The Convention and the United Nations

Women law students in Tunis, Tunisia.
Women law students in Tunis, Tunisia. (Photo: UNFPA/Marie Dorigny.)

“The Convention [on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women] ... by its dynamic provisions, ... aims to secure the equal rights for women with men in the enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, without discrimination on the basis of sex. The Convention establishes binding legal obligations for States parties to ensure the elimination of discrimination against women in all fields, whether in private or in public spheres. ... It has had a profound and positive impact on the legal and sociopolitical development in those countries where its provisions have been utilized as a powerful instrument for furthering women’s rights.” —Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI) and Chair of IANWGE [1]

The United Nations works for the full ratification and implementation of CEDAW through the various mandates of its different offices, agencies, funds and programmes. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) provides the CEDAW Committee with substantive and secretariat support. Other UN entities also work for CEDAW’s full implementation by providing technical assistance, resources and guidance to country-level partners, including governments, NGOs and women’s organizations. Many of these UN entities are members of the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality (IANWGE), which brings together the Gender Focal Points from each of the participating agencies to coordinate the United Nations’ activities on women’s rights and gender equality. Below you can find information on a number of the IANWGE members’ work towards the implementation of CEDAW.

ILO :: OHCHR :: DAW–DESA :: UNICEF :: UNIFEM :: UNDP :: UNFPA

International Labour Organization (ILO)

“Experience shows that progress for women also yields immediate benefits for families and societies. It is time for creative policy measures to support women’s efforts to access opportunities for productive work, upgrade skills and progressively secure a better life for themselves and their families. This means sustainable and quality jobs open to both men and women, social protection that helps to overcome the particular challenges women face in the labour market, and social dialogue with the active inclusion of women in decision-making processes.” —Juan Somavía, ILO Director-General on International Women’s Day 2009

International Labour Organization (ILO)The International Labour Organization (ILO) cooperates with the UN human rights treaty bodies that deal with equality issues. The principal treaty body with which the ILO works is the CEDAW Committee, which examines the implementation of CEDAW. A number of provisions of CEDAW are closely related to the ILO’s standards on gender equality. CEDAW thus provides the ILO with an entry point for promoting the ratification and application of ILO standards in this area. The ILO reports centrally to the CEDAW Committee for all countries under examination, drawing on the recommendations of the ILO supervisory bodies and on other appropriate information, such as relevant ILO research, constituents’ studies and technical cooperation results.

The ILO also submits reports to the private session of the CEDAW Committee, focusing on country-specific issues. The organization also provides advice to the Committee on technical issues, such as special temporary measures or equal pay. The ILO has also followed CEDAW-related activities within UN country teams. The CEDAW process illustrates the twofold purpose of ILO cooperation with this treaty body: (1) to ensure coherent and consistent recommendations of the United Nations and ILO supervisory bodies and (2) to provide a platform for joint action within the UN system to promote gender equality at the country level.

Read more about ILO’s work on gender equality and the ratification and implementation of the key equality conventions.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

“Women’s human rights and entitlements must be ultimately locked into national policies fostering self-help, opportunities, and solidarity. In this context, absorbing international standards into domestic law and enforcing them is of paramount importance. This adherence is indispensable to achieve women’s equality in law ... . To fully tap into women’s potential, the next decade should be devoted to implementing women’s rights, to finding practical and effective ways to relieve their suffering, but also — and more profoundly — to redress the injustice that hampers, belittles and suppresses their contribution.” —Ms. Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [2]

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)Whether in conflict or in peace, human rights violations based on deeply rooted gender inequality and far-reaching discrimination against women are a constant reality. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is committed to placing gender and women’s rights at the core of the work of the Office as a whole. OHCHR is responsible for the servicing of CEDAW since the Committee was transferred to Geneva in January 2008. OHCHR endeavours to strengthen the cooperation between the Committee and other human rights treaty bodies and special procedures mandate holders, in particular the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, as well as with the Human Rights Council. The Secretariat receives information from Governments, United Nations entities, national human rights institutions, and non-governmental organizations in respect of the implementation of the Convention, which

Furthermore, OHCHR established a specific Women’s Human Rights and Gender Unit in late 2006. The work of the newly created unit flows from the role that the High Commissioner for Human Rights can play in legal standard setting with respect to the inequalities women experience in accessing justice in its broadest sense. In addition, Gender Advisors have been, and are being, deployed to the New York Office, and to a number of regional offices, including Fiji, Lebanon, Panama and Senega,l in order to further integrate women’s rights and gender into the programmes and planning processes across the OHCHR.

