DAWN Ontario: DisAbled Women's Network Ontario

CEDAW - The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
35th Session, May 15 - June 2, 2006

25 Years: Ready or Not?

May 23, 2006



The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is holding its 35th session at United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York City from May 15th to June 2nd, 2006. This meeting to discuss the fair and equitable treatment of women is being held in the only country that signed the convention and never ratified it -- the United States of America.

About CEDAW:

CEDAW is an effort by the United Nations to set comprehensive international legal standards for women. By accepting the Convention, countries commit to implementing a series of measures to end discrimination against women, including:

    • to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;

    • to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and

    • to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.

To read the full CEDAW text, follow this link:


CEDAW was adopted by the United Nations’ General Assembly in 1979 by votes of 130 to none. At the special ceremony that took place at the Copenhagen Conference on July 17th in 1980, 64 countries signed the Convention, including the United States, and two submitted their instruments of ratification. On September 3rd in 1981, one month after 20 member countries ratified it, the Convention entered into force faster than any previous human rights convention.


As of March 2, 2006, 182 countries - over 90% of the members of the United Nations - are party to the Convention. The U.S. has signed, but not ratified, the treaty – allowing it to be free from putting the provisions of the Convention into practice. The U.S. remains the only industrialized nation that has not ratified CEDAW.

Canada & CEDAW:

CEDAW is an international treaty and stands for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. A treaty is an agreement or contract negotiated diplomatically between two or more countries within the United Nations process, formally signed and usually ratified. Ratification is a formal validation and endorsement that the signing country (including its states and provinces) accepts adherence to the provisions outlined within the treaty.

It was adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly, and is often described as an international bill of rights for women. Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. They are also committed to submit national reports, at least every four years, on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations.

Canada signed the CEDAW treaty on July 17, 1980 and ratified it on December 10, 1981. Canada also acceded to the Optional Protocol on October 18, 2002.

The Optional Protocol is a human rights treaty within the CEDAW treaty. This gives the rights of individuals or groups of women the right to complain or to petition in writing to the CEDAW committee about violations of the Convention.

There are two procedures: The Communications Procedure and the Inquiry Procedure. The Communications Procedure is communicating a complaint or petition to the Committee in writing for the date of the states review. The Inquiry Procedure enables the Committee to conduct inquiries into grave or systemic abuse of women’s human rights in countries that have become parties to the Optional Protocol.

The CEDAW treaty is a legal document, the signing country binding itself to do nothing in contravention of its terms. Our Charter is in Part 1 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Constitution is the "supreme law of Canada" as stated in Part VI section 52.

The Charter enjoys similar supremacy as the Constitution, as it is a provision in it. Section 26 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms states: "The guarantees in this Charter of certain rights and freedoms shall not be construed as denying the existence of any other rights or freedoms that exist in Canada". This clause allows for rights beyond those stated in the Charter including international law. An example of an international law would be the CEDAW treaty.

Written by Marlene Westfall - Text provided in part by the U.N’s Division for the Advancement of Women - CEDAW link; The Constitution Acts 1867 to 1982; Guide to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Ministry of Heritage; Advocates Quarterly - 1994 Vol. 16 The Charter: General Principles)

25 Years: Ready or Not?

25 Years: Ready or Not?Below is a copy of the reformatted text from a recently published
FAFIA (Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action) factsheet:

"CEDAW Anniversary Campaign FACTSHEET: What is CEDAW?"

The document is available at this pinpoint URL:
www.fafia-afai.org/images/pdf/CEDAW_anniversary_english.pdf (PDF file) PDF file - requires Adobe Acrobat Reader

25 Years: Ready or Not?

During the 2006 federal election, all major federal party leaders made public commitments to taking concrete and immediate measures to ensure that Canada fully upholds its obligations to women under CEDAW. Now, it is time for action.

2006 marks the 25th anniversary of Canada’s ratification of the most comprehensive international treaty on women’s rights, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Canada ratified it in 1981 with the consent of all provinces and territories.

The following areas of concern represent FAFIA’s priorities for action. They are based on 23 recommendations made to Canada by the UN in 2003. Canada is due to report back to the United Nations in 2007.

Advancing Women’s Social and Economic Security

Women in Canada who work full-time earn 71% of what men earn.(1) They also do significant amounts of unpaid care-giving work. Women are more likely to have incomes below the poverty line. Canada needs to:

  1. implement the recommendations of the federal Pay Equity Task Force;
  2. increase the funds in the Canada Social Transfer and attach standards so that social assistance rates exceed the poverty line and eligibility rules do not exclude women in need.(2)

Implementing Aboriginal Women’s Human Rights

Aboriginal women in Canada continue to face systemic discrimination on the basis of their Aboriginal status and their gender. Canada needs to:

  1. change the current law (Bill C31) so that Aboriginal women have the same right as Aboriginal men to pass on Indian status to their children and grand-children,
    regardless of previous history of ‘marrying out’;
  2. grant First Nations women matrimonial property rights equivalent to the rights of other women in Canada; (3) and
  3. provide financial resources to Aboriginal women’s organizations at the same level as their male-led counterparts.

