CONVENTION ON THE ELIMINATION OF ALL FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN
“…the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields”
On 18 December 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. It entered into force as an international treaty on 3 September 1981 after the twentieth country had ratified it. By the tenth anniversary of the Convention in 1989, almost one hundred nations have agreed to be bound by its provisions. The Convention was the culmination of more than thirty years of work by the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, a body established in 1946 to monitor the situation of women and to promote women’s rights.
The Commission’s work has been instrumental in bringing to light all the areas in which women are denied equality with men. These efforts for the advancement of women have resulted in several declarations and conventions, of which the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is the central and most comprehensive document. Among the international human rights treaties, the Convention takes an important place in bringing the female half of humanity into the focus of human rights concerns.
The spirit of the Convention is rooted in the goals of the United Nations: to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity, and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women. The present document spells out the meaning of equality and how it can be achieved. In so doing, the Convention establishes not only an international bill of rights for women, but also an agenda for action by countries to guarantee the enjoyment of those rights. In its preamble, the Convention explicitly acknowledges that “extensive discrimination against women continues to exist”, and emphasizes that such discrimination “violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity”.
As defined in article 1, discrimination is understood as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made o.1 the basis of sex…in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field”. The Convention gives positive affirmation to the principle of equality by requiring States parties to take “all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men”(article 3).
The agenda for equality is specified in fourteen subsequent articles. In its approach, the Convention covers three dimensions of the situation of women. Civil rights and the legal status of women are dealt with in great detail. In addition, and unlike other human rights treaties, the Convention is also concerned with the dimension of human reproduction as well as with the impact of cultural factors on gender relations.
The legal status of women receives the broadest attention. Concern over the basic rights of political participation has not diminished since the adoption of the Convention on the Political Rights of Women in 1952. Its provisions, therefore, are restated in article 7 of the present document, whereby women are guaranteed the rights to vote, to hold public office and to exercise public functions. This includes equal rights for women to represent their countries at the international level (article 8). The Convention on the Nationality of Married Women – adopted in 1957 – is integrated under article 9 providing for the statehood of women, irrespective of their marital status. The Convention, thereby, draws attention to the fact that often women’s legal status has been linked to marriage, making them dependent on their husband’s nationality rather than individuals in their own right.
Articles 10, 11 and 13, respectively, affirm women’s rights to non-discrimination in education, employment and economic and social activities. These demands are given special emphasis with regard to the situation of rural women, whose particular struggles and vital economic contributions, as noted in article 14, warrant more attention in policy planning. Article 15 asserts the full equality of women in civil and business matters, demanding that all instruments directed at restricting women’s legal capacity ”shall be deemed null and void”.
Finally, in article 16, the Convention returns to the issue of marriage and family relations, asserting the equal rights and obligations of women and men with regard to choice of spouse, parenthood, personal rights and command over property.
Aside from civil rights issues, the Convention also devotes major attention to a most vital concern of women, namely their reproductive rights. The preamble sets the tone by stating that “the role of women in procreation should not be a basis for discrimination”. The link between discrimination and women’s reproductive role is a matter of recurrent concern in the Convention. For example, it advocates, in article 5, ”a proper understanding of maternity as a social function”, demanding fully shared responsibility for child-rearing by both sexes. Accordingly, provisions for maternity protection and child-care are proclaimed as essential rights and are incorporated into all areas of the Convention, whether dealing with employment, family law, health core or education. Society’s obligation extends to offering social services, especially child-care facilities, that allow individuals to combine family responsibilities with work and participation in public life. Special measures for maternity protection are recommended and “shall not be considered discriminatory”. (article 4). “The Convention also affirms women’s right to reproductive choice. Notably, it is the only human rights treaty to mention family planning. States parties are obliged to include advice on family planning in the education process (article l O.h) and to develop family codes that guarantee women’s rights “to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to hove access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights” (article 16.e).
