UN committee for women's rights treaty says no country has reached full equality

13 October 2004 –

Some 25 years after the adoption of a landmark global treaty on the rights of women, no country in the world has achieved total equality between the sexes both in law and in practice, the Committee overseeing the United Nations convention said today.

In a statement to mark the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Committee said discriminatory laws remain in many of the 178 States that are parties to the pact. In other countries, the laws might promote equality but informal discrimination remains.

The Committee cited laws about marriage, divorce, property inheritance, ownership of land and access to loans and credits as examples of where women still lag behind men in their formal rights.

"Criminal law, especially in relation to sexual violence and crimes, continues to be discriminatory, inadequate or poorly enforced," the statement added.

Women are forced into early marriage or polygamous situations, widows are maltreated, girls are denied the same educational opportunities as boys and access to reproductive health care is often limited.

Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette told a roundtable held at UN Headquarters to celebrate the 25th anniversary that "the Convention remains the most solid global tool in the work for true gender equality in the home, the community and society; and for freedom from discrimination, whether perpetrated by the State or by any person, organization or enterprise."

Ms. Fréchette said there has been great progress since 1979, noting the introduction of constitutional provisions enshrining gender equality and laws explicitly banning gender discrimination, and the establishment of equality commissions.

Committee reports show that many countries have recently taken steps to correct years of historical inequality or discrimination between the sexes. In Bangladesh, for example, the constitution has been amended to enlarge the number of national parliamentary seats reserved for women. In Latvia, discrimination against women in the workplace is now prohibited, and in Angola, which is recovering from decades of civil war, a national ministry has been created for the promotion and development of women.

But, Ms. Fréchette added that women continue to suffer from violence in their daily lives, remain "significantly under-represented in public life" and endure widespread sexual harassment in the workplace.

New Zealand Governor-General Dame Silvia Rose Cartwright, a former member of the Committee monitoring the Convention, told the roundtable that inequality is counter-productive because women who suffer from discrimination will have less economic value than they could otherwise enjoy.

She also voiced concern that so many nations continue to hold reservations to key articles of the Convention, thus weakening its impact in those States.

Some countries, however, have withdrawn either all or part of their reservations since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing was held in 1995, including France, Ireland, Lesotho and Mauritius.

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