What is CEDAW?

The process

Where are we now?

Latest updates

Find out more and get involved

Glossary


What is CEDAW?

CEDAW is the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women – also called the International Bill of Rights for Women.

For decades, WRC has been coordinating the production of the Shadow Report, through consultation with 100s of women’s organisations and other women’s human rights defenders across the UK. The report provides an accurate and true account of the status of women’s rights in the UK and is submitted to the monitoring body (the Committee) to CEDAW. The CEDAW Committee use the Shadow Report for evidence in their examination of the UK Government.

Shadow Report England 2018                                              Shadow Report Four Nations 2018

CEDAW provides a framework for States to take responsibility for tackling discrimination against women and achieving substantive equality for women in both the private and public spheres. It outlines a comprehensive set of rights of women in a variety of areas including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. It is the first human rights treaty to affirm the reproductive rights of women.

Unlike most other legislation, the Convention is solely concerned with the position of women.

The Convention was adopted by the UN Assembly in 1979 and entered into force as an international treaty in 1981.

The UK ratified CEDAW in 1986. By ratifying, the UK committed to the articles, rights and procedures within it. This means that the UK committed to eliminate discrimination against women in all aspects of life and to protect, promote and fulfil the human rights of women under all circumstances.

The process

The Convention is overseen and monitored by a UN committee of 23 experts on women’s rights form around the world. The committee is known as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (or simply, the CEDAW Committee).

State Parties are obliged to report to the Committee who examine the measures implemented by the country to comply with its obligations under the Convention. The Committee meets twice a year and countries are examined on a rolling basis, approximately every four years.

Where are we now?

In 2019, the UK Government attended a hearing in Geneva with the Committee of the Convention on how they are complying with the Convention. Following the hearing, the Committee produced a series of Concluding Observations, listing concerns and recommendations under 17 themes for the UK Government to address until the next monitoring round in March 2023. Already by 2021 however, the Committee requires the UK Government to report on their progress on four recommendations of particular concern. These four areas are:

  • The incorporation of CEDAW into domestic law throughout all territories under its jurisdiction;
  • Undertake a thorough impact assessment of its withdrawal from the European Union on the rights of women, including women in Northern Ireland, and adopt effective measures to mitigate the negative effects;
  • To include the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and the accumulated legislation, legal acts and court decision of the European Union in its national legislation and include human rights and the empowerment of women at the centre of its approaches to tackling the current challenges;
  • To consider establishing a national oversight mechanism to coordinate and monitor the implementation of the Convention, with the effective participation of its national human rights institutions and women’s organisations

Latest updates

On 1st May 2019, WRC and a number of women’s organisations sent a letter to the Minister for Women, Victoria Atkins MP regarding the UN’s recent review of the UK’s performance on improving the position of women in the UK and the progress made in achieving their rights.

The letter seeks to hear about UK Government’s plans to effectively implement the recommendations for the benefit of all women in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Our letter to Victoria Atkins MP                    Victoria Atkin's MP response

Find out more and get involved

We believe that CEDAW is an excellent tool for the women’s sector to use in promoting and protecting women’s rights in the UK and to pressurise the UK Government to uphold its commitments to the Convention.

We do understand however that CEDAW can seem overwhelming and complicated! But do not worry, there are plenty of ways for you to learn more about CEDAW.

Read our Guide to CEDAW.

During the 16 Days of Activism, we are publishing one blog post per day on each article* of CEDAW. Find the blogs here.

Are you interested in CEDAW and want to know more about how to get involved? There are a few easy steps you can take:

Glossary

Ratification = when a state ratifies a convention they become a "State Party" to it, which means that they commit to the articles and procedures within it. When the UK ratified CEDAW, it committed to eliminate discrimination against women in all aspects of life and to protect, promote and fulfill the human rights of women under all circumstances .

State Party = a state that has ratified the Convention and thereby commit to the articles and procedures within it.

Substantive Equality = substantive equality recognises and acknowledges the un-level playing field between men and women. Temporary special measures are a tool recommended by CEDAW to take short-term specific actions in order to address serious and persistent inequalities and discrimination between men and women. This can include quotas to increase the number of women MPs and ring-fenced funding for women's specialist organisations.

Optional Protocol = a complaint and inquiry mechanism for the Convention. Parties to the Protocol allow the Committee to hear complaints from individuals or inquire into "grave or systematic violations" of the Convention. It was through the Optional Protocol that the Committee found through an inquiry that the UK violates the rights of women in Northern Ireland by unduly restricting their access to abortion. The UK acceded to the Optional Protocol in 2004.

General Recommendations = official statements by the Committee outlining recommendations on any issue affecting women it believes State Parties should pay more attention to. To date, the CEDAW Committee has adopted 30 General Recommendations on issues such as violence against women and girls, asylum-seeking and refugee women and disabled women. Find out more about General Recommendations here.

Concluding Observations = a list of concerns and recommendations published by the Committee to the State Party following the Periodic Report and examination. The State Party is committed to report on the progress made on the Concluding Observations in the next Periodic Report.

*Articles 1-16 only as these are rights-based articles whereas 17-30 are about the procedures.