The third general thrust of the Convention aims at enlarging our understanding of the concept of human rights, as it gives formal recognition to the influence of culture and tradition on restricting women’s enjoyment of their fundamental rights. These forces take shape in stereotypes, customs and norms which give rise to the multitude of legal, political and economic constraints on the advancement of women.
Noting this interrelationship, the preamble of the Convention stresses “that a change in the traditional role of men as well as the role of women in society and in the family is needed to achieve full equality of men and women”. States parties are therefore obliged to work towards the modification of social and cultural patterns of individual conduct in order to eliminate “prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women” (article 5). And Article 1O.c. mandates the revision of textbooks, school programmes and teaching methods with a view to eliminating stereotyped concepts in the field of education.
Finally, cultural patterns which define the public realm as a man’s world and the domestic sphere as women’s domain are strongly targeted in all of the Convention’s provisions that affirm the equal responsibilities of both sexes in family life and their equal rights with regard to education and employment. Altogether, the Convention provides a comprehensive framework for challenging the various forces that have created and sustained discrimination based upon sex. The implementation of the Convention is monitored by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
The Committee’s mandate and the administration of the treaty are defined in the Articles 17 to 30 of the Convention. The Committee is composed of 23 experts nominated by their Governments and elected by the States parties as individuals “of high moral standing and competence in the field covered by the Convention”. At least every four years, the States parties are expected to submit a national report to the Committee, indicating the measures they have adopted to give effect to the provisions of the Convention. During its annual session, the Committee members discuss these reports with the Government representatives and explore with them areas for further action by the specific country. The Committee also makes general recommendations to the States parties on matters concerning the elimination of discrimination against women. The full text of the Convention is set out in the pages that follow.
CONVENTION ON THE ELIMINATION OF ALL FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN
The States Parties to the present Convention, Noting that the Charter of the United Nations reaffirms faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of man and women,
Noting that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms the principle of the inadmissibility of discrimination and proclaims that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein, without distinction of any kind, including distinction based on sex,
Noting that the States Parties to the International Covenants on Human Rights have the obligation to ensure the equal right of men and women to enjoy all economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights, Considering the international conventions concluded under the auspices of the United Nations and the specialized agencies promoting equality of rights of men and women,
Noting also the resolutions, declarations and recommendations adopted by the United Nations and the specialized agencies promoting equality of rights of men and women, Concerned, however, that despite these various instruments extensive discrimination against women continues to exist,
Recalling that discrimination against women violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity, is an obstacle to the participation of women, on equal terms with men, in the political, social, economic and cultural life of their countries, hampers the growth of the prosperity of society and the family and makes more difficult the full development of the potentialities of women in the service of their countries and of humanity, Concerned that in situations of poverty women have the least access to food, health, education, training and opportunities for employment and other needs,
Convinced that the establishment of the new international economic order based on equity and justice will contribute significantly towards the promotion of equality between men and women,
Emphasizing that the eradication of apartheid, of all forms of racism, racial discrimination, colonialism, neo-colonialism, aggression, foreign occupation and domination and interference in the internal affairs of States is essential to the full enjoyment of the rights of men and women,
Affirming that the strengthening of international peace and security, relaxation of international tension, mutual co-operation among all States irrespective of their social and economic systems, general and complete disarmament, and in particular nuclear disarmament under strict and effective international control, the affirmation of the principles of justice, equality and mutual benefit in relations among countries and the realization of the right of peoples under alien and colonial domination and foreign occupation to self-determination and independence, as well as respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, will promote social progress and development and as a consequence will contribute to the attainment of full equality between men and women,
Convinced that the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields,
Bearing in mind the great contribution of women to the welfare of the family and to the development of society, so far not fully recognized, the social significance of maternity and the role of both parents in the family and in the upbringing of children, and aware that the role of women in procreation should not be a basis for discrimination but that the upbringing of children requires a sharing of responsibility between men and women and society as a whole,
Aware that a change in the traditional role of men as well as the role of women in society and in the family is needed to achieve full equality between men and women,
Determined to implement the principles set forth in the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and, for that purpose, to adopt the measures required for the elimination of such discrimination in all its forms and manifestations, Have agreed on the following:
For the purposes of the present Convention, the term “discrimination against women” shall mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.