Read more about OHCHR’s work to support the implementation of CEDAW.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

“The rights in CEDAW can only be realized by investing in girls, so that they receive the protection, nutrition, health care and education to become empowered women, able to take charge of their own destiny and contribute to the lives of their families, communities and nations.” —Ann Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is committed to promoting women’s and girls’ rights, as stated in its mission statement: “UNICEF aims, through its country programmes, to promote the equal rights of women and girls and to support their full participation in the political, social and economic development of their communities.” A principal contribution of UNICEF to women’s rights is through the empowerment of girls, who will become women, so that they can take their place as adults able to claim their own rights, and assume their full responsibilities as duty bearers towards the next generation.

UNICEF works to bring the compatibilities of women’s and children’s rights to the fore, particularly by articulating the linkages between the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the two main instruments for promoting, protecting and fulfilling the human rights of children and women. For example, UNICEF is developing guidance and strategies to address the mutually reinforcing nature of children’s and women’s rights. These strategies will enable collaboration between the often distinct, and occasionally competing, stakeholders concerned with women’s and children’s rights (including government agencies, academics and NGOs, as well as women’s and children’s rights activists), as well as build capacity to take action that advances gender equality at all levels of society.

On the ground, UNICEF promotes CEDAW and supports the work of its Committee in a number of ways, including by promoting the ratification of CEDAW, providing support to States parties and civil society organizations preparing reports to the CEDAW Committee, supporting NGOs in linking CEDAW with grassroots efforts, conducting workshops to raise awareness regarding CEDAW and its Optional Protocol, and using the Committee’s concluding observations as a basis for programming. For example, in the Philippines, UNICEF provided support to NGOs working at the grassroots level in linking CEDAW with local governance processes. In Guinea Bissau, UNICEF, in collaboration with UNDP, hosted the first national workshop on CEDAW and its Optional Protocol, bringing together political leaders and parliamentarians and creating favourable conditions for the application of CEDAW in the country. Furthermore, UNICEF has prepared a guide for its staff regarding CEDAW and the work of its Committee as a tool in promoting and advancing women’s and girls’ rights.

Read more about UNICEF’s work on CEDAW and the promotion of gender equality.

Division for the Advancement of Women, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DAW–DESA)

“I encourage Member States to redouble your efforts at the national level to accelerate the pace of change. States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) must comply with their treaty obligations to ensure meaningful realization of the equality of men and women.” —Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs [3]

UN Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW-DESA)The Division for the Advancement of Women of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs serviced the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women until 1 January 2008, when the responsibility for servicing the Committee was transferred to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. The Division enhances implementation of the Convention through supporting the work of inter-governmental bodies in relation to gender equality and the promotion of women’s rights, as well as through its technical cooperation programme at the national level. The Division supports close interaction between the CEDAW Committee and the Commission on the Status of Women and promotes awareness of the synergies between the Convention and the Beijing Platform for Action. The Division’s programme of technical support to States parties has included sub-regional workshops on implementation of the Convention and reporting for government officials, judicial colloquia on the application of the Convention in domestic courts, as well as an ongoing programme of sustained and comprehensive support for post-conflict countries’ reporting on, and implementation of, CEDAW, including Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Liberia and Timor-Leste. The Division also develops tools to assist Member States in implementing their obligations under the Convention, particularly with regard to violence against women, including a Handbook.

Read more about DAW’s work on CEDAW.

United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)

“In all areas of UNIFEM’s work, CEDAW is the key reference point, as it represents the master plan for government commitment to gender equality and women’s human rights.” —Ines Alberdi, Executive Director, UNIFEM [4]

United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)UNIFEM is the women’s fund at the United Nations, dedicated to advancing women’s rights and achieving gender equality. It provides financial and technical assistance to innovative programmes and strategies that foster women’s empowerment. UNIFEM works on the premise that it is the fundamental right of every woman to live a life free from discrimination and violence, and that gender equality is essential to achieving development and to building just societies.

Established in 1976, UNIFEM has touched the lives of women and girls around the world. UNIFEM maintains strong ties to both women’s organizations and governments, linking them with the UN system to join national and international political action, and to create momentum for change.

One of the primary ways UNIFEM works to advance women’s human rights is by providing support to national actors, in government and in civil society, for their efforts to implement CEDAW. The focus of UNIFEM support in this area is threefold: (1) facilitating the development of national human rights frameworks in line with CEDAW, such as constitutions, laws and policies; (2) supporting the implementation of existing human rights frameworks to help ensure impact and rights realization; and (3) putting special emphasis on particularly vulnerable and marginalized groups, such as poor or indigenous women, so that national frameworks become more inclusive of, and responsive to, the full range of women’s rights concerns.

