Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women


The United Nations General Assembly adopted the 4,462-word Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women on December 18, 1979. It came into force on September 3, 1981, and was the result of more than 30 years of work by the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, established in 1946.

The Convention has been ratified by 189 countries – including India – and has 99 signatories. Countries that have ratified the Convention are legally bound to its provisions. It states that discrimination against women continues to exist, despite such instruments as the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants of Human Rights – each of which stipulate equal rights for men and women.

The ‘States Parties’ to the Convention agree to its 30 articles, “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” and “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.”

The Convention contains 30 Articles arranged in six Parts. Articles 1-16 (in Parts I, II, III and IV) cover recommendations to State Parties about ending discrimination against women. Articles 17 to 22 (Part V) propose establishing a Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Articles 22 to 30 (in Part VI) discuss the effect of the Convention on other transnational treaties and details the commitments required of State Parties. (In UN documents, a ‘State Party’ to a treaty is a country that has ratified or acceded to that particular treaty, and is therefore legally bound by the provisions in the instrument).

The Convention beings with a necessary definition in Article 1 – it says 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 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.”

Article 2 clarifies that “State Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms”  and that they agree to pursue by all appropriate means a policy of eliminating such discrimination. Article 3 requires State Parties to take appropriate measures – including legislation – to guarantee human rights to women in the political, social, economic and cultural fields. Article 4 states that special measures to accelerate equality between men and women shall not be considered discrimination, and these measures shall be discontinued once equality of opportunity has been achieved.

In Article 5, the Convention notes that States Parties shall act to modify social and cultural patterns of conduct among people to eliminate prejudices based on the idea of superiority or inferiority of either of the sexes. It also asks these entities to ensure that education includes an understanding of maternity as a social function, and recognise the common responsibility of men and women in the upbringing of their children. Article 6 speaks of trafficking and exploitation of prostitution by women, and measures to be taken to stop these.

The right women and men to vote in elections and public referenda – on equal terms –  must be ensured by State Parties, says Article 7, as well as their equal right to participate in the formulation of government policy and participate in non-governmental organisations and associations concerning the public and political life of the country and represent their Governments internationally (Article 8). In Article 9 the Convention requires all State parties to grant women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality.

Article 10 says that States Parties shall ensure women have equal rights with men in the field of education – this includes access to the same vocational guidance, curricula and study grants; teaching staff with qualifications of the same standard and school premises and equipment of the same quality. Article 11 directs State Parties to take appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment, while Article 12 speaks of the same measures in terms of access to health services – including family planning.

State Parties, says Article 13, shall ensure that women and men have the same rights to family benefits, bank loans and other forms of financial credit, and the right to participate in recreational activities, sports and cultural life. These state entities, notes Article 14, shall consider the specific problems of women in rural areas and their roles in the economic survival of their families, including their work in sectors of the economy that are not monetised.

In Article 15, the Convention reiterates that States Parties shall accord to women equality with men before the law, and Article 16 mandates the same equality in matters relating to family and marriage.

Focus by Ankhiyan Ranjan.


United Nations


United Nations


18 Dec, 1979