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The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Adopted by the United Nations in 1979, CEDAW is the most important human rights treaty for women. The CEDAW Committee consists of 23 independent experts on women’s rights from around the world.

States that ratify the Convention are legally obliged to:

  1. Eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in all areas of life;
  2. Ensure women’s full development and advancement in order that they can exercise and enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms in the same way as men; and
  3. Allow the CEDAW Committee to scrutinize their efforts to implement the treaty by reporting to the body at regular intervals.

Countries that have become party to the treaty (States parties) must submit regular reports to the Committee on how the rights of the Convention are being implemented. During its public sessions, the Committee reviews each State party report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of concluding observations.

In accordance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention, the Committee is mandated to:

  1. receive communications from individuals or groups of individuals submitting claims of violations of rights protected under the Convention to the Committee and
  2. initiate inquiries into situations of grave or systematic violations of women’s rights. These procedures are optional and are only available where the State concerned has accepted them.

The Committee also holds days of general discussion and formulates general recommendations; these are suggestions and clarifications directed to States that concern articles or themes in the Conventions.

The Committee meets in Geneva and normally holds three sessions per year, consisting of a three-week plenary and a one-week pre-sessional working group.

The work of the Committee

The CEDAW treaty is a tool that helps women around the world to bring about change in their daily life. In countries that have ratified the treaty, CEDAW has proved invaluable in opposing the effects of discrimination, which include violence, poverty, and lack of legal protections, along with the denial of inheritance, property rights, and access to credit.

The treaty has contributed to the development of:

The CEDAW Committee has also fostered adoption of:

  • a law on gender equality in Mongolia;
  • a law in Rwanda prohibiting sex-based discrimination in access to land;
  • domestic violence laws in Turkey, Nepal, South Africa, and the Republic of Korea;
  • legislation criminalizing all forms of violence against women in Burkina Faso and femicide in Panama;
  • a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada; and
  • anti-trafficking laws in Ukraine and Moldova.

In addition, in response to the CEDAW Committee’s concluding observations, China took measures to curb cases of non-medical foetus sex identification and sex-selective abortion and to change stereotypes leading to son preference and Sri Lanka introduced gender-responsive budgeting for rural economic development projects.

The Committee continues to work to protect the rights of women around the world.