31 January 2003


Press Release

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

608th Meeting (PM)



Legislative Reforms, Customary Law and Traditional Practices,

Women’s Participation in Politics among Broad Range of Issues Addressed

At the conclusion of its twenty-eighth session, having considered the reports of eight States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention’s monitoring body made recommendations for the advancement of women in Albania, Canada, Republic of the Congo, El Salvador, Kenya, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland.

Opinions and considerations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women –- the only international treaty body that deals exclusively with women’s rights –- are to be included in the final report for the twenty-eighth session (from 13 to 31 January), which was adopted today.  The report will be issued at a later date.

During the session, the 23 expert members of the Committee, serving in their personal capacities, considered reports of countries with vastly different levels of economic development.  Three of the eight countries -– Albania, Republic of the Congo and Switzerland –- reported for the first time.  Experts focused on a broad range of issues, including constitutional and legislative reforms; customary laws and traditional practices; women’s participation in economic decision-making and political life; rural women; immigrant women’s rights; and access to health care and education. 

Highlighting the achievements of the session, Angela E.V. King, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said the Committee had considered reports from a diverse group of States parties.  While conditions in those States differed greatly, the Committee had identified a number of cross-cutting concerns, including the persistence of stereotypical attitudes towards the gender roles of women and men; violence against women, including domestic violence; trafficking in women and girls; and the under- representation of women at the highest levels of decision-making.  Contributions from national non-governmental and grass-roots organizations had slowly, but steadily, increased.

The informal meeting last week with States that were not yet party to the Convention had provided an excellent opportunity to establish direct contacts and exchange initial views, she continued.  She had been encouraged to learn that some

of those States might soon ratify the Convention.  She was also pleased with the decision to convene an informal meeting during the twenty-ninth session with States whose reports were overdue for more than five years.  Discussions with the Chairperson of the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, and officials of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had also provided opportunities for closer contact with other treaty bodies and the special procedures mechanism, which was in line with the Secretary-General’s reform proposals for greater coherence of the human rights system.

The Committee Chairperson, Ayse Feride Acar of Turkey, agreed that the monitoring body had made headway on several procedural and substantive issues during the session.  Meetings with the eight States parties who had submitted reports had highlighted many issues that cut across countries.  The Committee   had also discussed its methods of work to determine how contributions from non-governmental sources could be more effectively channelled to the Committee, and it had made direct contact with 13 out of 21 States who had not yet adhered to the Convention.

The Committee had also strengthened its ties with other treaty bodies, and had agreed to pursue regular contacts in future with special procedural mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights of particular relevance to the Committee’s monitoring work, she continued.  The Committee would fully participate in the consultation process that would be carried out during the next few months to discuss and contribute to the reform proposals of the Secretary-General with respect to the treaty system, particularly the streamlining of its reporting process.  It had also made progress with its work under the Optional Protocol,  she added.

The Optional Protocol, which entered into force on 22 December 2000, enables the Committee to consider petitions from individual women or groups of women who have exhausted national remedies.  It also entitles the Committee to conduct inquiries into grave or systematic violations of the Convention.

Background on Committee

The Committee is part of the United Nations human rights machinery monitoring implementation of major international conventions, which establishes the legitimacy and global outreach of human rights in the economic, social and political spheres.  Comprised of 23 experts acting in their personal capacities, the Committee meets twice a year to review national reports submitted by States parties to the Convention on measures they have adopted and progress achieved.  In 2002, the Committee also met in a third, exceptional session, to reduce a backlog of reports awaiting review.

The most comprehensive international human rights treaty for the advancement of women, the Convention contains 16 substantive articles, which provide a definition of discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end it.  By ratifying the Convention, States parties are legally bound to put its provisions into practice.  They are also committed to submit their initial reports on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations one year after becoming a State party, and subsequent reports at least once every four years thereafter.  The Convention entered into force in 1981; the

Optional Protocol in 2000.  To date, 170 countries have become party to the Convention and 49 to the Optional Protocol.

In addition to reviewing the reports and evaluating progress made in its concluding comments, the Committee formulates general recommendations on eliminating discrimination against women.  It also receives information from United Nations specialized agencies and non-governmental organizations.

Committee Membership

Following the election in August 2002 of nine new members, the Committee’s current members are:  Ayse Feride Acar (Chairperson), Turkey; Sjamsiah Achmad, Indonesia; Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdani, Algeria; Huguette Bokpe Gnacadja, Benin; Maria Yolanda Ferrer Gomez (Vice-Chairperson), Cuba; Cornelis Flinterman, Netherlands; Naela Gabr, Egypt; Françoise Gaspard, France; Aida Gonzalez Martinez, Mexico; Christine Kapalata (Rapporteur), United Republic of Tanzania; Salma Khan, Bangladesh; Akua Kuenyehia, Ghana; Fatima Kwaku, Nigeria; Rosario Manalo, Philippines; Goran Melander, Sweden; Krisztina Morvai, Hungary; Pramila Patten, Mauritius; Victoria Popescu Sandru (Vice-Chairperson), Romania; Fumiko Saiga, Japan; Hanna Beate Schopp-Schilling, Germany; Heisoo Shin (Vice-Chairperson), Republic of Korea; Dubravka Simonovic, Croatia; and Maria Regina Tavares da Silva, Portugal.

For more information on the Convention, including the list of States parties, go to the United Nations Web site:  www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw.

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For information media. Not an official record.