DAWN Ontario: DisAbled Women's Network Ontario

CEDAW - The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

May 31, 2006

Questions & Answers

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Q: What is CEDAW?

A: CEDAW stands for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. It's an international United Nations (U.N.) human rights treaty that guarantees women substantive equality and non-discrimination.

It obligates all states that have ratified it to take action to ensure that this happens. What's great about it is that it contains standards for women's rights that can be used as a guide to improve and strengthen constitutional and legal provisions for women. In fact, it's lauded as the most authoritative bill of rights for women, and with 182 countries that have ratified it, I think this is a sure sign that CEDAW is accepted by governments worldwide.

Q: What is "substantive equality"?

A: Substantive equality means real equality; equality that goes beyond providing women with the same opportunities as men, to include equality of access to these opportunities, and equality of results. It goes beyond amending a few laws and signing a few treaties to look good on paper but on the ground, the attitudes and systems in society at large remain discriminatory against women.

Q: Does CEDAW include reproductive health & sexual Rights of women with disabilities?

A: Reproductive health is recognised as an issue affecting women's lives in CEDAW's Article 12.

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 connexion with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period, granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.

Under CEDAW, it is recognised that if a woman can't bear children due to reproductive health issues, or won't due to personal choice, and yet she is forced to, it is a violation of women's human rights. This kind of thinking has been put into practice in Colombia. There, to eliminate discrimination in all areas of public health, the Health Ministry worked with women's groups to implement a national health policy for women. Through this, Colombian women have the right to access information and counseling to exercise their right to a free, gratifying and responsible sexuality.

CEDAW mentions specifically that all women have the right to equal treatment of men and that discrimination against women is 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 marital status, on the basis of equality between men and women, of human rights or fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil, or any other field (CEDAW)."

However, women with disabilities are not included anywhere in the 30 Articles that make up the Treaty. In the wording of the treaty, it could either be assumed the rights of women with disabilities are to be included or their needs are much greater and should have their own treaty. The reasoning of the latter only encourages the idea of women with a disability to be seen as "other" and not (or cannot be) a full participator in society. In 1993, the United Nations included women with disabilities in their statement for equal opportunity.

Follow this link to read about Forced Sterilization of Women with Disabilities


Q: So CEDAW does get implemented at the local level! How about countries that haven't ratified CEDAW?

A: Well, fortunately only a handful of countries remain as 'renegades'. But even then, CEDAW can still be used as a tool to advance women's rights at the local level, subject to the political context...

For example, although the U.S. has not ratified CEDAW, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance to implement the principles of CDEAW within the city. This was the result of 18 months of political campaigning by women's groups and their allies at the local level.

On the other hand, not all governments that have ratified CEDAW become beacons of human rights overnight. It's another journey to ensure that they live up to their obligations under CEDAW.

It boils down to citizens ensuring that CEDAW is alive! We have a big role to play by claiming our rights. We have to take responsibility in ensuring social justice is achieved in the society we are in at all levels. If we don't do it, we can't expect others to do it for us.

In India, CEDAW is very much alive and they managed to successfully set a precedent to protect women from sexual harassment by using CEDAW to interpret national law, because at that time there was no explicit law against sexual harassment.


Q: OK, Apathy, bad. Activism, good. But what can we do? It's all the high-powered politicians, civil servants, and NGOs who know about CEDAW. I'm just little me.

A: A good start would be to talk with our friends and family about the existence of CEDAW and how it can affect our lives.




Have a read of the Canadian government's report along with the NGO shadow report and any or all of the following reports from women's organization in Canada who have made strategic use of CEDAW in order to illuminate how Canada is failing to live up to its domestic and international commitments to women's equality. The following is an excerpt from FAFIA's Fact Sheet on CEDAW

In 1990, the National Action Committee (NAC) on the Status of Women submitted a parallel report to the United Nations regarding Canada's second CEDAW report which focused on the negative impact that Canada's changing economic priorities, including cuts to core funding for women's organizations, access to employment insurance, quality child care, abortion, and employment equity, were having on women in Canada.

In 1993, the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women produced a report on the steps Canada had taken to fulfill its obligations under CEDAW in which it concluded that few of Canada's CEDAW commitments had been fully, or even partially fulfilled, and that Canada continued to enter into international treaty agreements without being clear about how or if they would be implemented.

In 1997, an ad hoc group of individuals and orgnizations produced a shadow report on the occasion of the 4th UN review of Canada's adherence to CEDAW. This report focused on the growth of women's inequality as a direct result of the government of Canada's policy priorties. The report illuminated the negative impact of the federal government's elimination of the Canada Assistance Plan in 1995 (which had set standards in the delivery of health care, education and social security programs across the country). The report concluded that these policies compromise Canada's own domestic commitments to women's inequality, including those made in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedom (which the federal government has identified as one of the primary vehicles through which CEDAW is upheld in Canada).

In 2002, the Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) submitted an alternative report to the United Nations CEDAW Committee on the occasion of the 5th review of Canada's report. The report, Canada's Failure to Act: Women's Inequality Deepens demonstrates that many laws, policies and programs necessary to ensure women's inequality have not been implemented or, alternately, have been eliminated. [Follow this link to read Canada's Failure to Act: Women's Inequality Deepens (PDF file) PDF file - requires Adobe Acrobat Reader]

In January 2003, the UN Committee which reviewed Canada's compliance to CEDAW noted that the federal government must take urgent action to remedy the profoundly unequal status of Aboriginal and First nations women, the systemic discrimination confronted by immigrant and refugee women as well as women who come to Canada under the Live-in caregiver program, the scarce resources for legal aid for family and civil law, women's increasing poverty, and the downloading of care-giving onto women due to cuts in social programs. [Follow this link to read the recommendations made by the United Nations to Canada in 2003 (PDF file) PDF file - requires Adobe Acrobat Reader ]




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.

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.



There are a number of practical activities that you can undertake right now to support the achievement of the CEDAW. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.

Contact your MP and Write letters to local newspapers

Write a letter, email, fax, call or visit your MP to express your views about CEDAW. The more prominence CEDAW receives by way of contact with politicans and via media coverage, the more citizens can hold the government accountable to its promises at the international level. Must make sure that we walk the talk! Follow this link to find contact info for your MP

Send a letter to the editor or write an Op-Ed to help you reach a larger audience of people. Visit the DAWN Ontario media kit page to access a number of useful tools that can assist you target print, television and radio media in Ontario.

If you are a woman living in poverty in Canada -- one of the wealthiest countries in the world -- you may want to include some details of your own reality. Let our politicians and media know the real impact of decisions made by governments which clearly worsen conditions for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable women amongst us; including cuts to social assistance benefits, the clawback of the National Child Benefit Supplement, cuts to already inadequate childcare, and to already thin legal aid provision for family law and poverty law. We are the experts of our realities so please use your voice to speak out!

Sponsor a CEDAW awareness event

Inform your friends and neighbours about CEDAW. You can share information from the documents below, and encourage them to also contact their MP, write letters to the editor, and/or hold their own awareness event to share knowledge of CEDAW with their respective networks.




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

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

Jamaican Women Learn to Use CEDAW as a Tool for Change
Workshops Teach Women About Their Rights

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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