Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

Women's empowerment is intertwined with respect for human rights.

~ Mahnaz Afkhami

Also known as the ‘Women’s Convention’, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1979.

The conventions we have mentioned state that all human rights apply equally to women and men.

There are enormous challenges that require concerted and innovative action from humankind, and we will only be successful in tackling them if we work together – women, men and children. The world cannot afford to ignore 50% of its human resources, its human potential. Women and girls make up over half of the world’s population. In the Commonwealth, that’s over one billion people. By educating them, giving them accessible health care and making sure they are treated fairly and have the same opportunities and protection as men and boys, we can go a long way towards addressing the many problems of the world. But the reality is that all over the world girls and women are still discriminated against in access to education, food, health care, land, employment and decision-making.

The Women’s Convention recognises these areas of discrimination and obliges states to work to correct them through legal and social action. Discrimination is defined as ‘any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex’ that denies recognition of women’s human rights or stops either married or unmarried women from exercising particular rights and freedoms guaranteed by the other conventions.

The Convention protects the rights of women and girls:

  • to participate fully in decision making
  • to have equal access to education and training
  • to have equal access to employment opportunities, without discrimination on the basis of pregnancy or marital status
  • to support services that enable them to combine work and family responsibilities
  • to health services and adequate nutrition during pregnancy and delivery
  • to financial credit and to equal access to property in marriage
  • to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent
  • to decide on the number and spacing of their children.

An Optional Protocol was added to the Women’s Convention in 1999, which serves a similar function as the first ICCPR Optional Protocol, mentioned above. That is, it provides a mechanism where individuals or groups of women can complain in writing to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women about violations of the Convention. This Optional Protocol also enables the Committee to conduct inquiries into grave or systematic abuses of women’s human rights in countries that have signed the Protocol.

Commonwealth Ministers Responsible for Women’s/Gender Affairs took the lead in developing the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Gender Equality 2004–2015, which was negotiated and agreed in 2004. The Plan of Action reflects the Commonwealth’s principles and values and incorporates its responses to the differential effects of global changes and challenges on women and men, girls and boys.