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20 years from the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (OP-CEDAW): A universal instrument for upholding the rights of women and girls and for their effective access to justice

10 December 2020 - Recover Better: Stand Up For Human Rights

Statement adopted by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

On the occasion of Human Rights Day 2020, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women highlights the significant role and contribution of its work under the OP-CEDAW in regard to protecting and affirming the human rights of women and girls globally over the last twenty years and sustaining their protection even during the COVID- 19 pandemic.

The process for the adoption of this key instrument for upholding the rights of women and girls was initiated in the nineties by the Commission on the Status of Women, pursuant to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and was supported by the Beijing Platform for Action. The pressure, expertise and active participation of global civil society and the international women’ s movement were crucial for this process to succeed in expanding universal access to justice for women and girls.

The OP-CEDAW has been ratified to date by 114 States which are also party to the CEDAW Convention. It provides for one of the most accessible and widely used treaty-based procedures for the protection of human rights at the UN level, along with the individual communications and urgent action procedures of seven other United Nations human rights treaty bodies. The OP-CEDAW is at the core of the mandate and functions of the CEDAW Committee which continue to be guided “… by the principles of non-selectivity, impartiality and objectivity…” (General Assembly resolution A/RES/54/4, para. 4).

Under the OP-CEDAW, the Committee has competence to intervene through two fundamental procedures for the protection of the rights of women under the Convention, subject to ratification and acceptance by State parties. Firstly, the Committee is mandated to consider communications brought by individuals or groups of individuals, subject to certain admissibility criteria, and secondly, to conduct inquiries into alleged grave or systematic violations of women’s rights, based on reliable information.

Individual communications

As of 31 January 2020, 155 communications had been registered by the Committee, which had found violations of the Convention in 32 cases. In the course of 2020, the Committee identified violations in six additional cases. About 50 cases are currently pending before the Committee.

Complaints are brought under almost all articles of the Convention covering diverse violations of women’s rights: domestic violence, sexual violence, including during armed conflict, judicial gender stereotyping, trafficking and exploitation of prostitution, , sexual harassment, unequal access to and discrimination in employment, limited access to justice, intersecting forms of discrimination against women, violations of maternity leave and social security rights, unequal nationality rights, discriminatory asylum procedures, denial of residence permits, violations of sexual and reproductive health rights (maternal health, safe abortion, protection from forced sterilization), denial of property rights to indigenous women, rights of female prisoners, discriminatory inheritance laws and child custody procedures. Approximately half of the communications, where the Committee finds violations, are cases of gender-based violence against women.

The final decisions (“Views”) issued by the CEDAW Committee in cases of violations have contributed to building the jurisprudence on women’s human rights in international law by defining how States should fulfil their obligations under the Convention. The Committee has provided interpretations of the provisions of the Convention, and of the core obligations of States parties, including their due diligence obligations. For additional interpretation of these obligations, the Committee refers to its General Recommendations.

The OP-CEDAW allows the Committee to recommend a unique combination of remedies for women whose rights have been violated. This includes remedies for the individual victim such as compensation and reparation, as well as more general recommendations for structural or systemic changes the State party concerned should implement to prevent reccurence of the violation (enactment of legislation, training of lawyers and law enforcement officials, ensuring access to justice, awareness raising programmes, etc.).

Selected examples of Views of the Committee and findings on violations are: Goekce v. Austria (5/2015), V.K. v. Bulgaria (20/2008), Gonzales Careno v. Spain (47/2017), X. and Y v. Georgia (29/2009), O.G. v. Russian Federation (91/2015), S.L. v. Bulgaria (142/2019), Jallow v. Bulgaria (32/2011), V.P.P v. Bulgaria (31/2011), X. v. Timor- Leste (88/2015), J. I. v. Finland (103/2016), X. and Y v. Russian Federation (100/2016), KTV v. Philippines (18/2008), Pimentel v. Brazil (17/2008), L.C. v Peru (22/2009), S.F.M. v. Spain (138/2016), Abramova v. Belarus (23/2009), T.S.v. Russian Federation (69/2014), S.H. v. BiH (116/2017), Promo LEX v. Moldova (105/2016), Medvedeva v. Russian Federation (60/2013), Ciobanu v. Moldova (104/2016).


