International Handbooks on Gender series
Edited by Jill Steans and Daniela Tepe
Chapter 18: The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
The purposes of the United Nations Organisation (UN) include the promotion of human rights ‘for all without distinction as to … sex’ (UN Charter, article 1(3)). This commitment to the normative standard of non-discrimination on the grounds of sex in the enjoyment of rights was followed up through article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948 and articles 2 and 3 of the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), both adopted in 1966. However, these first UN human rights instruments provided minimal guarantees for women; in particular, with the exception of the ICCPR, article 26, there was no free-standing provision requiring equality before the law. Nevertheless they gave women ‘constitutional-legal leverage to renew their quest to improve their status, achieve full citizenship in partnership with men, and enter the world’s political stage’ (Galey, 1995: 8). The quest was strengthened by the UN General Assembly (GA) Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, 1967. The Declaration is non-binding and like the UDHR essentially aspirational; however, its agreement facilitated the process of moving to a binding treaty, which was initiated a year later when the Polish delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) proposed an international convention. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the GA in 1979 and opened for signature by States at the midway conference of the UN Decade for Women (1975–85) in Copenhagen in 1980.
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