Improving Legal Aid for Women

Many women can not access legal aid for family and civil law matters,(4) the areas for which women most require legal assistance. Consequently, many women do not enjoy equal protection and benefit of the law. The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) has declared that legal aid is in crisis. Canada needs to:

  1. provide sufficient designated federal funds for civil legal aid under the Canada Social Transfer and establish common standards for coverage, eligibility and levels of service.

Responding to Violence against Women and Girls

Shelter and transition houses in Canada still struggle to get enough money to keep their doors open and serve all of the women who are experiencing violence. Canada needs to:

  1. support front line women’s services for women and children escaping male violence; and
  2. allocate an annual federal contribution of $75 million for this front line work.

Respecting Immigrant, Refugee and Migrant Women

Women who immigrate to Canada often possess higher levels of education than Canadian-born women, yet they experience tremendous difficulty integrating into the workforce because rarely are their credentials or work experience from abroad recognized in Canada. Canada needs to:

  1. ensure that immigrant women have access to profession-specific language training and skills upgrading as well as back to work mentoring and bridging programs;
  2. eliminate the live-in requirement of the Live-In Care-Giver and Domestic Program and grant women under this program landed status upon arrival.

Supporting Women’s Organizing

With women making up only 21% of the federal Parliament, issues of significance to women do not always get the attention they deserve. Women’s organizations play a vital democratic role in improving the lives of women. Canada needs to:

  1. restore sufficient core funding to women’s equality-seeking groups that work to eliminate discrimination, and improve the quality of life and choices available to women; 2/ increase the Women’s Program budget of Status of Women Canada by a minimum of 25%.

FAFIA Factsheet Footnotes:

1. Statistics Canada, 2005.
2. It is appropriate for the Government of Quebec to play the leading role in designing and delivering social programs and services for residents of Quebec.
3. This legislation would eventually be replaced by new self-government legislation offering women protections. Both interim legislation and future arrangements under
self-government must be subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including the equality sections.
4. There is a designated federal contribution for criminal legal aid. Legal aid for family and civil law matters however are no longer designated in the Canada Social Transfer.



Read the recommendations made by the United Nations to Canada in 2003
http://www.fafia-afai.org/images/CEDAW_UNrecs_to_Canada_2003.pdf (PDF file) PDF file - requires Adobe Acrobat Reader

Canada's Failure to Act: Women's Inequality Deepens
http://www.fafia-afai.org/Bplus5/natFAFIAreport012103.pdf (PDF file) PDF file - requires Adobe Acrobat Reader

You are a parliamentarian committed to advancing women's human rights... (MP To Do List)
http://www.fafia-afai.org/images/pdf/MPs_to_dos_ENGLISH.pdf (PDF file) PDF file - requires Adobe Acrobat Reader

CEDAW TOOLKIT: Commitments Abroad, Inequalities at Home (2004)
The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
What it is and why it matters
http://www.fafia-afai.org/images/pdf/CEDAWtoolkit.pdf (PDF file) PDF file - requires Adobe Acrobat Reader
http://www.fafia-afai.org/images/pdf/toolkit_eng.html (HTML version)

http://www.fafia-afai.org/images/pdf/CEDAWgen_e.pdf (PDF file) PDF file - requires Adobe Acrobat Reader

CEDAW Anniversary Campaign FACTSHEET: FAFIA’S 6 Priorities for Action (2006)
http://www.fafia-afai.org/images/pdf/CEDAW_anniversary_english.pdf (PDF file) PDF file - requires Adobe Acrobat Reader

25 Years: Ready or Not?


U.N. Links

Links to the Division of the Advancement of Women

Canada's "National Action Plan" Status of Women Canada 1995 Part 1

Canada's "National Action Plan" Status of Women Canada 1995 Part 2


International Women's Rights Project (IWRP) Links

Annotated CEDAW Bibliography
http://www.iwrp.org/pdf/biblio.pdf (PDF file, 106 pgs) PDF file - requires Adobe Acrobat Reader
developed by students from York and UVic.

CEDAW Impact Study

Alternative Report to CEDAW


Government of Canada Links

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Fifth Report of Canada

Canada's Fourth Report on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

DAWN Ontario Internal Links

Draft Report - Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Twenty -eighth session, 13-31 January 2003 - Rapporteur: Ms. Christine Kapalata
http://dawn.thot.net/cedaw-draft-review.pdf PDF file PDF file

FAFIA's Progress report on CEDAW follow-up / Rapport d’étape de l'AFAI concernant CEDEF

FAFIA's Proposals for the New Martin Government
... We are asking that the Canadian government do the following in order to fully adhere to the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW): ...

Budget 2004: Where is the federal government’s support for ...
... In January 2003, the CEDAW Committee reviewing Canada’s compliance with the Convention
on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women ...

How can women use the Optional Protocol of CEDAW
Interview with Alison Symington: How can women use the Optional Protocol
of CEDAW? Interview with Alison Symington, a researcher ...

The welfare state as a determinant of women’s health: support ...
... work, we considered these issues in relation to Canada’s adherence to the Convention
to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) [28,29]. ...
http://dawn.thot.net/election2004/welfare_state_article.pdf PDF file PDF file

HUMAN RIGHTS - Women with disAbilities
... The Women's Convention (CEDAW) with its remit to fight all forms of discrimination is a valuable tool for advancing the rights of women with disabilities. ...

October 17th: International Day Against Poverty
... These fundamental human rights are defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, CEDAW, the International Covenants and other widely adhered to ...



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