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
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.
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.
18 Dec, 1979