State parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure to women, on equal terms with men and without any discrimination, the opportunity to represent their Governments at the international level and to participate in the work of international organizations

Article 8, CEDAW

As clearly outlined in the above text, Article 8 of CEDAW is concerned with the representation of women in international positions. This includes positions where the country is represented at the international level as, diplomats, ambassadors, members of international organisations such as the UN and even military personnel.

The UK government’s response when it comes to this article has consistently revolved around 3 entities: The foreign and commonwealth office (FCO), The Department for International Development (DFID) and the Armed forces. During the last 2 CEDAW reporting cycles in 2011 and 2017 they have reported increased efforts to ensure the inclusion and representation of women in senior positions in all three bodies. 

For example in the 2017 report it was stated that there are now 59 FCO female Heads of Mission and Posts compared to 22 in 2008 and that FCO had appointed a number of first ever female Ambassadors to countries including Greece and Italy. Unfortunately however, progress in this area has been slow and efforts have not translated in to significant achievements in readdressing the gender balance. In 2011 the UK reported 25% of senior roles in the FCO being held by women, 6 years later, in the 2017 report it was 30%. 

Similarly for DFID in 2010 36% of the Department’s senior civil servants were women with the government outlining a target of achieving 39% by 2013, 6 years later in the 2017 report the rhetoric has changed, not only was there no mention of whether or not the 39% target was achieved, but actually the figure supplied by the government was that “56% of DFID staff are female” with no specific reference to seniority, perhaps signalling to a potential decline rather than increase in figures.

When it comes to the armed forces, more and more roles are being opened up to women, however the overall percentage of women only went up from 9.6% in 2010 to 10.2% in 2017 with no specific reference to figures of seniority. Dame Ursula Brennan former permanent secretary for the Ministry of Defence has also previously highlighted that senior roles in the military are exclusively male.

Disparity in representation in the UK when it comes to international bodies also exists beyond these three entities, for example in 2018, Dame Karen Pierce became the first ever woman ambassador and permanent representative of the United Kingdom to the UN since its formation in 1945.

Unequal representation of women and men in these and other similar bodies is unfortunately not exclusive to the UK. Rooted in Article 8 of CEDAW, a campaign called Gqual concerned with global representation of women in international judicial and monitoring bodies finds women are underrepresented in virtually every international body responsible for adjudicating, monitoring, and developing international law. Their full compiled list can be found here.

The absence of women from these influential positions results in a lack of women’s voices in decision making and reinforces the huge imbalance of power between the sexes when it comes to leadership.

That is what makes articles such article 8 a powerful tool for women specifically when considered with the two general recommendations number 23 and 25 directly related to the implementation of this article of the convention. In them the committee outlines exactly how the state is expected to meet the aims of the article and what they should be reporting on.

To achieve substantive equality women must be granted an equal start and enabling environment that can result in an attainment of equality of results. Thus, the general recommendations associated with article 8 are of the utmost importance, not only for the achievement of this particular article’s outcome but for achieving gender parity and accounting for substantive equality across the board. The reason for that is because in them the committee emphasises the use of temporary special measures including “financial assistance for women and the training of women candidates; amending electoral procedures; campaigns aimed at ensuring equal participation; targeting women for appointment to public positions; and setting numerical goals and quotas.” [1]

In the most recent concluding observations published by the committee for the UK in March 2019 the committee also highlighted intersectional oppression recommending that “the State party take specific targeted measures, including temporary special measures, to improve the representation of women, including “Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic” women and women with disabilities, in Parliament, the judiciary and decision-making positions in the foreign service and its diplomatic missions.”

Temporary special measures and quota systems often receive resistance as they are considered by some to be unjust for bypassing merit, however in line with Article 4 of CEDAW, the are in fact the a tool to rectify an injustice and accelerate the achievement of de facto equality between woman and men.

There are many other steps that can also be taken in order to meet the aims of this article in which the civil society has a big role to play. Not only can they monitor compliance with Article 8 when submitting their shadow reports but can also inform processes of nominations and appointments. For example in the UK Shadow report 2013, the suggestion was made to:

“make simple adaptations to the Cabinet Office-led process which puts candidates forward for positions at the international level. A section should be added which specifically asks if women have been considered for the post. Simple adaptations to forms such as adding a tick box would encourage those undertaking recruitment exercises to proactively consider women candidates and make it easier for government to monitor progress and adherence.”


Nour Gazarin, Development Officer at Women's Resource Centre


[1] Schöpp-Schilling, H. B. (2004). The role of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and its monitoring procedures for achieving gender equality in political representation. International Institute for De mocracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA)/CEE Network for Gender Issues Confe rence. http://legislationline. org/documents/id/18879