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Statement Marking 40th Anniversary of CEDAW

18 December 2019

The following statement was delivered by Bandana Rana, Vice-Chair of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in New York, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women*:

Hon. President of the General Assembly
Hon. Minister
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here representing the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in my capacity as Vice-Chair of the Committee. 

I wish to express our deep appreciation to UNFPA, UN Women and OHCHR for having jointly organised this special event commemorating 40 years of CEDAW and our efforts to promote women’s rights and gender equality. I express my gratitude to the co-sponsors of the event, the Permanent Missions of Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago. I would like to particularly thank CEDAW Committee member Esther Eghobamien for her persistent efforts to ensure that this event takes place.

The 40th anniversary of CEDAW precedes the upcoming 25th celebration and review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, the 20 years of the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, and the five-year milestone towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, as well as the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development, all of which provide a unique opportunity for celebration of the achievements over the past decades and for a reflection on the work that still needs to be done, to protect and promote women’s rights and substantive gender equality, as the foundation for change, democracy and lasting peace. The CEDAW Convention has laid a solid foundation for the mutually reinforcing linkages between the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, Security Council resolution 1325, the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and the International Conference on Population and Development.

I take this opportunity to highlight a few of the Convention’s significant achievements. Since the entry into force of the Convention and the establishment of the Committee, CEDAW has reviewed hundreds of State party reports.

  • Constitutional, legislative and administrative reforms have been adopted by many state parties in response to CEDAW recommendations to eliminate discrimination against women as well as to prevent and address gender-based violence against women.
  • Since the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, the Committee has adopted final decisions on individual communications in 108 cases. In 32 cases, the Committee found violations of the authors’ rights. Only in 14 cases, the Committee was satisfied with the measures taken by the States parties concerned.
  • The Committee is also considering an increasing number of submissions under the confidential inquiry procedure under article 8 of the Optional Protocol in relation to allegations of grave or systematic violations of human rights. Since this procedure came into force, the Committee has adopted and subsequently published five inquiry reports finding grave or systematic violations of rights enshrined in the Convention.
  • The Committee as of now has adopted 37 General Recommendations interpreting the nature and scope of States parties’ obligations under the Convention – including landmark GR such as No. 19 (violence against women), No. 30 (women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations), No. 35 (gender-based violence against women, updating general recommendation No. 19) and No. 37 (gender-related dimensions of disaster risk reduction in the context of climate change). We are now working on a new general recommendation on trafficking in women and girls in the context of global migration.
  • With regard to gender equality, CEDAW’s work on the implementation of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, especially with regard to Goal 5.1 (End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere) is noteworthy.  In November 2019, CEDAW adopted a Guidance note for States parties for the preparation of periodic reports in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, CEDAW’s Concluding Observations make systematic reference to the SDGs.
  • Regarding women’s education, considerable progress has been made in ensuring girls’ and women’s equal access to education. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, in 1970, the global average for girls’ schooling, spanning primary, secondary and tertiary education, was 6.7 years. Today, the average length of schooling of girls is above 12 years. The greatest progress is seen in the Least Developed Countries, with school life expectancy for girls increasing from 2.8 years to 8.9 years today. In 2017, CEDAW adopted General Recommendation No. 36 on the right of girls and women to education.
  • A landmark decision in the ICPD and the Beijing Platform for Action was that “the human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”
  • CEDAW consistently recommends that States parties legalize abortion at least in the case of rape, incest, threats to the life or health of the pregnant woman or severe foetal impairment and to decriminalize it in all other cases, with a view to preventing unsafe abortions and reducing maternal mortality rates. While I want to signal progress in this area I also want to highlight our deep concern at the pushback in various quarters in relations to women’s reproductive health and rights and the threat to women human rights defenders.
  • In accordance with article 7 of the Convention, CEDAW has been working to ensure that women are able to fully participate in the political and public life of their countries. In this regard, CEDAW has been closely collaborating with the International Parliamentary Uniotn to strengthen women’s representation in parliaments and their participation in decision-making.   in 1995, the global proportion of women parliamentarians was 11.3 per cent. Today, it stands at 24.3 percent.  This is progress but is still far from parity. 
  • Regrettably, globally only 7.2 per cent of Heads of State and 5.7 per cent of Heads of Government are women, only 19.1 per cent of Speakers of parliament are women, and only 18.3 per cent of Ministers are women. Some of the Obstacles for women’s equal participation and leadership are lack of support for female candidates, weak implementation of statutory quotas, discriminatory gender stereotypes, harassment, intimidation and violence against women activists and female politicians. 
  • In its landmark resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, the Security Council stressed the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement at all levels and in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. In this regard The Committee’s General Recommendation No. 30 (women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations) is proving to be an important tool for advancing women’s participation in all peace building processes including peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction processes. Increasing number of countries now report on WPS in their report to the CEDAW Committee. In building synergy with other mechanism In 2018, the Committee signed a framework of cooperation with the SRSG on Sexual Violence in Conflict, our former member Pramila Patten.
  • In spite of such remarkable achievements, we do acknowledge persistent challenges.
  • Such as the persistent gender pay gap; women’s concentration in low-paid jobs, often in the informal sector, and in unpaid care work; and having low pension benefits.
  • Equally, there is underrepresentation of women in education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and other traditionally male dominated fields of study and career paths.
  • Around 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner (not including sexual harassment) at some point in their lives.
  • Discriminatory stereotypes about the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and in society persist across the globe.
  • In many countries, gender equality legislation is undermined by religious and customary laws and practices and parallel justice systems, which are often applied in a way that is incompatible with the Convention.  We hence need to engage not only States but other non-traditional actors such as religious leaders and businesses.

