National development and modernization processes that fail to address the needs of women and the detrimental effects of customary practices are among the issues to be considered next week by the only United Nations human rights treaty-monitoring body concerned exclusively with women. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will convene the first of its two annual sessions at Headquarters from 19 January to 5 February.
Comprised of 23 experts serving in their individual capacities, the Committee monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The Convention, often referred to as an international bill of rights for women, sets up an agenda for national action to end discrimination. It was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979 and entered into force in 1981.
During the upcoming session, the Committee will evaluate progress made by seven States parties to the treaty and formulate general recommendations on eliminating gender discrimination. Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into effect. They are also committed to submit national reports on measures taken to comply with their treaty obligations. An initial report is required within one year of accession, and periodic reports at least every four years.
Initial reports of Algeria, Kyrgyzstan and Liechtenstein will be considered at the forthcoming session, as well as the combined second and third periodic reports of Greece and Thailand. The fourth periodic reports of China and Colombia will also be reviewed, and the Committee will hear country- specific information from non-governmental organizations.
The initial report of Algeria, which only recently acceded to the Convention, draws attention to the dichotomy prevalent in the Arab-Muslim world between constitutional law and the Islamic Family Code. At the core of the Committee's China review will be current efforts to overcome the historical oppression of Chinese women amid lagging economic and social development.
In Colombia, alarming levels of poverty, together with widening income gaps between urban and rural populations, have exacerbated violence of every kind. The Committee is likely to examine those factors along with corruption in public administration, which point to the urgent need for alternative models of development involving the entire population.
To date, the Committee has considered 95 initial, 66 second, 39 third and five fourth periodic reports. It has also taken up five reports on an exceptional basis -- Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Rwanda, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the former Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In addition to the country reports, the expert body will also have before it a note of the Secretary-General on reports of specialized agencies on the implementation of the Convention in areas falling within the scope of their activities; and reports of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The experts will also consider a report on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, as well as one on ways and means of improving their work. Further, they are expected to take up a draft general recommendation on women and health.
Renewed efforts to remove reservations to the Convention -- which countries can plan on their acceptance of the terms of the treaty -- will also be reviewed. While the treaty's 163 States parties make it among the international human rights treaties with the largest number of ratifications, it is also one of the treaties with the most reservations. Committee members have expressed concern that reservations to one or more of the Convention's articles by nearly one third of the States parties impedes assessment of a State's progress in implementing the Convention and limits the Convention's mandate.
Reservations to the Convention have been made on such issues as equal rights for women regarding freedom to choose their residence and domicile (article 15.4); submitting disputes between States concerning the interpretation of the Convention to arbitration (article 29.1); and the granting to women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children (article 9.2).
The Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, Angela King, is scheduled to open the session on 19 January.
Women's Anti-Discrimination Convention
Adopted in 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is the most comprehensive, legally binding treaty
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on women's human rights. The first 16 articles of the Convention call on States parties to take appropriate measures to ensure women's civil, political, economic and cultural rights and legal equality.
By its terms, States parties are called on to take measures such as: guaranteeing basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of women; ensuring the suppression of the traffic in, and the exploitation of the prostitution of, women; eliminating discrimination against women in political and public life; ensuring equal rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality; and eliminating discrimination in the fields of education, employment, health and other areas of economic and social life.
Other articles of the Convention address problems faced by rural women, equality before the law and elimination of discrimination against women within marriage and the family. The rights of women to take part in the political and public life of their countries and to perform all functions at all levels of government are also guaranteed by the Convention.
Article 1 of the Convention defines discrimination against women as follows: "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".
States Parties to Convention
As of 15 January, the following 163 States have either ratified or acceded to the Convention, which entered into force on 3 September 1981: Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece and Grenada.
Also, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania,
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Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Yugoslavia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The 23-expert members of the Committee, serving in their personal capacity, are: Charlotte Abaka, of Ghana; Ayse Feride Acar, of Turkey; Emma Aouij, of Tunisia; Carlota Bustelo Garcia del Real, of Spain; Silvia Rose Cartwright, of New Zealand; Ivanka Corti, of Italy; Feng Cui, of China; Naela Gabr, of Egypt; Yolanda Ferrer Gomez, of Cuba; Aida Gonzalez Martinez, of Mexico; Savitri Goonesekere, of Sri Lanka; Rosalyn Hazelle, of Saint Kitts and Nevis; Salma Khan, of Bangladesh; Yung-Chung Kim, of the Republic of Korea; Rosario Manalo, of the Philippines; Mavivi Myakayaka-Manzini, of South Africa; Ahoua Ouedraogo, of Burkina Faso; Zelmira Regazzoli, of Argentina; Anne Lise Ryel, of Norway; Hanna Beate Schopp-Schilling, of Germany; Carmel Shalev, of Israel; Kongit Sinegiorgis, of Ethiopia; and Chikako Taya, of Japan.
On the first day of the session, the Committee is expected to elect a chairperson, three vice-chairmen, and one rapporteur. The Committee's officers are elected for a two-year period.
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