International Bulletin - Fall 1997
CEDAW in an Historic Second Annual Meeting
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) met for its 17th session at UN headquarters from July 7 to 25th to review the reports of nine countries: Namibia, Luxembourg, Israel, Armenia, Antigua, Australia, Argentina, Bangladesh and Italy. Two thirds of the 160 governments which have ratified the Womens' Convention have submitted the required reports. The growing backlog of work has resulted in the General Assembly approving, on an interim basis, the Committee's request for two annual three week meetings.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is the only UN treaty that deals exclusively with womens' rights. It is the first and only legally binding international agreement not merely prohibiting discrimination against women but obligating governments to take affirmative steps to eliminate gender inequity whether in the public or private sphere.
Since it entered into force in 1981, the Convention has become an essential tool in the improvement of women's situations at the national level throughout the world. The momentum of the women's human rights movement has continued up through the 1995 Beijing Conferences Platform for Action and beyond. The series of recent UN conferences and even activity on CEDAW's web site reveal a continued growing international consensus that governments not only demonstrate respect for women's human rights but be held accountable for their protection. The 17th session of CEDAW brought news of on-going efforts to implement and broaden the influence of the Convention on the part of the entire UN system.
The Committee continues the dynamic process of creating new guidelines for Country reports. These reports are intended to supply as comprehensive a picture as possible of women's situation within the country and thereby provide a baseline for comparison to subsequent reports. Just as important is the purpose they serve as a basis for constructive dialogue with the Committee as to how well the country is proceeding to implement the Convention. The standards as to what a report should contain change as the committee discusses and reacts to UN conferences and information it takes in from States Parties, NGOs, specialized UN agencies and academic studies. Currently, for example, in follow-up to Beijing, States parties are expected to include specific measures taken to implement the commitments contained in the Platform for Action.
A important part of guideline revision is contained in the draft general recommendation that is submitted at every CEDAW meeting and directed at all States Parties indicating specific steps that they should take to fulfill the obligations under the specific articles of the Convention under consideration. At the July meeting these were articles 7 and 8 both of which concern the elimination of discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and in the international sphere. In this 23rd draft recommendation, the committee emphasized, among many other points, the need for countries to encourage the balance of gender within political parties not just public life and an urgent need for women to participate fully in the many aspects of globalization in order to integrate a gender perspective and a women's human rights agenda into international affairs. Extensive additional specific guidelines were given to States Parties when reporting under articles 7 and 8.
The impact of the Convention is broadened and kept alive through NGO participation. Throughout the year the committee's experts constantly interact with national NGO's in meetings and workshops. Countries have been encouraged to include NGOs in the preparation of States parties reports and many of them do. The International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) helps NGOs participate in the submission of a shadow report when their participation is not invited. While acknowledging that NGO information is useful in showing de facto implementation of the Convention, CEDAW has never developed a formal relationship with the NGO community.
The July meeting marked the historic development of open meetings with NGOs. Two afternoon sessions were devoted to listening to shadow reports by NGO's that had presumably missed IWRAW's deadline. During a third morning session, various NGOs involved with women's health and reproductive rights issues were invited to read statements relevant to their concerns. About nine NGO's participated in this rather last minute experiment.
The Internet can be a source for information on CEDAW and women's rights in general. DAW has constructed a web page on the Internet which includes a site on CEDAW providing details of country reports, ratifications and reservations to the Women's Convention (http://www.un.org/dpcsd/daw/cedaw.htm). A data base for each country is being set up by the Center for Human Rights. This will be linked with other data bases available in the UN system including that being developed by DAW.
Eventually data on women's issues available from specialized agencies like WHO, for example, will be linked through a joint gateway named Women-Watch that is being developed by DAW in collaboration with UNIFEM and INSTRAW.
Women's human rights resources links on the Internet change and develop constantly. For the most up to date list of Internet links on this subject consult: (http://www.wid.org/). For general UN human rights information: (http://www.un.org/ and http://www.unhchr.ch/).
There are also non-profit computer networks for activists and organizations using networks for sharing information: Women's Net@igc (http://www.igc. apc.org/womensnet/) and Women's Resources on the Web (http://www.women-online.com/women/).
Last Modified: June 05, 2010