Q & A
Q: What is 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
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
What is "substantive equality"?
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?
health is recognised as an issue affecting women's lives in CEDAW's
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.
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
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)."
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
So CEDAW does get implemented at the local level! How about countries
that haven't ratified CEDAW?
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
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
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
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.
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.
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).
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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 womens 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 Canadas 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.
Marlene Westfall - Text provided in part by the U.Ns
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
25 Years: Ready or Not?
is a copy of the reformatted text from a recently published
FAFIA (Canadian Feminist Alliance for International
"CEDAW Anniversary Campaign FACTSHEET: What is CEDAW?"
The document is available
at this pinpoint URL:
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 Canadas ratification of the most comprehensive international
treaty on womens 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 FAFIAs 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.
Womens 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:
- implement the recommendations
of the federal Pay Equity Task Force;
- 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
Aboriginal Womens Human Rights
Aboriginal women in
Canada continue to face systemic discrimination on the basis of their
Aboriginal status and their gender. Canada needs to:
- 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;
- grant First Nations
women matrimonial property rights equivalent to the rights of other
women in Canada; (3) and
- provide financial
resources to Aboriginal womens organizations at the same level
as their male-led counterparts.
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
- 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.
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
- support front
line womens services for women and children escaping male violence;
- allocate an annual
federal contribution of $75 million for this front line work.
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:
- ensure that immigrant
women have access to profession-specific language training and skills
upgrading as well as back to work mentoring and bridging programs;
- eliminate the live-in
requirement of the Live-In Care-Giver and Domestic Program and grant
women under this program landed status upon arrival.
With women making
up only 21% of the federal Parliament, issues of significance to women
do not always get the attention they deserve. Womens organizations
play a vital democratic role in improving the lives of women. Canada needs
- restore sufficient
core funding to womens equality-seeking groups that work to eliminate
discrimination, and improve the quality of life and choices available
to women; 2/ increase the Womens 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
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
Sponsor a CEDAW
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
to Act: Women's Inequality Deepens
You are a parliamentarian
committed to advancing women's human rights... (MP
To Do List)
Commitments Abroad, Inequalities at Home (2004)
The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
What it is and why it matters
Campaign FACTSHEET: FAFIAS 6 Priorities for Action (2006)
Links to the Division of the Advancement of Women
Canada's "National Action Plan" Status of Women Canada 1995
Canada's "National Action Plan" Status of Women Canada 1995
Women's Rights Project (IWRP) Links
(PDF file, 106 pgs)
developed by students from York and UVic.
CEDAW Impact Study
Government of Canada
Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Fifth Report
Report on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
Women Learn to Use CEDAW as a Tool for Change
Teach Women About Their Rights
- Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Twenty
-eighth session, 13-31 January 2003 - Rapporteur: Ms. Christine Kapalata
FAFIA's Progress report on CEDAW follow-up / Rapport détape
de l'AFAI concernant CEDEF
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 governments support for ...
... In January 2003, the CEDAW Committee reviewing Canadas 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 womens health: support ...
... work, we considered these issues in relation to Canadas adherence
to the Convention
to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) [28,29].
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
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