The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), an expert body established in 1982, is composed of 23 experts on women's issues from around the world.
The Committee's mandate is very specific: it watches over the progress for women made in those countries that are the States parties to the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. A country becomes a State party by ratifying or acceding to the Convention and thereby accepting a legal obligation to counteract discrimination against women. The Committee monitors the implementation of national measures to fulfil this obligation.
At each of its sessions, the Committee reviews national reports submitted by the States parties within one year of ratification or accession, and thereafter every four years. These reports, which cover national action taken to
improve the situation of women, are presented to the Committee by Government representatives. In discussions with these officials, the CEDAW experts comment on the report and obtain additional information. This procedure of actual dialogue, developed by the Committee, has proven valuable because it allows for an exchange of views and a clearer analysis of anti-discrimination policies in the various countries.
The Committee also makes recommendations on any issue affecting women to which it believes the States parties should devote more attention. For example, at the 1989 session, the Committee discussed the high incidence of violence against women, requesting information on this problem from all countries. In 1992, the Committee adopted general recommendation 19, which requires national reports to the Committee to include statistical data on the incidence of violence against women, information on the provision of services for victims, and legislative and other measures taken to protect women against violence in their everyday lives, such as harassment at the workplace, abuse in the family and sexual violence. As of the end of 2007, the Committee has issued 25 general recommendations.
The 23 members of CEDAW, acknowledged as experts "of high moral standing and competence in the field covered by the Convention", are elected by the States parties. These elections have to meet the Convention's demands for equitable geographical distribution in membership and the requirement that CEDAW members represent "different forms of civilization as well as principal legal systems". Their terms last four years, with only half of the Committee members replaced each time elections take place. The meeting of States parties is convened every other year by the Secretary-General at UN Headquarters in New York.
As of the end of 2007, a total of 110 experts have served as members of the Committee since 1982.
Chairpersons of the Committee
The officers of the Committee consist of a Chairperson, three Vice-Chairpersons and a Rapporteur. While the length of the terms of office is laid down in the Convention, the rules of procedure add that the officers shall be eligible for re-election "provided that the principle of rotation is upheld".
The rules of procedure identify the general powers of the Chairperson. Under the rules, the Chairperson guides the proceedings of the Committee, including the direction of the discussion and decision-making process. Procedurally, the Chairperson works closely with the UN Secretariat in the preparation of the session, in ensuring the timely conduct of business, including the preparation of documents, the presence of States parties for the consideration of reports, and the general provision of backup to the Committee.
The Chairperson has been increasingly called upon to represent the Committee at various international activities and events, including international conferences and other intergovernmental meetings of the United Nations. The Chairperson participates on behalf of the Committee in the annual meeting of the persons chairing UN human rights treaty bodies, which makes recommendations to the General Assembly.
As of the thirty-ninth session of the Committee (2007), eleven experts had served as its Chairperson.