In marking the 40th anniversary of CEDAW as well as 25 years of ICPD and Beijing, we must celebrate and affirm gains we have made in countering this system and advancing women’s human rights; build on the hope of women’s mobilization and transformative actions; and take collective action to forge solidarity with other movements, demanding accountability of states and the private sector.

This is a key moment to reflect on the challenges now facing women in attaining their rights, and to analyze the strategic and legally binding role of CEDAW as an accountability framework, with a view to ascertaining how to address these challenges going forward. CEDAW has a critical role in ensuring that international standards are embodied in national laws, and institutions and procedures established to enforce these laws. The challenge remains as to how we can ensure that these standards, along with relevant international and regional human rights standards and mechanisms, are fully implemented.

  • CEDAW ratification is nearly universal – we would like to see all States uphold this convention.  Ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention currently stands at 113 so we need to redouble our efforts to see ratification of this important instrument.
  • While ratification is generally high many States parties maintain reservations especially to article 2, the State obligation to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, and article 16 regarding equality of women and men in marriage and family relations hence allowing discriminatory family laws.
  • I therefore on behalf of the Committee call on States to recommit to the Convention by delivering on its promises, withdraw reservations and achieve universal ratification of the Convention.

The Convention offers a unique binding, human rights-based foundation for furthering the ICPD, BPFA, the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the women peace and security agenda. The work of the CEDAW Committee has been crucial in the acceleration of the implementation of these political commitments and need to be reviewed in that light for creating the future roadmap for narrowing the gender gap and achieving gender equality beyond 2020. In doing so I call upon all member states to support a ‘CEDAW@40 and Beyond GA Resolution” which would help promote to serve collective action and greater synergy between all human rights mechanisms beyond 2020. Also as the CSW is an important platform for reviewing and reformulating global policies on gender equality and women’s empowerment, there is a need to create strong linkages between the CSW and the CEDAW Committee’s constructive dialogue outcomes and follow-up recommendations.

With effective partnerships, an intersectional lens, and greater synergy between human rights mechanisms and between New York and Geneva, we can collectively shape strategies that resist the efforts to keep women confined to a world run by patriarchal oppression and inequality.

I thank you for your attention.

*The side event took place on Wednesday 18 December 2019, from 2:00-3:00pm at the UN Headquarters in New York.