States must ensure women are equal to men in education by providing equal access to schools, vocational training, curricula, educational resources and study opportunities. States must also actively work to close the education gap between men and women and lower the drop-out rate for women and girls from school.
Article 11 – Employment
States must ensure women have the same opportunities as men in employment, including equal access to training, promotions, job security, benefits, social security, safe working conditions and equal remuneration. Women have the right to employment without discrimination on the grounds of marital status or maternity.
Article 12 – Health
States must take measures to eliminate descrimination against women in the field of health care and ensure equal access to health care services, including family planning.
Article 13 – Economic and Social Life
States must take measures to ensure that women have equal rights with men to participate in recreational activities and other aspects of cultural life and equal access to family benefits, bank loans and other forms of financial credit.
Article 14 – Rural Women
States must take measures to eliminate descrimination against women in rural areas and ensure that they can benefit from health care, education, social security and adequate living conditions , as well as the equal opportunity to participate in community activities, self-help groups and co-operatives.
Article 15 – Equality Before The Law
States must take steps to ensure women and men are treated equally before the law, specifically ensuring women are treated equally in courts and tribunals, and have the same rights to enter and end contracts, own property and choose their own residence.
Article 16 – Marriage and Family
States must take necessary steps in order to ensure women have equal rights with men in matters concerning marriage and family relations, including the equal rights to freely choose a spouse and enter into a consenting marriage.