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...from the Human Rights Instruments

Noting that the States Parties to the International Covenants on Human Rights have the obligation to ensure the equal rights of men and women to enjoy all economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights.

(Preamble, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.)

15.(1) States Parties shall take in all fields, in particular the political, social, economic and cultural fields, all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.

15.(2) States parties shall accord to women, in civil matters, a legal capacity identical to that of men and the same opportunities to exercise that capacity. In particular, they shall give women equal rights to conclude contracts and to administer property and shall treat them equally in all stages of procedure in courts and tribunals.

15. (3) States Parties agree that all contracts and all other private instruments of any kind with a legal effect which is directed at restricting the legal capacity of women shall be deemed null and void.

15. (4) States Parties shall accord to men and women the same rights with regard to the law relating to the movement of persons and the freedom to choose their residence and domicile.

(Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Part IV, Art. 15, 1-4)

17. (1) For the purpose of considering the progress made in the implementation of the present Convention, there shall be established a Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (...) consisting, at the time of entry in to force of the Convention, of eighteen and, after ratification of or accession to the Convention by the thirty-fifth State Party, of twenty three experts of high moral standing and competence in the field covered by the Convention. The experts shall be elected by States Parties from among their nationals and shall serve in their personal capacity, consideration being given to equitable geographical distribution and to the representation of the different forms of civilizations as well as the principal legal system.

17. (9) The Secretary-General of the United Nations shall provide the necessary staff and facilities for the effective performance of the functions of the Committee under the present Convention.

(Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Part V, Art. 17, 1,9.)

States Parties undertake to adopt all necessary measures at the national level aimed at achieving the full realization of the rights recognized in the present Convention.

(Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Part VI, Art. 24.)

Methodologies for conducting gender-based analysis in policies and programs and for dealing with the differential effects of policies on women and men... are available for application but are often not being applied or are not being applied consistently.

(Beijing Platform for Action, H, § 200.)



Which human rights documents has your government signed?

Once signed, were they ratified? (If you don’t know, inquire about the ratification process through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: report to the group what you learnt.)

Once signed and ratified, how are human rights commitments translated into national laws and policies? (If you need to, inquire through the Ministry of Justice: report to the group.)

Has this country signed CEDAW? When was it ratified?

If not, why not?

Human Rights instruments speak of ‘all necessary measures’...toward the ‘full realization of the rights recognized’. What do you think is meant here? How would you describe these necessary measures? ?

How can a person find out about existing commitments to human rights in this country?

If you wanted to file a complaint about the violations of women’s human rights in this country would you find a safe and accessible process? Which channels could you use?



"Women's Rights are Human Rights"

The Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) gained special strength from the way it explicitly summarized fifty years of accumulated human rights principles and standards, and looked for ways to give them full force. The BPFA "(reaffirmed) that all human rights — civil, cultural, economic, political and social, including the right to development— are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated..."(BPFA, Chap. IV para. 213). In effect, it re-stated the fruit of several decades of human rights standard-setting.

Equality of rights for women is a fundamental principle of the United Nations. The preamble to the Charter of the United Nations intends "to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women".

Article 1 of the Charter spoke of achieving international cooperation in the promotion and encouragement of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all people "without distinction

as to race, sex, language or religion". Under the Charter, all member states of the United

Nations have a legal obligation to strive towards the full realization of human rights for all persons.

The provisions of the Charter regarding equal rights of women were taken up and developed in many international human rights instruments. The first and most important of these is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Actually this simple statement was a victory for women. Early drafts of the UDHR spoke of "all men being brothers", which was rightly considered to exclude the female half of humanity. Following vigorous opposition by women, among whom Eleanor Roosevelt, the final Declaration was genuinely universal. "Race" by the way was similarly excluded from specific mention in early drafts of the Charter and UDHR and it took a prolonged campaign and skilled negotiations by W.E.B. DuBois and the NAACP to ensure its inclusion in the final draft, which pointedly proclaims the entitlement of everyone to enjoy the extensive human rights and fundamental freedoms "without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, birth or any other status."

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the General Assembly in 1966 clearly state that the rights they set forth should be applicable to all persons without distinction of any kind including sex. The Convention on the Rights of the Child extends the prohibition on sex-based discrimination to all the rights set forth therein. A number of the articles in this Convention are also of special relevance to the girl-child.

Whereas the Conventions for the Elimination of Racism and the Convention Against Torture did not specifically mention women, they were presumably applicable to all as were the Conventions on Equal remuneration for Work of Equal Value and the Convention on discrimination in Employment

CEDAW adopted in 1979 was meant specifically to reinforce the provisions of existing instruments by identifying specific areas of notorious discrimination against women and spelling out specific goals and measures

All these were legal instruments with the signatory states expected to guarantee their enjoyment to all individuals under their jurisdiction. But all had in common that, despite general statements about the full equality of women and men, in practice, women had remained marginal. This was all the more unacceptable that women have, for practical purposes, been in the forefront of social activism. Their power was deployed in the remarkable mobilization of energies over two decades preceding the Beijing conference, from the First UN Conference on Women held in Mexico City in 1975 (followed by Copenhagen [1980], Nairobi [1985]) and leading to the signing of the CEDAW convention in 1979 after almost 10 years of negotiations. The accumulated energy of this international process was the thrust behind the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women (the Beijing Conference) and of the NGO Forum that accompanied it (held in Hairou, near Beijing)

The BPFA had been prepared and underpinned by the activities of countless women working as individuals, in ad-hoc committees and as members of NGOs, in a long-term effort of consciousness-raising around the concept of gender equality, and the universal, inviolable and interconnected human rights of men and women. This mass of creative thinking, research and action helped make the BPFA a major landmark in the evolution of the human rights movement.

The foundation upon which Beijing was built is complex, all-encompassing and still growing set of legal provisions. It was built up over a period of 50+ years, starting with the foundation of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is concerned with all areas of life.

The International INSTRUMENTS: a Political Reality

Over a period of fifty years, the international Bill of Rights has been reinforced and expanded by the addition of legal documents and institutions: conventions, declarations, treaties, covenants, regulations, etc. In all, about a dozen major documents and thousands of regulatory texts have been approved and signed by member-states of the United Nations.

Taken separately and together, all of these documents have created a legal and political reality; their combined power can be mobilized to uphold anyone’s claims to the fullness of human rights. Once a government signs an international document, that government becomes accountable for the enforcement of the rights stated in that documents and for the performance of duties assigned by it.

This is only true if citizens claim those rights. All too often, governments are allowed to neglect their ‘contractual’ responsibility partly due to people’s ignorance of the existence of the conventions and treaties signed by their own governments and their ignorance of the tools at their disposal to claim these rights for their daily lives. This general lack of awareness about the potential of human rights has been compounded in the case of women by very old habitual ways of thinking about the position of women in society (what’s broadly called ‘patriarchy’), by the separation of the world in separate male and female spheres. Even though modern economic and political systems have provided women with many new opportunities, they have also had a paradoxical effect of ‘masculinization’ of the world, which harms both men and women; women have been the most visible victims of that trend as well as being the first to fight it. The international human rights system has been a major element in human attempts at self-defense against the encroachments of an inhumane economic system on a worldwide scale, but it is only recently that people, with women in the vanguard, have started to see and utilize fully the potential of human rights.


What kind of protections are women granted in your society?

In which parts of life are women dependent? In which pars are they considered independent?

Do actual practices match the legal standing of women?

Human right instruments distinguish political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights?

Do you think these are valid distinctions?

Are all these rights similarly treated in our society?

Are some rights neglected?

Are some violated?

Are you experiencing these differences in your own life? Give examples.

If someone experiences discrimination would there be institutional or legal remedies for that person to use? Which ones? Do most people know about these remedies?


The Road to CEDAW-- Civil Society in its Law-Making Role

The human rights system being constructed since the Second World War is far from running smoothly to promote and protect human rights. This is even truer in the case of women: discrimination against them is embedded deeply in the day to day interactions of civil societies everywhere and, so far, a fragmentary approach prevents a comprehensive treatment of it.

In December 1963, in acknowledgment of these shortcomings, the General Assembly of the United Nations requested that the Economic and Social Council prepare a draft declaration that would assemble in one single instrument all international standards affecting the lives of men and women. A committee was selected from within the Commission to look specifically at women’s rights. It began drafting a resolution that eventually led to the Declaration on the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women, adopted by the General Assembly in November 1967.

