New feature – Cedaw: what is it and how can we use it?

The international bill of rights for women is used internationally to push for equality. But it is a neglected tool in the UK. Charlotte Gage explains

This year we have been celebrating the 100th International Women’s Day, remembering the women’s rights activists who have fought for the rights and freedoms we now have, as well as raising awareness of the many issues that women still face today. 2011 is also a key year in terms of women’s rights in the UK as the government has just submitted a report to the UN documenting what it has done to increase equality for women and fulfil their obligations the international women’s bill of rights – the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw).

It is the UN treaty that ensures that countries which have ratified it, including the UK, are held to account on their obligations to protect women, end all forms of discrimination against women, and promote equality in both the private and public spheres.

Women of the World.jpgThe advantage of Cedaw is that unlike UK and European legislation on sex discrimination and equal treatment, the convention is solely concerned with the position of women rather than discrimination faced by both sexes, and focuses on achieving substantive equality, understanding that there needs to be positive action to ensure that women can fulfil their rights.

It is also incredibly broad in terms of what it covers, so that any and all violations of women’s rights can be highlighted and addressed. The convention outlines a comprehensive set of rights for women in all fields (such as civil, political, economic, social and cultural) and is the only human rights treaty which affirms the reproductive rights of women, and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relations.

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