States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women and, to this end, undertake:
(a)To embody the principle of the equality of men and women in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation if not yet incorporated therein and to ensure, through law and other appropriate means, the practical realization of this principle;
(b) To adopt appropriate legislative and other measures, including
sanctions where appropriate, prohibiting all discrimination against
(c) To establish legal protection of the rights of women on an equal
basis with men and to ensure through competent national
tribunals and other public institutions the effective protection of
women against any act of discrimination;
(d) To refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination
against women and to ensure that public authorities and
institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation;
(e) To take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination
against women by any person, organization or enterprise;
(f) To take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify
or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices
which constitute discrimination against women;
(g) To repeal all national penal provisions which constitute
discrimination against women
States Parties shall take in all fields, in particular in the political, social, economic and cultural fields, all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.
1. Adoption by States Parties of temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women shall not be considered discrimination as defined in the present Convention, but shall in no way entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate standards; these measures shall be discontinued when the objectives of equality of opportunity and treatment have been achieved.
2. Adoption by States Parties of special measures, including those measures contained in the present Convention, aimed at protecting maternity shall not be considered discriminatory.
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures:
(a) To modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and
women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and
customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of
the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on
stereotyped roles for men and women;
(b) To ensure that family education includes a proper understanding of maternity as a social function and the recognition of the common responsibility of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children, it being understood that the
interest of the children is the primordial consideration in all cases.
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women.
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and, in particular, shall ensure to women, on equal terms with men, the right:
(a)To vote in all elections and public referenda and to be eligible for
election to all publicly elected bodies;
(b)To participate in the formulation of government policy and the
implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all
public functions at all levels of government;
(c) To participate in non-governmental organizations and
associations concerned with the public and political life of the
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure to women, on equal terms with men and without any discrimination, the opportunity to represent their Governments at the international level and to participate in the work of international organizations.
1. States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality. They shall ensure in particular that neither marriage to an alien nor change of nationality by the husband during marriage shall automatically change the nationality of the wife, render her stateless or force upon her the nationality of the husband.
2. States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children.
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in order to ensure to them equal rights with men in the field of education and in particular to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women:
(a)The same conditions for career and vocational guidance, for
access to studies and for the achievement of diplomas in
educational establishments of all categories in rural as well as in
urban areas; this equality shall be ensured in preschool, general,
technical, professional and higher technical education, as well as
in all types of vocational training;
(b) Access to the same curricula, the same examinations, teaching
staff with qualifications of the same standard and school premises
and equipment of the same quality;
(c) The elimination of any stereotyped concept of the roles of men
and women at all levels and in all forms of education by
encouraging coeducation and other types of education which will
help to achieve this aim and, in particular, by the revision of
textbooks and school programmes and the adaptation of
(d) The same opportunities to benefit from scholarships and other
(e) The same opportunities for access to programmes of continuing
education including adult and functional literacy programmes,
particularly those aimed at reducing, at the earliest possible
time, any gap in education existing between men and women;
(f) The reduction of female student drop-out rates and the
organization of programmes for girls and women who have left
(g)The same opportunities to participate actively in sports and
(h) Access to specific educational information to help to ensure the
health and well-being of families, including information and advice
on family planning.