The original intention was merely to draft a ‘declaration of political and cultural intent’, without binding power. The difficulties that were experienced in writing even that draft gave a clear indication of women’s actual situation in most societies. Two articles in particular were very controversial: Article 6, concerning equality in marriage and the family, and Article 10, relating to employment. Another intractable issue was the relationship between the Declaration and local customs and laws that perpetuate discrimination: should the Declaration call for their abolition or should it propose adaptations with a view to later deeper changes? But the Declaration created a new reality of its own, further reinforced with the introduction by the UN Economic and Social Commission of a voluntary reporting system on the implementation of the Declaration. This is turn provided valuable mechanisms for the growing women’s movement to use.


Women’s New Shared Consciousness

Women have always resisted patriarchal features of their societies. Sometimes this was done directly, even violently at times. More often, it took the form of developing adaptations that preserved spheres of female autonomy. In any case, it is only at the end of the 19th century that there was the beginning of a worldwide women’s movement around the issue of women’s electoral rights. But starting in the 1960s, there started developing among women worldwide a new consciousness of the patterns, an awareness of the systemic dimensions of gender- discrimination. This was accompanied by a steady rise in the number of organizations committed to combating the effects of such discrimination.

This set the stage for new legal developments: historically, deep social change depends on an interactive process between legal thinking and voluntary developments in civil society. By themselves, neither legal developments nor voluntary organization are enough to create lasting transformation.

It has become commonplace to talk of ‘the women’s movement’, but the term hides the many-layered complexity of these mobilizations. There are deep solidarities as well as inner contradictions and antagonisms based on, for example, race, class, education, national or religious origin, and concrete political experiences. The term ‘women’s movement’ is accurate in some national contexts. But until the Beijing gathering of women, there was not much in the way of structured international movement.

However over the past fifty years, several strong crystallizing forces have been operating, some positive, and some negative:

On the positive side, the very existence of the international human rights system, with all its limitations, helped provide objective anchors or targets. It has also provided a forum in which women from very different origins have been working together on shared agendas.

On the negative side, several developments described throughout this book, have made women’s lives more difficult, their human rights more fragile.

• For instance, the advent of new political elites in postcolonial nation-states was accompanied by a marginalization of women even when they had played major roles in the nationalist movements leading to independence.

• The nature and forms of ‘development’ schemes aimed at ‘underdeveloped’ countries have created new opportunities, some of which women have been able to use. They have also reinforced existing patterns of male domination and led to a relative pauperization of women, the disruption of entire economic sectors, which earlier had been ‘women’s businesses’. These effects were compounded by World Bank-mandated structural adjustment plans, and the speeding up of globalization.

• One effect of heightened economic and social stress has been the growth of religious fundamentalism. This seeks remedies to economic and political powerlessness in ‘restoration’ of a hierarchical and male-dominated order of things. In some cases, this fundamentalist ‘remedy’ to the world’s disorder takes extreme, violent forms.

• The end of the Cold War was followed by a flaring up of multiple local,’hot wars’, ethnic suppression and genocidal campaigns, with civilian populations, in particular women and children, exposed to some of the worst violation of their human rights...

Role of the women’s

In virtually all societies, women are still a small minority of public policymakers, national resource managers or national security decision makers. Ironically, they are even under-represented in the intergovernmental agencies that issue directives about the inclusion of women! This is so despite that fact that:

• Women are the backbone and main energy source of non-governmental organizations and they are more than equally represented in global civil society, contributing much of the volunteer work that nurtures civic and social life in all countries;

• Women have often been key actors in their countries’ struggles against colonialism;

• Women have been key players in labor unions.

Sadly, these contributions have been neglected or even forgotten by the men as well as the women of their societies. Women’s vital economic contributions have steadily been eroded by the postcolonial global economy. Hardly anyone now remembers that 100 years ago, the first International Peace Conference in the Hague included many women from every continent. The growth of Women’s non-governmental organizations, their growing visibility in civil society was in many ways a return to former territory.

It is to women’s nongovernmental organizations that we owe the first efforts to place the status of women firmly in the framework of the UN sponsored human rights instruments. There were early efforts by women's groups, non-governmental organizations, researchers, women's movements and individual activists led to the establishment and strengthening of links which would go on to prove a powerful force at both national and international levels.

A worldwide campaign placed women’s human right to protection from violence on the front burner and became the cement in the worldwide women’s movement.  Women’s initiatives ensured that the human rights of women would be the basic framework of the Platform for Action adopted in Beijing in 1995.

Starting with the first UN Conference on the Environment (Stockholm, 1972), all intergovernmental sessions have been accompanied by parallel non governmental gatherings. Among other things, these NGO gatherings were opportunities for women to meet, to exchange experiences and visions, to formulate goals and strategize to achieve them. The International Women's Tribune is one particularly successful example of such organizations.

Shanti Dairiam reminds us of the critical role of women’s own creative activity in establishing the standards that define their lives:

" (...) The participation of women from all regions –in all their diversity– in the setting of international norms is... critical because of the need for universal minimum standards of human rights. ... We need to engage in the process of evolving a core set of universal norms and standards for women's rights. If we do not do this, rights for women will be subject to changing ideologies and shifting socio-economic and political contexts. The women we are working with are ready to engage in such standard setting. It is, in fact, vital that they do this, so that their experiences and needs form the basis of such standards, thus linking the national to the global and the global to the national. "

(Shanti Dairiam in- Bringing Equality Home- CEDAW Ilana Lewis Landsberg ed. UNIFEM 1998 http://www.unifem.undp.org/cedaw/cedawen6.htm )

Women’s global networking has focused attention on ’women-specific’ issues. It has not, however, been limited to them: women’s organizations have played often pivotal roles in a range of global movements. To name just three areas, they have made significant contributions to demilitarization and disarmament, to the literacy and basic education movement and to the movement for the preservation and restoration of the natural environment.

Through these efforts, women have helped develop a more integrated view of global issues that has begun to affect policy analysis. Women have anchored a vision of interrelated and indivisible human rights, the concept that human rights are the foundation of any sustainable strategy for social transformation.

This holistic thinking was clearly demonstrated in the work of women's groups

• At the Rio de Janeiro World Summit on the Environment in 1992,

• At the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993 and

• At the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, 1994.

These three international landmarks illustrate the power of women's initiatives to lead civil society and influence intergovernmental policy.

The Rio Summit established the relationship between women's roles in development, the health of the environment and women's human right to environmental health and economic power. Women's solidarity work at Rio helped pave the way for their successful participation in subsequent conference and pointed toward the identification and definition of environmental rights as also women’s rights. Agenda 21, the final document of the Rio conference, reveals very strongly women’s influence.

The Vienna Human Rights Conference made very clear the effectiveness of women's capacities to network and lobby for human rights policy goals it is generally agreed that in Vienna the women's networks were by far the best organized and the most influential NGOs at the Vienna Conference. The women who came there represented thousands of others who had taken part in local and regional satellite meetings to draft their demands for the UN Conference.

They also represented the almost one million people signatories of a petition to the UN demanding that women’s rights be recognized as human rights. Thirty three women came from their respective countries to testify at the Global Tribunal on Violations of Women’s Human Rights held in the NGO Forum. They paid tribute to the millions of women and girls assassinated because of lack of respect to even the basic human right to life . The women in Vienna were part of a long campaign to get the UN to recognize that women’s rights are human rights, that women are human in their own right, and that it was about time that the issues and experiences that stem from that fact be placed on the international human rights agenda.

They succeeded in getting the UN member states to recognize at last

1. that the varied and severe forms of violence against women worldwide constitute an egregious violation of human rights, one that demands remediation by international standards; and

2. that women's rights are universal human rights to be conceived and treated as such, rather than as separate and apart from other human rights issues.

This significant step established once and for all that human rights are universal and indivisible. It helped weaken the distinctions between Political-Civil and Economic-Social-Cultural Rights inherited from the Cold War.

A further step was taken when the Vienna Conference adopted a Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (subsequently adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993). It confronts a gender-based type of violation of women’s human rights long overlooked by even ‘progressive’ societies, as ‘personal’ matter. Vienna also identified sexual rape ( often ‘invisible’ even to peace researchers and nonviolence advocates) as intentional harm inflicted upon women because of their sex.

The 1994 Cairo Conference was marked by powerful counter-pressures from some member states and NGOs wedded to patriarchal standards and values. Nonetheless, the Conference resulted in a Program for Action , and achieved important breakthroughs.

The Cairo Programme made clear that "reproductive rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognized in international laws, IHR documents and other consensus documents" including "women’s right to attain the highest standard of reproductive and sexual health".

