The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
(CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an
international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it
defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national
action to end such discrimination.
The Convention defines discrimination against women as "...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."
accepting the Convention, States commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to
end discrimination against women in all forms, 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
- 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.
The Convention provides the basis for realizing equality between women and men
through ensuring women's equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public
life -- including the right to vote and to stand for election -- as well as education,
health and employment. States parties agree to take all appropriate measures,
including legislation and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy all their
human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Convention is the only human rights treaty which affirms the reproductive rights of
women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and
family relations. It affirms women's rights to acquire, change or retain their
nationality and the nationality of their children. States parties also agree to take
appropriate measures against all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of 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