(Source: Human Rights Law Teaching Material
Demelash Shiferaw & Yonas Tesfa)
Equal rights of women and men are a basic principle of law embodied in the charter of the United Nations and in numerous human rights instruments in the preamble and in the provisions dealing with non-discrimination, eg. Article 1, Para. 3 and Article 55of the Charter. This principle is proclaimed in the Universal Declaration as well as in the two covenants (Articles 1 and 2 of the Universal Declaration and in both covenants, but in different paragraphs). In addition, states parties specifically undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all rights set forth in each covenant (Article 3 of both covenants).
Despite this basic principle of non-discrimination and of integration of all human rights regardless of gender, developments relating to their actual implementation in law and practice have been slow. The United Nations has therefore from the outset tried to promote the necessary changes in regard to the equal enjoyment by women of human rights and their equal status to men. The creation of a special functional commission, the Commission on the Status of Women and a number of legal instruments relating to the enjoyment of women of human rights has been decided upon. Such conventions have also been concluded within the framework of the International Labor Organization (ILO), governing discrimination in employment, equal remuneration, protection from hazardous work and maternity protection.
The commission on the status of women was established in the early days of the United Nations, in 1943. In 1967, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This was a reaction based on a growing concern that additional means for promoting and protecting equal enjoyment of human rights by women is necessary.
In 1972 the secretary-General asked the Commission on the Status of Women to request the view of member states as to the form and content of a possible legally binding instrument on the subject. In 1974 the Commission began drafting a convention. The World Conference of the International Women’s year, held in Mexico-city in 1975, encouraged the work in its Plan of Action. The Plan of Action called for convention on the elimination of discrimination against women, with effective procedures for its implementation. In 1977 a draft instrument was submitted to the General Assembly, which appointed a special working group to finalize the draft. The Convention was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979, which is entered into force in 1981, and has as of January 2001 165 states parties.
The Convention consists of 30 Articles, of which the first 16 are of a normative character. The definition of discrimination against women, contained in the first article, is more detailed than in many other discrimination clauses. It was inspired by the definition of racial discrimination as contained in the convention on that subject. In both its definition and in other provisions the convention on the elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Article 18 of the Convention) reflects the depth of exclusion and restriction practiced against women because of their sex. It identifies many areas where there have been a notorious discrimination against women; for example in regard to political and civil rights, economic rights and employment. It calls for equal rights for women, regardless of their marital status. It calls for national legislation to ban discrimination. It allows for temporary special measures to accelerate the achievement of equality between men and women. The Convention recognizes that, even if women’s equality is guaranteed by law and special measures taken in order to promote ade facto equally, there is still a necessity to take measures to remove the social, cultural and traditional patterns which perpetuate gender-role stereotypes and to create an overall framework in society that promotes the equal rights and responsibilities between men and women, including shared responsibilities in the domestic sphere. The Convention provides for equal rights of women in political and public life, equal access to education and employment, equality in access to health facilitates and an end to discrimination in the field of finance and areas of economic and social rights. The Convention also stresses the need to eliminate discrimination in all matters relating to marriage and family related matters and stresses the social services needed especially childcare facilities for a full participation of women in public life.
The issues of gender-based violence are not specifically addressed in the convention. The committee set up under the convention has also addressed this subject in its General Recommendation of Article 19, in which it formally extends the general prohibition on gender-based discrimination to include genderbased violence. The work of the committee in this area was further reinforced when, in 1993, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Another area of growing concerns was the search for more effective measures to combat and suppress traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women, a subject dealt with in the Convention (Article 6 of the Convention).
The Convention establishes a Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women consisting of 23 members nominated and elected by states parties but serving in their personal capacity.