The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is a comprehensive international treaty addressing women’s rights in political, economic, social, cultural, and family life (Zoelle 2000, pg 2). The treaty entered into force on September 3, 1981 and since then, 186 countries have ratified it. The CEDAW treaty is known as the international bill of rights for women. The work of CEDAW is to ensure that women enjoy equal rights, and to eliminate any form of discrimination that hinders the development of women’s potential in serving their countries and humanity (Zoelle 2000, pg 4). There have been some questions raised about whether the international human rights treaty-monitoring committees affect State behavior in their bid to achieve their goals. Studies conducted on the various committees have produced mixed results, but it has emerged that CEDAW is one of the committees that has enjoyed impressive results in its line of work. The work of CEDAW has influenced state behavior in a positive way that helps in eliminating discrimination against women and promotes their rights in their countries in many cases.
Internalization of CEDAW
There are only seven countries that are yet to ratify CEDAW. These are the United States, which is the only developed nation not to do so, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Tonga, Nauru and Palau (Rosenblum 2006, pg 5). Even countries like Saudi Arabia with Sharia-based legal systems have adopted CEDAW. This is a very significant achievement, but there is still work when it comes to getting those countries to internalize the terms of the convention so that women’s rights can be enforced in practice. The Convention outlines various measures to be taken to promote political, economic and social rights of women (Benninger-Budel 2008, pg 95). In order for these goals to be achieved, countries have to internalize the Convention through various ways like proper legislation and implementation of economic and social programs aimed at empowering women. International law affects the behavior of states in regards to women’s rights but the states choose to internalize international law according to their own interpretation. Countries have internalized CEDAW’s requirements differently. For example, when it comes to political representation, Brazil reserves thirty percent of elective positions for women, while France reserves fifty percent (Rosenblum 2006, pg 47). Many other countries have also enacted similar laws with different presentation proportionality. These differences are there because countries not only have different laws, but gender perceptions in the society also vary. In most countries, their governments are run by men. Sometimes in their bid to internalize the Convention, they implement policies that have unintended, perhaps undesirable outcomes. In order to address this concern, CEDAW advocates for the increased presence of women in government. Political systems with greater representation of women are better placed to realize the goals of Article Seven of CEDAW (Rosenblum 2006, pg 3). CEDAW and other gender activists have been pushing for this increased representation of women, and it is their efforts that set the stage for successes like the Brazil’s Quota Law of 1995 and the 2000 Parity Law in France. In its efforts to ensure that party states comply with the Convention, CEDAW has to rely, to some extent, on the goodwill of the party states. This is because there is no provision for enforcing the terms of the Convention in cases where the states are not complying or are lagging behind in instituting the necessary measures. Many countries have ratified CEDAW with reservations attached to it, and this has also slowed the Committee’s progress in ensuring the internalization of CEDAW as envisioned. The Convention has been unable to impose limitations or restrict reservations by signatories, and this has undermined its purpose.
Sample Research Study: Estimating the Effects of Human Rights Treaties on State Behavior by Daniel W. Hill Jr.
This research was designed to study the impact of three of the five core UN human rights treaty-monitoring committees. The committees studied were CAT, ICCPR and CEDAW. This paper is going to concentrate on the results for CEDAW in order to assess the impact of its work since its formation. The researchers used time series cross sectional data from 165 states from the year CEDAW came into force until 2006 (Hill 2010, pg 1165). Most of the data was drawn from the CIRI database, and the researchers used three ordinal scales from the CIRI data to measure; women’s social rights, women’s economic rights and women’s political rights. The researchers calculated the sample average treatment effect for the treated (SATT) for each treaty. From the results, it emerged that CEDAW had a positive impact on the observance of women’s rights, especially the political rights (Hill 2010, pg 1171). There was also a positive impact on women’s social rights, though with little heterogeneity while there was little effect on women’s economic rights. States that have ratified CEDAW have had a decrease in the number of cases of abuse of women’s rights. This is a good indication that the human rights treaty-monitoring committees can make states take their obligations regarding human rights seriously and produce positive results.
CEDAW on China
Here, the paper briefly looks at some of the concluding comments of CEDAW Committee: China, 36th Sess., 25 August 2006 (5th and 6th periodic reports). This is a good example of the progress that CEDAW is making in its mandate, especially with a country like China, which is known to have a poor general human rights record. From the report, the Committee acknowledged the legal reforms, policies and programs instituted by the state to help eliminate discrimination against women (Steiner, Alston & Goodman 2007, pg 194). These included:
- The 2005 amendment to the Law on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women.
- The 2001 amendment to the Marriage Law that added provisions in several areas touching on domestic violence, property ownership of couples and relations amongst family members.
- The 2002 promulgation of the Law of Contracting Rural Land.
- The 2006 amendment to the Law on Compulsory Education.
- Program for the Development of Chinese Women (2001-2010), which made gender equality a basic policy of the state as a way of enhancing national social progress.
The Committee also noted some areas of concern and made recommendations for addressing those concerns. For example, the Committee noted that the courts of law were not invoking the convention. The Committee encouraged the Chinese government to ensure that the Convention, the general recommendations of the Committee and relevant domestic legislation be included in the legal education and training of judicial officers like judges, lawyers and prosecutors. The government of China should provide effective legal remedies against discrimination of women, and educate the public on the same. The committee also asked the government of China to include in its periodic report detailed statistics on how the women in China were making use of the legal system to seek help against all forms of discrimination covered by the Convention (Steiner, Alston & Goodman 2007, pg 194).
There have been several concerns about the impact made by the United Nations human rights treaty-monitoring committees in their work. Critics feel that these committees are not doing much in terms of achieving their goals. However, this is not the case, as the Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) has made significant progress in its line of work. Up to date, only seven countries in the world are yet to adopt CEDAW (Rosenblum 2006). The committee has made significant progress in getting the member countries to internalize the terms of the convention. This involves the enactment of specific legislation that aims to protect the rights of women. The party states are also required to implement socio-economic policies that promote the development and empowerment of women. Success has been realized on the political front, with many countries involving more women in government and political affairs through affirmative action. The sample research study used in this paper gives a clear indication that there have been significant improvements in the observance of women’s rights in countries that have adopted CEDAW thanks to the work of the Committee. The sample study on China is also a very good example of the kind of progress that CEDAW has made with individual countries, especially those that were perceived to have poor human rights records (Benninger-Budel 2008). Through CEDAW efforts, such countries have started making significant steps in protecting women’s rights through various means, including the enactment of proper legislation on the same. This paper concludes that, indeed, the human rights treaty-monitoring committees do affect State behavior.
Benninger-Budel, C 2008, Due diligence and its application to protect women from violence, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Leiden.
Hill, D W 2010, Estimating the Effects of Human Rights Treaties on State Behavior, Florida State University, Tallahassee
Rosenblum, D 2006, Internalizing Gender: International goals, comparative realities, Pace Law Faculty Publications, New York.
Steiner, H. J., Alston, P., & Goodman, R 2007, International human rights in context: law, politics, morals : text and materials, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Zoelle, D G 2000, Globalizing concern for women’s human rights: the failure of the American model, St. Martin’s Press, New York.