Where the Committee receives reliable information indicating grave or systematic violations by a State party of rights set forth in the Convention, the inquiry procedure under Article 8 of the Optional Protocol may be initiated. The procedure ensures the protection of the rights of women and girls on a broader scale, in close cooperation with the State party concerned. Since its operationalization, the Committee has adopted and published several inquiry reports pursuant to Article 8. The inquiries undertaken so far have revealed in their findings that emerging situations are sometimes not timely addressed by State parties. In 2014, for instance, grave and systematic violations of the Convention were found in Mexico, where women had been raped, abducted, and murdered in Ciudad Juarez. In 2015, the Committee considered that the prevailing funding restrictions on modern contraceptives in Manila City systematically violated women’s sexual and reproductive health rights and called upon the Philippines to decriminalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, when the health or life of the woman is at risk, and in cases of severe foetal impairment.1 The same year, the Committee found that Canada gravely violated the Convention by failing to promptly and thoroughly investigate the high levels of violence faced by aboriginal and indigenous women, including disappearances and murders.2 Another inquiry report3 was adopted in 2018 concerning thousands of women and girls in Northern Ireland that were compelled to either travel outside Northern Ireland to procure a legal abortion or to carry their pregnancy to term. CEDAW recommended that the United Kingdom amend its legislation to legalize abortion in at least situations of a threat to the pregnant woman’s physical or mental health, rape and incest, and severe foetal impairment. Also in 2018, the Committee adopted its report of an inquiry4 on Kyrgyzstan finding that grave and systematic violations of rights under the Convention by failing to prevent, protect and assist victims, as well as to prosecute and adequately punish perpetrators, of bride kidnapping. Finally, in 2019, Mali was found responsible of failure to fulfil its duty to protect women and girls against female genital mutilation (FGM) and to prosecute and punish those who carry out such mutilations.5

It is of vital importance that the Committee fulfills this function under the Optional Protocol by relying on the cooperation of States parties to respond within six months to the findings and recommendations of the inquiry reports issued.

The Committee is pleased to observe increased recognition of and compliance by States parties with the OP CEDAW and its Views and recommendations in recent years, including by providing adequate compensation to women victims. States parties’ increasing willingness to provide for internal mechanisms to ensure compliance with international human rights norms, including the CEDAW Convention, is also encouraging. For example, Spain has provided a compensation of some 600,000 Euro to a victim of violence, Brazil has committed to provide the equivalent of some 100,000 US dollars to a victim of maternal mortality, Bulgaria has paid a compensation of 2.500 to 5.000 Euro to victims of domestic violence, Peru has provided the equivalent of 210,000 Euro to a victim of reproductive rights violation who was not allowed to perform medical abortion, Georgia and Hungary have paid respectively the equivalent of 7,600 US dollars and 2000 Euro to victims of domestic violence, while Turkey has compensated a victim of a labour gender-based dispute. This list is in no way exhaustive and its does not take into consideration the structural and other additional measures taken by the respective States parties aimed at not allowing reoccurrence of similar violations in the future.

These positive responses from States parties and the fact that the Committee was able to continue its work under the Optional Protocol during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent a protection gap for women and girls, despite the logistical and other challenges faced, represent an important contribution to the specific theme of the Human Rights Day this year- Recover better. It also demonstrates the critical linkages between the protection of women’s rights and the economic growth and well-being of societies.

The endeavour of the Committee to lift its core mandated work under the Optional Protocol to a higher level will ensure better outcomes for the rights of women and girls in the aftermath of the pandemic, by making their human rights more real, effective and tangible.

1/ Inquiry CEDAW/C/OP.8/PHL/1 adopted on 22 April 2015.

2/ Inquiry CEDAW/C/OP.8/CAN/1 adopted on 30March 2015.

3/ Inquiry CEDAW/C/OP.8/GBR/1 adopted on 6 March 2018.

4/ Inquiry CEDAW/C/OP.8/KGZ/3.

5/ Inquiry CEDAW/ C/IR/MLI/1 adopted in December 2019.