The Conference also recognized the special needs that arise from the discrimination and mistreatment suffered by the girl child. This designated an area in need of urgent attention to make truly universal the realization of human rights standards, a universality that can only be achieved on the basis of full and unequivocal gender equality.

Although the commitments made at Cairo were not legally binding, they stated a consensus of the world community on the importance of these issues, and set international standards for government obligations relating to women’s health.



The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

By far the most important outcome of the First World Conference on Women (Mexico City 1975) was CEDAW. It was the first convention ever to address the full range of women’s rights within political, cultural, economic, social, and family life. It is the most comprehensive and detailed international agreement dealing with the human rights of women, and establishes rights for women in areas previously untouched by international standards.

CEDAW is often coined the international bill of rights for women. It brings together in a single treaty the provisions of existing United Nations instruments concerning discrimination based on sex and extends them further, creating a real tool for the elimination of discrimination against women. As the principal legal instrument addressing women's rights and equality, CEDAW provides an extremely detailed definition of discrimination against women, addressing legal rights as well as cultural and social practices. If nothing else, it makes it difficult to claim little can be done about discrimination because no clear definition exists. It also calls for action in nearly every field of human endeavor: politics, law, employment, education, health care, commercial transactions and domestic relations.

The principal legal instrument addressing women's rights and equality, (it is unique in that) it requires not only formal legal equality but also equality of results in real terms. By recognizing that discrimination is socially constructed and that laws, policies, and practices can unintentionally have the effect of discriminating against women, the Convention sets the pace for a dynamic, proactive approach to women's advancement.

(Shanti Dairiam, Ibid.)

In theory this had been the drift of all human rights instruments starting with the UDHR. In this case, however, the international human rights system immediately proceeded to create the necessary mechanisms and institutions to ensure accountability under CEDAW, as well as to create a monitoring committee to review periodically the progress being made by its adherents.

The atmosphere of heightened awareness and cooperation led the CSW (1972) to consider making the Declaration into a binding human rights instrument. The Secretary-General called upon UN Member States to send their views on the proposal. The following year, a working group was appointed to examine the possibility of such a document. In 1974, following this working group’s report, the Commission decided, in principle, to prepare a single, comprehensive and binding international instrument to eliminate discrimination against women.

The text of the resulting instrument, CEDAW, was prepared by working groups within the Commission in 1976, and subjected to extensive deliberations (1977 to 1979) by a working group of the Third Committee of the General Assembly. The Mexico City World Plan of Action (1975) and the UN General Assembly encouraged the work within the Commission; they urged the Commission on the Status of Women to finish its work in time for the 1980 Copenhagen mid-decade review conference (World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace). Despite delays, CEDAW was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979 ( 130 for, none against and 10 abstentions). In resolution 34/180, the Assembly expressed the hope that the Convention would come into force at an early date and requested that the text of the Convention be presented to the mid-decade World Conference.

During a special ceremony at the Copenhagen Conference on 17 July 1980, 64 States signed the Convention and two States submitted their instruments of ratification.

The Convention entered into force on 3 September 1981, just 30 days after the twentieth State had ratified it, faster than any previous human rights convention had done. This brought to a climax UN efforts to comprehensively codify international legal standards for women.

CEDAW was unthinkable without years of women’s consciousness-raising to precede it. And CEDAW in turn has had a powerful bonding and multiplying effect for the international women’s movement. Its potential is far from fulfilled, but it created a sustainable energy, which opened the way for the women’s assembly in Beijing and the Beijing Platform For Action. The existence of CEDAW has meant

• More fully thinking through the complex web of interactions between international agencies, national government, bureaucracies, education and media,

• Taking a systematic approach to the creation of pathways between them,

• Helping coordinate the day-to-day work of women’s NGOs and grassroots organizations.

For a period of twenty years between the Mexico City Conference and the assembly at Beijing, solidarity work around particular issues paved the way to the redefinition of human rights, with equal emphasis on gender equality in public and in private matters. This new definition was expressed in the framing of CEDAW.

After Beijing it became impossible to ignore the important contribution of these nongovernmental organizations. But the Beijing Conference also meant a kind of ‘coming out’ of women activists from the South. The latter had been very active for more than a century, (in some cases longer than women’s organizations in Europe or North America). The Mexico City (1975), Copenhagen (1980) Nairobi (1985) and Cairo (1994) Conferences had already created a platform for them, but it really took the spectacle of the Beijing assembly of women for the European and North American public at large to meet Southern women activists face to face, and begin to acknowledge the richness of their intellectual and political contribution.

The Role of the CEDAW Committee

Article 17 of CEDAW established the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (the CEDAW Committee) for the purpose of considering the progress made in implementing the Convention’s provisions. The Committee comprises 23 experts elected by secret ballot from a list of persons "of high moral standing and competence in the field covered by the Convention" nominated by the State Parties. Members serve four-year terms with consideration given to equitable geographical distribution and to the representation of different civilizations and legal systems.

Members of the Committee are nominated by their own governments and elected by representatives of state parties. However, they serve in their personal capacity as independent experts, not as ‘delegates’ of their countries of origin, expected to implement policies decided by their governments at home. Since 1982, several dozens of such experts have served on the committee, most of them women, and most of them active in work relating to women’s issues or feminism.They have usually had access to networks and communities outside the structure of government.The diversity of their professional background has contributed to the CEDAW Committee’s breadth of vision beyond the scope of formal legalism.

The Committee’s main function is to keep track of progress in the implementation of CEDAW by signatory countries. One of the ways this is done is through the examination of reports submitted by governments: under CEDAW, state parties must report periodically to the CEDAW Committee on the status of implementation of their obligations under CEDAW. The Committee’s task is to assess the reports and background information received from states. It can give suggestions and make recommendations, as well as asking for further reports from specialized agencies.

The Committee also receives voluntary ‘ shadow reports’ submitted by national non-governmental organizations to supplement, question or correct their governments’ reports.

The Committee also plays a key role in receiving complaints or communications, and conducting inquiries under the terms of the Optional Protocol (see below).

Over the years, the Committee has adopted guidelines to help shape the reports sent to it, with a growing emphasis on ways to identify trends in particular countries, and to identify obstacles that stand in the way of the full attainment of the goals of the Convention. Its work is based on the concept of constructive dialogue, avoiding an adversarial approach but supporting a creative process, building on existing success, and encouraging the correction of shortcomings. This is partly a realistic ( and creative) adaptation to the fact that CEDAW originally, and even now, had no real teeth, the challenge being then to motivate change in the absence of sanctioning power. Some people argue that the style of CEDAW is in fact more ‘feminine’, ‘non-patriarchal’ (i.e. constructive).

Since 1994, the Committee has made widely available, as a constructive tool of use to governments, policy-makers, civil servants, NGOs and the general public, its collective appraisal of country-reports. General recommendations are addressed to individual states, but directed to all states parties with a constant concern to clarify the way in which the legal phrases of the Convention reflect and interact with concrete local realities. In many countries, as a result of this intense feedback process, The impact of this intense feedback process can be dramatic: the Constitutions of many states now incorporate clauses providing equality before the law; some countries have incorporated CEDAW into domestic law. The Convention has positively influenced litigation, even in states that are not officially party to it. Increasingly the norms of the Convention are becoming established norms of conduct.

The reporting process –by its very nature– facilitates public scrutiny of policies and cultural forms. It provides incentives for many different actors to look closely at laws and practices regarding women’s situation; in some cases, this was the first time its was the object of concerted examination. The Convention and the work of the CEDAW Committee provide a framework for thinking about gender equality, they stimulate further research, and they encourage setting goals and timetables, and can permeate civil society.

The Optional Protocol to the CEDAW Convention

Among the Committee’s realizations was the long drawn-out, but eventually successful, drafting of an Optional Protocol creating an international procedure to consider complaints about violations, or to investigate widespread violations. For international norms and standards of human rights to be effective, there needs to be a possibility for redress at the international level: as drafted originally, CEDAW offered no recourse, legal remedy or international appeal to women who had been denied access to justice at the national level.

NGOs active regionally and internationally in the preparation of the Vienna Conference demanded a complaints procedure under CEDAW. The Vienna Conference responded with a formal acknowledgement of the need for new procedures but no practical steps. NGO campaigns leading up to the 1995 Beijing Conference again demanded swift action on the Optional Protocol. The response was a commitment to the Optional Protocol in the Platform for Action. But it took until 1999 for the Optional Protocol to be adopted at last, with the help of a last-minute push by a worldwide lobbying campaign by women’s NGOs.

The Challenge of Reservations

When states sign on to an international instrument, they are allowed to enter reservations. This is the case with CEDAW. A reservation is a formal declaration that the State does not subscribe to specific parts of the document. This temporarily ‘lets the State off the hook’, by limiting the extent or the timing of the state’s obligation to implement the ‘ reserved’ terms of the agreement. Reservations can be withdrawn at any time, and can thus have positive value by allowing a state that might not otherwise have signed and ratified CEDAW, to become bound by CEDAW on a gradual timeline.

Many States entered reservations when they signed on to CEDAW. Some had to do with procedure or timing.. Some reservations concern potential conflict with religious or customary laws. In some cases, they interfere in significant ways with the state’s ability to implement CEDAW.

Article 28(2) of CEDAW does not permit reservations that are incompatible with the "object and purpose" of CEDAW. However, many state parties have insisted on broad reservations in areas of structural discrimination, such as family law, women’s legal capacity, or women’s citizenship. Such reservations strike at the heart of the universality and integrity of human rights, for these are the very areas which CEDAW is intended to change.

Even ‘reserving’ states can be brought within the monitoring system. The CEDAW Committee can coax state parties into eliminating reservations. In any case, the very fact of signing the Convention commits a state to an unusual level of legal and cultural self-examination. Thus, CEDAW has been a vital tool for promoting the human rights of women. Equally important, it has established a framework for thinking of all human rights as they are concretely supported or violated in daily life. By looking at women’s rights in the context of the whole society, the concept of interrelated human rights has become stronger.


Creating New Tools For Human Rights CULTURES:

The CEDAW Reporting Process

When a State ratifies CEDAW, it undertakes the obligation to present regular reports at the United Nations on the progress it has made implementing women’s human rights. These reports are made to the CEDAW Committee, which then engages in a dialogue with the Government, presenting the report together with an assessment of the progress realized in implementing CEDAW. The Committee also produces recommendations for further action.

The BPFA noted that a significant obstacle to achieving the purposes of the Convention is governments’ frequent reluctance to devote adequate resources and give high enough priority to the policy changes for women’s equality. Most of the time, it takes the independent work and insistence of women NGOs for governments to take significant initiatives to implement CEDAW and the BPFA. This is where the ‘shadow reports’ come in, so named because they offer another (parallel) viewpoint on the governmental report. They can provide additional, vital information to help treaty expert assess the full realities of compliance and fulfillment, and in some cases, they have been used by women’s organizations for acquiring a visibility, which would have been difficult to achieve in any other way. This explains that advocates and activists have found the reporting process a most effective way to tackle governmental passivity.

Shadow reports allow members of civil society to hold their Governments accountable for the claims and commitments made in international fora. They raise awareness of the CEDAW reporting process within countries where the shadow reporting takes lace. They challenge the governments to do more than pay lip service to the Convention, and are a part of what Susana Chiarotti has called the mobilization of shame.

Monitoring the implementation of human rights treaties and exposing the violations is really an exercise in democracy. No one has any expectations that the UN is going to enforce directly local protections of women. One important political task is to ensure that local courts and systems uphold a country’ s commitment to human rights. Country reports submitted to the UN, their assessments in comments made by the Committee members, and the subsequent use of recommendations made by the committee are practical tools to be used by advocates.

CEDAW: an Instrument For Change.

Looking at a sample of countries allows us to see the many different ways in which CEDAW is used to effect changes, on very different scales and in quite different directions.

Nepal’ s Constitution, in theory, provides for equal rights for all citizens. CEDAW was used as a tool to help pressure the government for passage of a crucial bill concerning the right of women to inherit property: at the Beijing Conference in 1995, the government of Nepal pledged to revise its discriminatory property law. Other issues were also brought up, such as raising the minimum age for marriage and requiring stiffer penalties for rape.

Japan ratified CEDAW but then went on to enact an employment discrimination law that complied with the requirements of the Convention, but did so in a very limited fashion. The language encouraging employers to give women equal treatment has now been strengthened, but the law’s effectiveness is still limited by the remedy for violations -- a woman may seek mediation by prefecture authorities but the latter will only take action if the employers give their consent. Encouraged by the CEDAW Committee’s review of Japan's performance, in which they noted that the relative status of women in Japan is far lower than the country's relative economic status in the world, 21 women sued four companies and the Government of Japan for wage discrimination and the failure to promote them. They also claim that the terms of CEDAW are violated by the existence of separate employment tracks: many ‘women’s jobs’ are classified in lower level tracks with minimal opportunity for advancement or for changing tracks.

In Tanzania, CEDAW was cited in a High Court decision against a customary law that prevented women from inheriting clan land from their fathers. The Court found that the law violated Tanzania's own Bill of Rights as well as CEDAW and other international human rights instruments to which Tanzania has acceded. The Court then explained that the principles enunciated in CEDAW documents are a standard below which any civilized nation should be ashamed to fall.

In Botswana: Unity Dow, an attorney who had three children by a husband who was a foreigner, challenged the 1984 Citizenship Act under which children of a woman married to a foreign man were not entitled to citizenship while children of a man married to a foreign woman were entitled to citizenship. Dow claimed that the Citizenship Act violated both constitutional and international law, including CEDAW (to which Botswana has acceded.) The Appeals Court invalidated the law as unconstitutional, citing CEDAW in its opinion. After losing two major court decisions and facing unwanted publicity by human rights groups, the Government granted citizenship to Dow's children and others similarly situated. The Dow case is an example of how CEDAW can be used to challenge laws that continue to relegate women to second-class status.

Sri Lanka: adopted a charter based on CEDAW that guarantees women equal status, equal access to land and equal treatment in agrarian reform.

Zambia extended its Bill of Rights to cover sex discrimination. In 1992, Sara Longwe won a sex discrimination suit in which she claimed that the Lusaka InterContinental Hotel’s policy prohibiting women from entering the hotel unless accompanied by a man was unconstitutional. The court found the policy violated the Zambian Constitutional Bill of Rights and CEDAW.

(www.safnet.com/cedaw/other.html and www.unifem.undp.org/cedaw/indexen.htm  )

In San Francisco, USA, the Commission on the Status of Women posted the following notice on CEDAW’s implementation to an electronic network:

(...) San Francisco has adopted CEDAW on the local level. The Commission on the Status of Women is responsible for implementing the ordinance. One of our first tasks was to develop a Gender Analysis Framework to be used within every city department

Our guidelines are broken down into three sections: service delivery, employment practices, and budget allocation.

Within each of these areas, the department is guided through a three-step process.

Step 1: Collect sex-disaggregated data.

Step 2: Assess the differences between men and women in an effort to examine how gender is integrated into the day-to-day operations of the department and their affect (sic) on employees and on the communities served.

Step 3: The department staff are to formulate specific recommendations to remedy gender inequities they have identified. The departments were given five weeks to conduct the analysis, aided by the nearly 40-page Gender Analysis Guidelines

[A report on] the process of the creation of the Gender Analysis Guidelines, how the analysis is conducted, and the analysis and recommendations [was] provided by the departments themselves. One aspect of the report is to recommend specific practices to the departments. The (Commission plans) to highlight particularly relevant ‘best practices’ around the world

(Jennifer Friedman, CEDAW-In-Action@edc-cit.org, July 6, 1999.)

In TURKEY, Women for Women’s Human Rights (wwhr) in Istanbul described their successful work in the production of the Turkish ngo shadow reports. WWHR also developed a 15-module training program entitled Legal Literacy and Human Rights Training For Women, which includes topics of violence, sexuality, economic rights and gender-sensitive parenting. During this training, the Turkish version of CEDAW was disseminated to all participants, and CEDAW used to emphasize the importance of internationally binding human rights treaties in relation to national law. wwhr has successfully implemented this training since 1995, and it is now offered in five regions throughout the country. There are also efforts to promote CEDAW as a primary international human rights convention in the National Plan of Action for Human Rights Education. WWHR is one of four ngos - and the only women’s ngo - sitting on the Committee for Human Rights Education, which oversees the development and monitoring of the National Plan.

Participation as an NGO in this official platform has also contributed to improving WWHR’s negotiating power for advocacy and lobbying back at home. The NGO report was included as an appendix in the publication of the official report by the Directorate on the Status of Women. (Turkish women) used the alternative report for distribution on various national and international platforms. Nationally, for instance, the report was submitted to the Human Rights Commission on Women and the Ministry integrated its recommendations into the final report of the Commission for publication for Human Rights.

(Ipek Ilkkaracan, Coordinator, WWHR. wwhrist@superonline.com. June 21, 1999.)


Identifying a Strategy to Use CEDAW

By using an international legal instrument which governments had agreed upon by treaty, to challenge those same governments to rectify unjust situations at the national level, women ‘took the global and made it local’ and pointed the way to an array of new tools that could significantly expand and strengthen women's ability to leverage change on a range of issues. A closer review of seemingly disparate situations reveals some similarities. Behind each successful action, there is collaboration among activists with different expertise –lawyers, community workers, journalists and others– to put a selected issue into the public arena with a demand on government to take precedent-setting action.

Successful activism consciously identifies spaces –openings and opportunities– which allow women to ‘go public’ with their vision. The women’s world conferences are the most obvious examples of the use of international fora to make issues visible, but women also use more frequently, and more effectively, the international reporting process and the other mechanisms of the international instruments as a space to promote change. Finally we see again and again the importance of a clear understanding of legal leverage points on the part of the actors’, the skill required in matching particular issues with the best suited international instrument .

In each case the organizers understood and used both the power of information –activists teaching themselves about the human rights instruments, as well as learning to use the media to raise public awareness and international support; and the power of numbers –strategy is placed in the context of the women’s movement at the national, regional and international level; behind each action, there was a ‘movement’, small or large.

Using The Courts To Enforce CEDAW

Any nation that ratifies the Convention has effectively adopted it as the law of the land; this makes it possible to use CEDAW to strengthen the legal case for women’s human rights in national courts. Carefully planned cases have created a jurisprudential tool for integrating CEDAW into the regularly applied law of any country, which is a major step in the universalization of women’s human rights.

Judges are not always prepared to base their decisions on international treaties such as CEDAW. If their country has ratified the Convention, they usually have the authority to consider it (...) as part of national law or as an aid to interpreting national law, but many judges are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the idea of doing so. To convince the courts to make use of the Women’s Convention, it is often useful to provide examples of other countries in which the courts have done so, as well as instances in which the courts have applied other international treaties and covenants.

Some of the most interesting and significant decisions are produced when a court decides to combine a vague or inadequate constitutional guarantee of women’s equality with the principles of gender equality articulated in CEDAW. (...T)he protection afforded women’s human rights becomes stronger and more meaningful than might even have been anticipated when the constitution was drafted.

Popular education has to be part of any litigation strategy. Good arguments can persuade a court to rule in favor of women's human rights, but decisions still have to be implemented. If not enough work has been done to inform and educate the Government and the general public, there is a real possibility that a court's decision will not be properly enforced or even that the decision might be overturned by new legislation.

(Bringing Equality Home Implementing CEDAW Ilana Landsberg-Lewis ed. UNIFEM, 1998, pp. 35-38 (online: http://www.unifem.undp.org/cedaw/cedawen4.html )


Using Human rights Instruments: A Hands-On Approach

One of the outcomes of the 1975 World Conference held in Mexico City was the International Women's Tribune, an institution designed to:

• Not only to facilitate communication among women’s grassroots

• But also, and most importantly, to facilitate grassroots human rights education, by designing an array of advocacy and empowerment tools for use by grassroots everywhere.

One such tool was the following document: which describes how individuals and groups can learn to put international human rights instruments to work for them.



" By taking a hands-on approach to working with international conventions are, we automatically redefine:

• who participates in the legal arena,

• the nature of the dialogue that takes place, and

• how the terms are defined--and redefined.

Equally important, the international conventions that define our human rights are designed to serve as the foundation of a more equitable political, economic and social order.

One of the most significant contributions of the women’ s movement worldwide is the effort to move the concept of human rights center stage as the general framework by which we live and work and by which all nations and institutions assess change and development.

One of the first questions many community activists ask when confronted with international conventions is: where and how do I begin?

Give yourself a getting to know you period with conventions, a time to familiarize yourself with what they are, how they work,... where and how you can enter the process of making them work for you. Here are some ideas to start you off:

Learn the language of the conventions.

Understanding what a convention says can be a daunting task since a convention is written, by necessity, in ‘legalese’. For advocacy purposes, you will eventually want to be able to speak about the convention in two tongues: one is the language that lawyers and legal professionals use--the words, terms and phrases of the conventions. The other is the language used with ordinary people to communicate to your constituency or the public at large the principles and ideas of the conventions .

Develop your own glossary, or list of terms that are used and their definitions. Several books include glossaries that you can use as a start. Developing a glossary in your local language would be an important contribution to women in your community who are eager to use the international conventions for change.

Put conventions in your own words and in terms that make sense within your own everyday reality. Being able to talk about conventions in terms that are understandable to people in their daily lives is a skill in which many NGOs are developing considerable expertise... how would you explain a particular passage to a neighbor, a friend, your grandmother or someone else for whom international conventions are a complete unknown?

Look at human rights conventions within the larger picture... There are conventions on hundreds of issues. In fact, there are more than 600 international conventions of which 95 are considered international human rights instruments. Some conventions cover several issues, such as the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Others focused on just one issue, such as the Convention on the Nationality of Married Women.

...Then see how conventions can change the larger picture Using international conventions to change national law is particularly important when a national government is unwilling to address women’s human rights issues. Once a State signs an international convention, then all the national law and legislation within that country must be adapted or instituted as necessary, to conform with the principles in the convention.

In addition, by ratifying a convention, a State agrees to international monitoring and/or reporting as to its compliance.

Understand how conventions are put together

A convention begins with a preamble or introduction followed by articles or paragraphs that spell out

(1) Human rights guarantees and protections;

(2) States responsibilities;

(3) Mechanisms for monitoring the convention; and

(4) Ratification rules.

Conventions may also have Optional Protocols, which are additional agreements to the convention, and Reservations, made by States when they do not wish to be bound by specific parts of the convention.

Each convention includes a complaints procedure that specifies the steps to be taken in reporting a violation.


Documenting human rights violations is a learned skill that many groups are beginning to build into their own programs.

Learn from others’ success or failure how to use conventions successfully:

Knowing how to use a convention effectively is as important as knowing what it is.

Develop a strategy in response to your own identified needs, goals and objectives... Conventions can be used to press for change in a number of arenas. The more women work with conventions, the broader our ‘convention strategy base’ becomes.

...And then share your experiences and learning with others. Experience tells us that by sharing information and by building coalitions for action, we can maximize our work with conventions.

(International Women’s Tribune)


CEDAW : A Useful Framework In Post Apartheid Africa

One test of the constitutional potential of CEDAW was made in South Africa in the early 1990’s: the creation of a new Constitution was a key component of the transformation from apartheid state to democracy. A broad coalition of women’s NGOs, academics, women politicians, and trade unions - was able to get in on the ground floor, working to ensure that women’s human rights were given proper constitutional recognition and protection. By shaping their demands in the form of a Charter of Women’s Rights, they incorporated their concerns and issues across the country within an integrated vision of women’s human rights. The coalition drew on CEDAW’s overall concept of women’s equality as requiring the integrated guarantee of political, civil, economic, social, and cultural rights. As stated in the Charter’s preamble,

" (they) set out (...) a program for equality in all spheres of our lives, including the law, the economy, education, development and infrastructure, political and civic life, family life and partnerships, custom, culture and religion, health and the media."

Among other things, CEDAW provided a useful template for specific human rights. Some provisions of the South African Women’s Charter parallel the rights set out in the Convention. For example, Article 2 of the Charter states that "Women shall have equal legal status and capacity in civil law including , among others, full contractual rights, the right to acquire and hold rights in property, the right to equal inheritance and the right to secure credit,’’ as based on Articles 13 and 15 of CEDAW

The coalition’s advocacy was successful: the South African constitution contains significant provisions guaranteeing women’s equal rights. In the Founding Provisions, which set out the fundamental values underpinning the new democratic State, non-sexism is listed alongside non-racism. The Constitution’s Bill of Rights prohibits discrimination on the basis of "race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth."

The Constitution also includes an important provision which, like CEDAW’s Article 4, states that temporary special measures may be taken to accelerate equality between men and women, and that such measures will not be considered discriminatory.

(Adapted from Pramila Patten, Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women, a report prepared for PDHRE, 1999.)

USING THE Reporting Process-- several countries example


The Government of Zimbabwe presented its first report to the CEDAW Committee in January 1998. The report painting a glowing portrait of the state of women’s human rights in Zimbabwe, its centerpiece being the 1982 Legal Age of Majority Act (lama). This Act places men and women on an equal footing, giving both full legal capacity at the age of 18. Because of lama women can: enter into any contract, including a marriage contract; acquire and dispose of property; open bank accounts; own businesses; be guardians of their children even if separated or widowed; apply for passports on their own; and access credit facilities. Also, it is lama that gave Zimbabwean women the right to vote.

Just two weeks after presenting its CEDAW report, the Government brought lama to parliament for review and revision, and a move took shape to have it completely repealed. The women’s NGOs in Zimbabwe were outraged. A group of women’s NGOs, including the Women’s Action Group (WAG), had gone to the United Nations in New York, and conveyed a shadow report to the CEDAW Committee. They had listened while the Government used LAMa to congratulate itself on its women’s human rights record before the CEDAW Committee. There seemed to be no relationship between the Government’s statements to the international community and its actual legislative agenda for Zimbabwe. According to Rumbidzai Nhundu of wag, it was clear that unless there were people at home committed to keeping the Government accountable "(the Government would feel free) to give with one hand and take with another. As ngos, we had to organize ourselves to make sure the Government’s promises became a reality."

Women’s NGOS immediately began a campaign to defend LAMA, and got their concerns into the Zimbabwean press. They publicised their concern about the need for Government adherence to its recently reiterated CEDAW commitments. They also had to counter the misinformation about the lama that was coming from some parliamentarians. Some MPs claimed that lama, and especially its provisions on marriage, had imported foreign values into Zimbabwe’s culture and was responsible for social decay. The NGOs argued that this claim about cultural values was false and dishonest: "It appears that instead of discussing economic and other crucial issues, our policy-makers have chosen to make an innocent and well-meaning piece of legislation the scapegoat for all social ills. Unemployment is skyrocketing, and both young boys and girls are forced to loiter in the streets and indulge in unacceptable behaviors. These are the issues that deserve attention." The NGOs also convinced the MPs who were fighting for lama’s repeal to meet with them, and obtained their promise to set up a parliamentary caucus where they could articulate the reasons the Act should be left intact. By March 1998, they had managed to turn the political tide. The Minister of Justice made a public announcement that lama would not be changed or repealed.

(UNIFEM, Bringing Equality Home: Implementing CEDAW,Ilana Lewis-Landsberg, ed. UNIFEM 1998 online: http://www.unifem.undp.org/cedaw/cedawen5.htm )

The NGOs saw their successful defense of lama as the first step in an ongoing struggle to hold the Zimbabwean Government accountable for its obligations under CEDAW. Responsibility for monitoring was divided among the various NGOs according to their expertise, and annual meetings were held leading to Zimbabwe’s second CEDAW report. They were also working to ensure that CEDAW principles were reflected in the land redistribution policy, constitutional review, and prevention of discrimination bill. The women’s NGOs were determined to remind the Government of its commitments. " We were there in New York, so the Government knows that we were listening to its promises."

Croatian Women and the Reporting Process (B.a.B.e.)

When the Croatian Government presented its second report to the CEDAW Committee in 1998, a coalition of Croatian women’s NGO led by Be Active, Be Emancipated (B.a.B.e.) was also present with a shadow report. At the end of the session, the Government delegation promised the Committee that the results of the CEDAW meeting would be publicized in Croatia. However, when the delegation returned, nothing happened.

A women ‘s NGO coalition tried to arrange a joint press conference, public hearing, or television appearance, but the Government declined to participate. The coalition then decided to mount its own publicity campaign: to keep the Government accountable, but also to help develop public understanding of the international women’s human rights entitlements endorsed by Croatia. Articles on the Convention and on the CEDAW Committee meeting were written by coalition members and published in the Croatian press. When the coalition obtained the CEDAW Committee’s concluding comments on Croatia, they translated them and distributed copies to the press as well as to members of parliament. Pressure began to build, as an article appeared in Tjetnik, one of the country's leading news magazines, and opposition members of parliament complained publicly that they had to wait to be informed of the CEDAW session by women’s NGOs.

The coalition then held a press conference, and this time the Government sent the head of its CEDAW delegation to attend. Press coverage of the conference was strong. The Government has since moved forward on its promise to invite women’s NGOs to attend the meetings of the State Commission for Equality.

(Bringing Equality Home; Implementing CEDAW- Ilana Lewis-Landsberg ed. UNIFEM 1998 online: http://www.unifem.undp.org/cedaw/ )


Women’s NGOs were not in attendance to give a shadow report, when Mauritius presented its report to the CEDAW Committee in 1995, but women in Mauritius had been consulted prior to the CEDAW session, and their concerns had been communicated to the CEDAW Committee. The Committee relied on this information when the Government representatives presented their account of the state of women’s rights in Mauritius, and engaged the Mauritius delegation on the Government’s failure to pass legislation prohibiting sex discrimination.

After the session, the Government held several press conferences, where it presented a selective, report of the Committee’s concluding comments. When Pramila Patten, of Women’s Legal Rights Action Watch, informed the press that the CEDAW Committee’s criticisms were being kept hidden, the Government publicly attacked her credibility. However, she was able to obtain a copy of the Committee’s concluding comments, and circulate them, forcing the Government to back down. The Prime Minister was reprimanded for the misrepresentation. Soon after, in 1995, Article 16(3) of the Constitution was amended to insert the word "sex" in the definition of discrimination.



When the Government of Morocco presented its first report to the CEDAW Committee in January 1997, it claimed that any existing restrictions in women’s human rights reflected a consensus of the Moroccan population. To counter this skewed picture, the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc (ADFM), in consultation with other Moroccan women’s NGOs, prepared a shadow report. A public meeting was attended by over 100 representatives of women’s NGOs, the national press, human rights organizations and led to several newspaper articles in support of ADFM’s positions .

Monitoring The Reporting Process in Bangladesh

The interplay between the government of Bangladesh, the CEDAW Committee and the three major women’s voluntary organizations in the country provides an excellent example of the nature and potential of the reporting process.

Bangladesh ratified the Convention 1984 with reservations on articles 2, 13 (a), 16.1 (c) and (f). It was generally acknowledged that the Government of Bangladesh was making efforts to fulfill some of its obligations. For one thing, unlike some other governments whose reports were chronically late, (including Canada, which could hardly claim financial hardship as some small countries legitimately did), Bangladesh had submitted four Periodic Reports by the time of the initiative described here. The Minister announced that Bangladesh was withdrawing its reservations to articles 13 and 16, paragraph 1 (f), of the Convention.

A strong network of women's groups started advocacy at the national level, hoping to mobilize other women to push for implementation of CEDAW provisions in domestic legislation. A CEDAW Forum was formed and launched in 1992, composed of individuals and organizations dedicated to the women’s cause and the implementation of CEDAW. Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA), Mahila Parishad, and Nari Pokkho spearheaded the Forum. With the help of the International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW), workshops, training, and CEDAW forums were conducted for various groups, from lawyers to journalists to ordinary citizens. Public discussions were held on ways to incorporate the convention with emphasis on Articles 2, 13.1 [a], 16.1[c] & [f] into domestic laws.

Mobilization for the withdrawal of reservations led the government to call on several women’s groups to discuss their opinions about the country's CEDAW Report. The three leading organizations jointly prepared a commentary report embodying women’s sentiments on state policies and programs that do not reflect women's agenda and the government's inability to remove reservations on specific CEDAW provisions.

The government invited two women activists to act as consultants for the report. Members of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association and Nari Pokkho prepared a detailed commentary on the Combined 3rd and 4th country reports. The government's action to consult with women’s groups and activists for the preparation of the country report to CEDAW and the integration of CEDAW in domestic legislation suggested that women's voices could no longer be ignored. This involvement in the legal reform process was a great achievement for women’s NGOs.

Extracts from the CEDAW Committee’s Assessment of the Governmental Report


411. The Minister announced that Bangladesh was withdrawing its reservations to articles 13, paragraph (a), and 16, paragraph 1 (f), of the Convention.

412. Another member of the delegation presented the combined third and fourth periodic report, recalling that the fourth periodic report had been submitted ahead of time as an expression of her country's commitment to the Convention and the promotion of women's rights. She indicated that the report had been formally presented to more than 150 representatives of non-governmental organizations at a daylong workshop organized by the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs.

414. The representative described interventions and strategies to improve the status of women. The Government, assisted by non-governmental organizations, had taken special measures to promote girls' enrolment and retention at the primary and secondary levels of education, to target girls in non-formal education and to direct them towards non-traditional fields of study. A quota system had been introduced to accelerate recruitment of female primary school teachers.

415. In the field of employment, the representative informed the Committee of the quota system applicable to all types of public employment, reserving 10 per cent of recruitment to gazetted posts and 15 per cent to non-gazetted posts, with a view to facilitating entry and thereby increasing the number of women.