Active in all regions and at different levels, UNIFEM works with countries to formulate and implement laws and policies that align with CEDAW in such areas as land and inheritance rights, decent work for women, and ending violence against women. UNIFEM also aims to transform institutions to make them more accountable for women’s rights, to strengthen the capacity and voice of women’s rights advocates, and to change harmful and discriminatory practices in society.

Read more about UNIFEM’s human rights programming across the world.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

“Development cannot be achieved if fifty percent of the population is excluded from the opportunities it brings. That is why raising the status of women must be written into all our interventions.” —Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator [5]

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)Gender equality and women’s empowerment are human rights that lie at the heart of development and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In promoting human development across 166 developing countries, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) integrates gender equality and women’s empowerment into all areas of its work: poverty reduction, environment and sustainable development, democratic governance, and crisis prevention and recovery. CEDAW provides a comprehensive framework to guide all rights-based action for gender equality, including that of UNDP. UNDP provides support to countries to ratify, implement and report on the Convention, and it also draws upon CEDAW as a legal basis to help support policy makers, women’s groups and citizens to advocate for women’s rights in all areas of their lives, such as property ownership, equal representation in parliament, access to justice, equity in the delivery of water and energy services, and equal access to credit.

UNDP offers extensive support for the implementation of CEDAW, both as a stand-alone agency, and through its leadership and coordination of the UN development family. For instance, a UNDP project in Serbia is supporting nongovernmental organizations in advocating for the implementation and promotion of CEDAW with a focus on gender-based violence and improving the position of Roma women, women in rural areas, and women entrepreneurs. In Tonga, UNDP is helping women’s groups to participate in international forums on women’s rights, to support their advocacy work at the national level (see video). UNDP supports a Gender and Citizenship Initiative in the Arab Region that assists with research to inform policy debates, media campaigns and capacity building for women parliamentarians to support reporting, advocacy and implementation of CEDAW in the countries in the region. A UNDP project in Uzbekistan is directed at supporting and building the capacity of the government, civil society and mass media in reducing the gender gaps via raising awareness of, and implementing, the recommendations of the CEDAW Committee to Uzbekistan.

Read more about UNDP’s work on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

“UNFPA is committed to the full implementation of CEDAW. In every region of the world, we are supporting governments and working with civil society to promote women’s rights, especially the right to sexual and reproductive health, and to end discrimination and violence against women.” —Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, UNFPA Executive Director

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) advocates for the implementation of CEDAW and supports countries in their efforts to comply with the standards of the Convention and to implement the concluding observations and general recommendations of the CEDAW Committee. Supporting the strengthening of national human rights protection systems is also a priority for UNFPA, particularly in relation to women’s rights and reproductive rights. UNFPA is one of the lead UN agencies on issues of gender-based violence and supports efforts to end violence against women and girls in countries across the world, and contributes to global and national efforts towards the abandonment of harmful practices.

The Fund also makes alliances with policy makers, parliamentarians and civil society to support the development and implementation of policies and programmes that improve access to reproductive health for women and adolescent girls, and promotes capacity building of national and local stakeholders to support the implementation of CEDAW. UNFPA is committed to the promotion of the rights of women and girls from indigenous and excluded populations. For example, in Latin America and the Caribbean, UNFPA is helping indigenous women’s organizations in advocating for their reproductive rights at local and national levels, while also supporting their participation in international human rights forums. In Azerbaijan and Egypt, UNFPA helped bring national legislation in line with CEDAW by supporting the development of Azerbaijan’s legislation on gender equality and domestic violence, and the revision of Egypt’s Child Law, which raises the age of marriage and criminalizes female genital mutilation/cutting. In Senegal, UNFPA supported the development of an Observatory on Women’s Rights that monitors the implementation of CEDAW, including in the area of reproductive rights. And, in Afghanistan, UNFPA worked with religious leaders to promote women’s health and rights and to sensitize men and adolescent boys to the principles of the Convention at district and village levels in seventeen provinces.

Read more about UNFPA’s work on CEDAW.

Notes:

  1. Ms. Rachel Mayanja. Statement delivered on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the CEDAW Committee, 23 July 2007.
  2. Ms. Navanethem Pillay. 6th Dullah Omar Lecture given at the University of Western Cape, 1 July 2009.
  3. Mr. Sha Zukang. Statement delivered to the Third Committee of the General Assembly, 6 October 2008.
  4. Ms. Inés Alberdi. Statement delivered to the 44th Session of the CEDAW Committee, 21 July 2009.
  5. Ms. Helen Clark. Statement delivered to the Second Regular Session of the UNDP/UNFPA Executive Board, 9 September 2009.