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Women’s rights in International Law: the role of CEDAW

Updated: Feb 8

Zanotto Sara is the author of the article titled: Women’s rights in International Law: the role of CEDAW

Author: Zanotto Sara

Publication date: 01.08.2023

In recent years, many steps forward have been taken to guarantee and protect women’s rights. Nevertheless, gender equality is still a utopia in many developing countries. Despite the number of laws created by States’ jurisdiction, women around the world continue to experience heavy violations and abuses of their human rights.

Besides the jurisdiction of the Country itself, there is International law. International law is a self-governing legal framework. It operates beyond the jurisdiction of individual nations' legal systems.

International law binds State parties to actively take measures to guarantee the protection of women's human rights. The main goal is to eradicate discriminatory practices, inequalities, and actions that harm this cut of the population.

Convention On The Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women's rights

anti discrimination against women

One of the most important and well-known instruments used to discipline human rights is the CEDAW. This acronym stands for Convention On The Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women. The document consists of thirty articles. The adoption of the document took place on 18 December 1979 and it became officially effective on 3 September 1981.

The care of the United Nations about the topic has led to the fulfillment of many different statements and conventions. CEDAW represents one of the most thorough tools dealing with women’s rights among the UN documents. Through this document, every form of discrimination against women is banned. In addition, CEDAW highlights the relevance of ensuring equal political, economic, social, cultural, and civil rights to both women and men. Moreover, it is employed as a guide to help women achieve gender equality and to empower themselves.

Discrimination against women's rights

What does “discrimination against women” truly mean? The first article of the Convention accurately defines the meaning of this expression:

“ Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made based on sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

The Fundamentals of The Convention

Besides defining its key principle, the document goes through some of the fundamentals of the Convention, which can be summarized into a list of items:

Gender equality CEDAW affirms the principle of gender equality as an inviolable human right. Men and women have to be perceived and treated as equal individuals. States must implement measures to guarantee and respect this principle.

Violence and abuse against women

Violence against women is a form of discrimination. The Convention requires State parties to take measures to prevent and punish any form of violence and abuse against women.

Political participation CEDAW encourages women to actively take part in political and social life, as their contribution is essential for the development of the country. Moreover, the Convention encourages States to ensure an equal representation of women within Institutions.

Reproductive rights Women have the right to independently control their sexual and reproductive health. Furthermore, CEDAW states that every woman has the right to take decisions about reproduction without being judged.

Marriage and family CEDAW bans traditional nuptial practices that can harm women both physically and mentally, such as forced and precocious marriage.

Education CEDAW highlights the importance of women’s and girls’ education. In some countries, women have historically been denied equal access to education. This issue restricts their opportunities for personal and professional development. The educational disparity leads to women's inability to compete on an equal footing with men. CEDAW asserts the need to remove gender stereotypes within the education system.

All the States that have endorsed the Convention are asked to generate periodical reports. Reports have to include all the measures that have been taken to actualize the Convention. Moreover, State parties need to take into account all the recommendations released by the Committee on the elimination of discrimination against women. This body is made of independent professional figures that constantly check the implementation of the Convention.


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