416. The Committee was informed about increases in women's economic participation as a result of self-employment-generating credit programmes run by the Government and non-governmental organizations. The Bangladesh experiment of providing women access to credit, and notably the Grameen Bank model, had been replicated abroad.

417. The representative pointed out that Bangladesh had made history by having two women succeed each other as Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. The phenomenal turnout of women in the 1996 parliamentary elections showed that women as voters were gaining visibility and political strength. However, very few women had been elected to Parliament through the direct electoral process. Thirty seats had been reserved for women in Parliament, in addition to the 300 seats elected directly from territorial constituencies. The Constitution provided reserved seats for women in all municipal and local government bodies, and this had a positive effect in ensuring a minimum representation of women.

418. With regard to violence against women, the Committee was informed about the incidence of violence, such as murders of wives as a result of non-payment of dowry, custodial rape,


422. The Committee commended the Government of Bangladesh for its comprehensive, frank and clear written and oral presentations, which followed the guidelines of the Committee and responded to most of the questions raised by experts.

423. The Committee also welcomed the high-level delegation headed by the Minister for Women and Children Affairs, assisted by several distinguished experts from other agencies, academe and non-governmental organizations, which reflected the importance accorded by the Government to the Committee.

424. The Committee especially welcomed and applauded the decision of the Government of Bangladesh to withdraw its reservations to article 13, paragraph (a), and article 16, paragraph 1 (f). It commended the initiative of the Government in leading the way for other countries with similar reservations to also consider lifting their reservations.

425. The Committee noted and appreciated the close collaboration between the Government and non-governmental organizations in the course of the preparation of the report, as well as the efforts of the Government to disseminate its report to a wide range of women's groups and organizations.

Positive aspects

426. The Committee noted with satisfaction the existence of constitutional guarantees of equality between women and men.

427. The Committee expressed satisfaction at the high status accorded the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs in the Government.

428. The Committee appreciated the inclusion of women's concerns in all of the development plans of the Government. This was strengthened by the declaration of the Policy on Women's Advancement, the main blueprint of the Government for the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.

429. The Committee noted the positive impact of the presence of 30 reserved seats for women in Parliament and local bodies, as well as in the public sector. It especially appreciated the fact that Bangladesh was one of the few countries in the world to have had two women presidents (...)

430. The Committee noted with appreciation the emphasis placed by the Government on increasing literacy among women and girls, with the aim of achieving education for all by the year 2000.

431. The Committee applauded the Government's efforts to popularize and disseminate the Convention by translating it into Bangla.

432. The Committee appreciated the Government's willingness to collaborate with women's non-governmental organizations in implementing its programmes on women.

Factors and difficulties affecting the implementation of the Convention

433. The Committee expressed its concern over the Government's remaining reservations to articles 2 and 16, paragraph 1 (a). The Committee noted that it regards article 2 as a fundamental and core provision of the Convention, while article 16 is critical to the full enjoyment by women of their rights.

434. The slow economic growth of the country coupled with frequent natural calamities


436. The Committee expressed serious concern about the alarming levels of violence against women in all its forms and especially its most cruel forms, such as acid throwing, stoning and dowry death, and the inability of the Government to enforce existing laws effectively, or to provide immediate relief and justice to victims of such violence.


449. The Committee urged the Government of Bangladesh; in order to comply both with its own Constitution and the Convention, to review its remaining reservations to articles 2 and 16, paragraph 1 (a), with a view to eventually withdrawing them.

450. The Committee encouraged the Government of Bangladesh to strengthen its primary health and reproductive health services aimed at substantially improving the health and well being of women.

451. The Committee strongly urged the Government of Bangladesh to strengthen its enforcement and monitoring of existing laws, policies and mechanisms on violence against women so as to provide victims and survivors of violence with responsive and effective measures of protection and to prevent further violence.

452. The Committee strongly urged the Government of Bangladesh to set up a separate prison facility and comprehensive programme of rehabilitation for women prisoners.

453. In view of the impact of globalization on rural economics, the Government should give high priority to the issues and problems of rural women, especially their ownership of land and access to credit, loans and skills training in new agricultural technologies, with a view to strengthening their productive and employment capacity.

454. The Committee recommended the strengthening of gender sensitization and training programmes for the judiciary, police and health professionals, particularly those relating to violence against women.

455. To combat social attitudes, prejudices and social and traditional practices that discriminate against women, the Committee strongly recommended that the Government strengthen education and public information programmes geared towards reinforcing more positive images and roles of women in society.

456. The Committee recommended that the Government pay particular attention to improving the wage levels and the terms and conditions of women workers in the export processing zones, as well as in the informal sector.

457. The Committee urged the Government to strengthen its mechanisms to protect migrant women workers from exploitation throughout the migration process, inter alia, by actively exploring bilateral and multilateral initiatives addressing this issue.

458. The Committee recommended that birth and marriages be systematically registered so that laws prohibiting child marriage and polygamy might be rigorously enforced.

459. In responding to the problem of trafficking of women and girls, the Committee recommended the stronger enforcement of the Women and Child Repression Act 1995, as well as provision of adequate assistance to women and girl victims of trafficking. The regional resolution on trafficking agreed to by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Maldives should be sustained and concretized into actual programmes.

460. The Committee recommended that the Government undertake an impact assessment of development plans for women.

461. The Committee strongly recommended more proactive measures to hasten the implementation of education programmes to eliminate female illiteracy.

462. The Committee recommended research on the root causes and consequences of prostitution ... to enable Governments to respond accordingly.

463. The Committee recommended the continuance of affirmative action measures such as quota seats for women in Parliament, in local bodies and in the civil service. This should be accompanied by capability building and skills training to enable women to participate actively in electoral politics as well as in the civil service.

464. The Committee requested wide dissemination in Bangladesh of these concluding comments so as to make individuals aware of the steps that have been taken to ensure de facto equality for women and the further steps required in this regard. (...)

(Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women [CEDAW], Concluding Observations: Bangladesh, U.N. Doc. A/52/38/Rev.1, Part II paras.409-464 (1997).



We appreciate the fact that the most recent report has made an effort to provide a more comprehensive picture of the situation of women in Bangladesh. It incorporates a broader data base quoting the most recent statistics available. It is also more honest in acknowledging the limitations and shortfalls of GOB's efforts to implement the Convention.

It may be noted that for the first time the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs formed a committee to guide the preparations of the Report. It is significant that the committee included three prominent activists from the women's movement. The selection by the committee of two persons with a long involvement in the women's movement as consultants to prepare the report has surely contributed to the quality of the report.

Although, Bangladesh ratified the Convention as early as November 1984, no steps have been taken to incorporate the obligations under the Convention into national legislation. Nor have any systematic steps been taken for widespread awareness and action programmes to create an enabling environment for the withdrawal of reservations and for the progressive implementation of the Convention. A few programmes to support the advancement of women have been introduced, in particular in the education sector. The totality of these programmes, however, account for only a fraction of the national effort required to support and empower women and girls to fight the daily discrimination they face in social, political, economic and cultural life.


Bangladesh at present can state that there are adequate laws to protect the rights of women, but their enforcement is weak. Mechanisms to enforce and administer these laws are inadequate and ineffective. Most of the litigations are delayed, as courts are overloaded. The decree or orders passed cannot be made effective.

The GOB report has mentioned employment quotas for women in the public sector. What is being done to improve quota fulfillment by ministries, department, corporations that have not been able to attain the quotas? It is sometimes said that not enough qualified women are available, especially in the technical fields. If so, what is being done to improve availability of suitably qualified women? Are any efforts being made to provide special training or undertake promotional recruitment campaigns?

The Government has appointed a Local Government Commission to formulate a Local Government Bill. What are the measures envisaged to ensure participation by an adequate number of women at all levels; to ensure that they have the necessary linkages so that they can represent women as a constituency; and, to ensure that they have the necessary skills to play their role effectively?

Existing labor laws require provision of childcare facilities in all institutions employing more than 50 women. What measures has the Government taken as an employer to provide such facilities for its own staff?

The Women and Child Repression (Special Provision) Act of 1995 provides for separate courts to be set up to try cases that come under this Act. The backlog of cases results in long delays as well as in the unnecessary detention of under trial prisoners. The prisons are said to be currently overcrowded and almost 70% of


The problems of child prostitution are compounded by the lack of birth registrations which allows a girl's age to be determined in an arbitrary manner. Are any measures being taken to improve birth registration?