(1) States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular:
(a) The right to work as an inalienable right of all human beings;
(b)The right to the same employment opportunities, including the
application of the same criteria for selection in matters of
(c) The right to free choice of profession and employment, the right
to promotion, job security and all benefits and conditions of
service and the right to receive vocational training and
retraining, including apprenticeships, advanced vocational
training and recurrent training;
(d) The right to equal remuneration, including benefits, and to equal
treatment in respect of work of equal value, as well as equality
of treatment in the evaluation of the quality of work;
(e) The right to social security, particularly in cases of retirement,
unemployment, sickness, invalidity and old age and other
incapacity to work, as well as the right to paid leave;
(f) The right to protection of health and to safety in working
conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of
(2) In order to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of marriage or maternity and to ensure their effective right to work, States Parties shall take appropriate measures:
(a) To prohibit, subject to the imposition of sanctions, dismissal on
the grounds of pregnancy or of maternity leave and
discrimination in dismissals on the basis of marital status;
(b) To introduce maternity leave with pay or with comparable social
benefits without loss of former employment, seniority or social
(c) To encourage the provision of the necessary supporting social
services to enable parents to combine family obligations with
work responsibilities and participation in public life, in particular
through promoting the establishment and development of a
network of child-care facilities;
(d) To provide special protection to women during pregnancy in
types of work proved to be harmful to them.
(3) Protective legislation relating to matters covered in this article shall be reviewed periodically in the light of scientific and technological knowledge and shall be revised, repealed or extended as necessary.
(1) States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning.
(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 1 of this article, States Parties shall ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period, granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in other areas of economic and social life in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular:
(a) The right to family benefits;
(b) The right to bank loans, mortgages and other forms of financial
(c) The right to participate in recreational activities, sports and all
aspects of cultural life.
(1) States Parties shall take into account the particular problems faced by rural women and the significant roles which rural women play in the economic survival of their families, including their work in the non-monetized sectors of the economy, and shall take all appropriate measures to ensure the application of the provisions of this Convention to women in rural areas.
(2) States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, that they participate in and benefit from rural development and, in particular, shall ensure to such women the right:
(a)To participate in the elaboration and implementation of
development planning at all levels;
(b)To have access to adequate health care facilities, including
information, counselling and services in family planning;
(c) To benefit directly from social security programmes;
(d) To obtain all types of training and education, formal and non-
formal, including that relating to functional literacy, as well as,
inter alia, the benefit of all community and extension services, in
order to increase their technical proficiency;
(e) To organize self-help groups and co-operatives in order to obtain
equal access to economic opportunities through employment or
(f) To participate in all community activities;
(g) To have access to agricultural credit and loans, marketing
facilities, appropriate technology and equal treatment in land and
agrarian reform as well as in land resettlement schemes;
(h) To enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to
housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and
(1) States Parties shall accord to women equality with men before the law.
(2) States Parties shall accord to women, in civil matters, a legal capacity identical to that of men and the same opportunities to exercise that capacity. In particular, they shall give women equal rights to conclude contracts and to administer property and shall treat them equally in all stages of procedure in courts and tribunals.
(3) States Parties agree that all contracts and all other private instruments of any kind with a legal effect which is directed at restricting the legal capacity of women shall be deemed null and void.
(4) States Parties shall accord to men and women the same rights with regard to the law relating to the movement of persons and the freedom to choose their residence and domicile.
(1) States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women:
(a) The same right to enter into marriage;
(b) The same right freely to choose a spouse and to enter into
marriage only with their free and full consent;
(c) The same rights and responsibilities during marriage and at its
(d) The same rights and responsibilities as parents, irrespective of
their marital status, in matters relating to their children; in all
cases the interests of the children shall be paramount;
(e) The same rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number
and spacing of their children and to have access to the
information, education and means to enable them to exercise
(f) The same rights and responsibilities with regard to guardianship,
wardship, trusteeship and adoption of children, or similar
institutions where these concepts exist in national legislation; in
all cases the interests of the children shall be paramount;
(g) The same personal rights as husband and wife, including the
right to choose a family name, a profession and an occupation;
(h) The same rights for both spouses in respect of the ownership,
acquisition, management, administration, enjoyment and
disposition of property, whether free of charge or for a valuable
(2) The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory.