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The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women: CEDAW

Download the Convention TXT file (49 KB)


CEDAW Committee

Optional Protocol

"... the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields." (CEDAW, p.1)


[ Read the CEDAW Document ]

The Convention is a legally binding document which sets out internationally accepted principles on the rights of women being applicable to all women in all fields. The basic legal norm of the Convention is the prohibition of all forms of discrimination against women. This norm cannot be satisfied merely by the enactment of gender-neutral laws. In addition to demanding that women be accorded equal rights with men, the Convention goes further by prescribing the measures which shall be taken to ensure that women everywhere are able to enjoy the rights to which they are entitled.

The Convention was opened to signature, ratification and accession in New York in March 1980. It entered into force in September 1981. As of July 1997, 160 States had ratified the Convention.

Within one year of signing the Convention every State Party is obliged to report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women on its efforts to meet CEDAW's goals. Thereafter States Parties are required to report at least every four years and whenever the Committee so requests.

The list of countries which have signed, ratified, acceded or succeeded to the Convention, as of 5 January 1998 (97 Signatures/161 ratification and accessions), at gopher://

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

The Committee was established under the terms of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 34/180 in December 1979.
It holds a constructive dialogue with the States Parties reporting to it under article 18 of the Convention. Reporting States are expected to describe steps taken to adhere and progressively realise the Convention, or point out obstacles encountered. Following the exchange with representatives of States Parties, the Committee experts prepare concluding comments which are incorporated in the report of the session. The Committee is also empowered to formulate suggestions and general recommendations based on the examination of States Parties reports. Suggestions are directed at the UN system and general recommendations assist States Parties in the interpretation of articles on the themes underlying the Convention.
The Committee is composed of 23 experts in the fields covered by the Convention. Experts are elected by the States Parties to the Convention for a term of four years and serve in their personal capacity. In electing the experts, consideration is given to equitable geographical distribution and the representation of different forms of civilisation, as well as the principal legal systems.
The Committee meets annually, in January/February.


The Optional Protocol on the Right to Petition

[ Read the text of the Optional Protocol ]

The Vienna Declaration and the Programme of Action adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 recommended the introduction of the right to petition through an optional protocol to the Convention. The UN Commission on the Status of Women has in 1999 agreed an optional protocol provides, among other things, for the right of individual petition.

What is an Optional Protocol ?
Very often, human rights treaties are followed by "Optional Protocols" which may either provide for procedures with regard to the treaty or address a substantive area related to the treaty. Optional Protocols to human rights treaties are treaties in their own right, and are open to signature, accession or ratification by countries who are party to the main treaty. An Optional Protocol has been agreed for CEDAW. It does:

Give women the right to complain to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women ("the Committee") about violations of CEDAW by their Governments (see below The Communications Procedure).

Enable the Committee to conduct inquiries into serious or systemic abuses of women's human rights in countries that have become party to the Optional Protocol.
At present, individuals or groups of individuals can't obtain remedies in an international forum for breaches of CEDAW that affect them.

The Optional Protocol would provide a forum for complaint and an avenue for women to obtain remedies for breaches of their human rights. The Committee can focus on individual victims or make recommendations on their behalf. 

More information about the Optional Protocol information at:

The text of the Optional Protocol

Signatures to and Ratifications of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women at

Statement by Angela King, Head of DAW, 1996: gopher://

CSW Report 1997, Annex: gopher://

CSW Report 1997: gopher://

Secretary Generals Report on an Optional Protocol, to CSW 1997: gopher://

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