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1979 | The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (‘CEDAW’) was adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 34/180 of 18 December 1979. It entered into force on 3 September 1981. This is a seminal and ambitious document among modern instruments devised in recognition of the persistent patterns of violence and discrimination that effect women worldwide.

The Convention acknowledges that almost 50 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and despite numerous international HR covenants adopted subsequently, discrimination against women continues to exist and that it ‘violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity, is an obstacle to the participation of women, on equal terms with men, in the political, social, economic and cultural life of their countries, hampers the growth of the prosperity of society and the family and makes more difficult the full development of the potentialities of women in the service of their countries and of humanity.’

 The Convention is expressed in the strongest language generally used for such instruments, affirming that States ‘shall’ rather than ‘should’ or ‘are urged to’ take various comprehensive measures, for example to ‘modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes’, to achieve equal political representation and participation, ensure the same access to educational and vocational guidance and equality before the law.

 Nevertheless, the legal weight of the document is not such as to be able to compel States to achieve these goals in any very forceful way. Yet the Convention is one of the most cited and discussed international Conventions that have been adopted since 1948. A right to receive reparations for women who are the victims of sexual violence in conflict is partly a corollary of the agreements contained in this Convention.