What measures has the Government taken to ensure the political participation of women e.g. so that they can exercise their right to vote? In the 1994 Union Parishad (local body) elections and again in the 1996 Parliament elections there were a few cases of women of an entire locality not being allowed to vote. In 1994 Mahamaya Union Parishad election in Chagalnaiya thana, Feni district village headmen and religious leaders issued a fatwa that it is against Islamic principles for women to go to polling centres and vote.(...)

What is being done by the government and the election commission to ensure that women can exercise their right to vote in an atmosphere free from the threat of violence and coercion?

Please provide more information on what exactly is being done to amend the Citizenship Act of 1951


Are specific steps being taken to make educational materials and curricula more gender sensitive? Are there plans to incorporate information on international h ii man rights instruments such as the Convention and the Child Rights Convention, to enhance the understanding and perception of boys and girls, and men and women of their rights?

What steps are being taken by Government to improve the teacher-student ratio which is unacceptably high at primary level and a cause of drop-outs? Primary school teachers are given numerous non-educational responsibilities such as compilation of voter lists. This reduces their teaching time and affects the quality of education. How is the negative impact on education justified?

(...) Although one of the highest allocations in the national budget is for education, expenditures for primary education are less than for higher and technical education. In view of the very low literacy rate, is this justified?

Government policy is that 60% of all recruitment to positions of primary school teachers should be female. Women too are very keen on taking up such employment. However the Government has said that it cannot fulfill this recruitment target. How can this contradiction be explained? What are the measures being taken to increase female recruitment?

There have been reports of coercion in the Bangladesh family planning programme. Incentives continue to be given for sterilization providers and acceptors. During periods of seasonal deprivation there is an increase in acceptance, suggesting economic coercion. How does the Government justify incentives while promoting the concept of free choice?

It has been reported that there is Quinacrine administration for chemical sterilization at the Chittagong Medical College Hospital. This is in spite of the fact that the World Health Organization has issued a strong statement against the use of Quinacrine for sterilisation in humans. WHO has stated that further animal experiments are necessary before it can be considered fit for "human trials". Have any measures been taken to stop the programme and follow-up on the women to whom it was administered?

Norplant has been made available for women in both rural and urban areas. Problems with the quality of services, particularly refusal to remove implants, are disturbing. What measures have been taken to investigate the issue and address the problem?

Abortion is not recognized and menstrual regulation services are available only up to the third month. By the time women recognise that they are pregnant and go for services, they tend to be beyond the third month and services are refused

How effective are rural credit programmes for poverty alleviation undertaken by Government or NGOs such as ASA, BRAC and financial institutions such as the Grameen Bank, in reaching the poorest of the poor, such as women who are single, widowed, divorced and deserted? Various studies and observations suggest these categories are left out. (...)

(A Commentary on Bangladesh's Combined Third and Fourth PeriodicCEDAW Report www.igc.org/iwraw/ngo/samples/shadow-bangladesh.html )



Producing NGO Shadow Reports to CEDAW: A Procedural Guide

As part of its work of distributing to grassroots organizations worldwide the tools to work effectively with CEDAW, the International Women’s Tribune Center distributed excerpts from an 8 page-long Procedural Guide published by International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW).

[...] It is extremely important that the monitoring bodies have access to accurate and independent information regarding a government’s human rights record for effective implementation of U.N. treaties. Often, NGOs have more helpful information than governments regarding an area of concern that is omitted, neglected or misreported in the government report.

The overall goal of a CEDAW Shadow Report is to make governments accountable for the protection of women’s human rights under domestic and treaty laws. Its preparation gives NGOs an opportunity to identify and address areas of concern and obstacles to the implementation of CEDAW

A well-prepared Shadow Report also strengthens the NGOs domestic and international advocacy efforts by providing a tool with which to assess what their government is doing to promote and protect human rights, and to monitor how it is honoring commitments made at world conferences. It can also be used to build coalitions, educate the public and influence policy or law reform.

[If you prepare a report it should:]

... be brief:

A shadow report should ideally be no more than 30 pages. Not all the experts will be equally interested in each country, but all of them are likely to read a brief report.

... include indicators

Statistical data and case studies will make your report more useful. The U.N. refers to such information as indicators. Data should be broken down and categorized (dis-aggregated) by variables such as gender, age, region, language, ethnicity, religion or other factors. Case studies should be testimonies and narratives that tell the story in its most human terms.

... ideally in English

The networking language of the majority of the Committee experts is English, though many speak more than one U.N. language. Several of the experts use only Spanish, French or English. If possible, you should consider translating at least the executive summary of the report into one of these languages.

Suggested Contents:

1. Title Page

2. Executive Summary

3. Table of Contents

4. Introduction

5. The main body

Title Page

Include the title, author(s) and date of report.

Executive Summary

No more than 3 pages long, this should include the main points of the report and the evidence/data included to support the main points. Include your recommendations for actions, using specific language that the Committee can adopt in asking questions and drafting concluding comments.



• Give more information about the production of the report and about your organization(s).

• Include some background about the economic and political situation in your country that affects the issue(s) your are focusing on.

• Details on country’s geographic, ethnic, linguistic, demographic and religious aspects

Next, list the range of relevant laws: how do they discriminate against women in law and/or practice?.

You can also present information about traditional indicators such as

• Gross national product

• Growth rates

• Per capita income

• Distribution of workers in the formal and informal economy

• Rate of inflation

• Balance of trade

• External debt and

• The role of international financial organizations


The Report: Putting it Together

Organize the report by Convention article rather than by issue.

Relate the issues you have chosen to key articles of the Convention and other commitments by your government

What is your government obligated to do? e.g.,

• Passing laws

• Improving education

• Punishing violations by individuals or organizations outside the government

Describe the existing laws related to the issue(s)

Name any specific institutions or authorities that are supposed to ensure women’s equality.


Identify who needs to be trained or made aware of these laws (e.g. judges, police, teachers).

Discuss the obstacles to achieving women’s human rights under the existing law. These could range from lack of access to information to not being able to afford a lawyer.

• Include obstacles faced in the private sphere, for example, in the family.

• Identify key persons or organizations responsible for implementing (or failing to implement) the laws and/or responsible for violating women’s human rights.

• Also, examine the ways in which societal attitudes, cultural expectations and media representations can be discriminatory.

Identify steps to be taken by the government, NGOs or others to address women’s unequal access to their human rights and to redress the problems revealed in your report.


• Legislative action

• Education and public awareness campaigns

• Funding of programs and other types of affirmative steps.


Did your government make reservations at the time of signing the convention?

[ at the time of signing, member states may refuse the responsibility to enforce specific clauses; most women’s NGOs seek to have their nations bound by the entire convention and work to have the reservations revoked] What can you do about those?

Address questions that remain open from earlier government reports. Include documentation and any relevant evidence. (e.g. statistics, legal cases, testimony of individuals, news clippings, academic research, national and local laws and regulations. These can be summarized, with fuller inclusion in appendix.

Formulate five (or more) specific actions to be taken by your government. Recommendations should be concrete and linked to a time line. They could touch on goals such as reform or repeal of a particular law that encourages violations, or effective government investigation of human rights violations.

Appendices might include the text of important laws, a list of references or participants in report preparation, or any other information you believe will add substance to the report.

(Tools and Techniques —The Report: Putting it Together, The Tribune #58. May 1998 an adaptation of IWRAW Producing NGO Shadow Reports to CEDAW: A Procedural Guide. 8 pp.

available online at http://www.igc.org/iwraw  )



1. Take the list of issues you originally identified when reflecting on human rights standards: these will be the basis of your shadow report.

2.Go back to the list of existing laws related to the human rights of women.

3. You may need help from people with a legal background: Do you have access to any law schools? Do they include the study of these laws and CEDAW in the curriculum?

4. Identify possible readers of your ‘shadow report’. Make a plan with members of your group to reach the specific persons and groups who should be made aware of the laws relating to women’s human rights and to CEDAW.

5. As you study particular chapters of this manual,

• Identify items for possible inclusion in a report about conditions in your community or your country,

• Have one person in the group keep a record of these items,

• Start drafting the report.

  1. At the end of your study, you will need to collate the items you have drafted. Finalize them using the guidelines suggested by the procedural guide reproduced here (long or short version).

7. Having prepared and sent out the shadow report, use it to continue your own education, and that of other groups. The process of writing the shadow report will have been an education in human rights. You will have discovered many things, which you can deepen and expand.

8. Plan human rights education activities to address the obstacles to achieving the provisions of CEDAW under existing laws. Identify persons who could carry out these activities.

9. Send copies of your reports to other women’s groups in your own country or abroad.

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