The Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an instrument that brings into focus and commits member nations to the convention to uphold the rights of women and see to it that all forms of discrimination against women are eliminated. The Convention is part of a process which began with small steps at the United Nations level in 1946, picked up momentum in 1979 with its adoption by the UN General Assembly, its ratification by a requisite number of Member States in 1981, and grew to over one hundred nations agreeing to its stated provisions today.
Of particular focus in this presentation is Article 7 of the Convention which features the rights of women in politics. Politics and governance by women have been an issue from earliest times that has been a sore point and a serious dispensation that impacted on women globally, just as the right of women to own property such as land. There is evidence that in all civilizations, women were blatantly deprived of the right to govern, or the privilege to dominate on an equal basis with men unless, in some instances, it was a case of “rights by inheritance” . This psyche and the deprivations that result from it are the basis for all forms of discrimination against women. Although some positive change has occurred due to CEDAW, globally, women were only 24.5% of Members of Parliament (MP) in 2019. The highest percentage of women MPs were found in Nordic countries at 44.0% and the lowest at 17.7% were in the Middle East and North Africa (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2019).
A woman’s right to ‘rule’ and to be free of any overarching supervision by a man is still not practiced worldwide. Thus today, we see enclaves in some nations where the leash is still held on women as far as their rights to vote and to participate in the process to select who governs their country. Article 5 of CEDAW requires States Parties to take action to change all negative cultural and traditional norms that influence the decisions that people make regarding women’s political participation and leadership. Voting and governance are intertwined in the make-up of political and public life, and women’s right to participate in both of these areas is highlighted in CEDAW Article 7 (a) (b) (c) which details the obligations of States Parties to correct gender inequality in these areas.
CEDAW Article 7 calls for equal rights for women in politics. In order to implement Article 7, we need to ask what it means; whether it is only a state obligation, and whether citizens are also expected to know the provisions and contribute to their implementation. CEDAW sets the stage and promotes an enabling environment to guarantee and secure women’s right to get into political endeavors. Therefore, in the context of what is still apparently globally prevalent today; i.e. fewer women than men are political figures or leaders in politics women must be enabled to rise to the occasion to demonstrate their prowess. The State should work together with citizens to achieve stronger implementation of Article 7 so that the number of women in politics will not be so much lower than the number of men. In that approach, CEDAW can have a stronger impact on improving the number of women in governance and politics in every country.
One of the ways of understanding what Article 7 means is by paying attention to the CEDAW review process which measures the progress made by States Parties in implementing its provisions. The review by the CEDAW Committee produces Concluding Observations and General Recommendations that contain more dynamic and precise language. For example, CEDAW General Recommendation 23, which is focussed on women in political and public life, shows how the provisions of Article 7, and 8, should be interpreted in the widest sense at all levels and in all institutions. This General Recommendation lists the actions that States can take so that women may exercise their rights in a meaningful way. The General Recommendations and Concluding Observations also strengthen Article 7.
General Recommendation 23 calls on all States to use their constitutions, legislation, and/or temporary special measures to guarantee women’s right to be elected to political office and to vote in elections (para.41-43, p. 8). States also have the obligation to explain any reservations and to list the steps that they intend to take to remove any cultural and traditional barriers that hinder them from complying with this General Recommendation (para. 44, p. 8). Paragraphs 45 – 48 provide details of the concrete measures that States can take to make each section of Article 7 a reality for women. Paragraph 50 of General Recommendation 23 also provides concrete measures that can be taken to achieve gender balance in representation at the international level and thus expand the opportunities for women and men to have equal participation in public and political life. It has been seen in several countries that temporary special measures such as quotas can make a great impact on approaching gender balance in political office. Rwanda is an outstanding example, where women have won 61. 3% of seats in the lower house. CEDAW Article 8 is closely related to Article 7.
The Concluding Observations which are made after the States have presented their reports strengthens Article 7. For example, Antigua and Barbuda and Angola received similar concluding observations during the 2018 review concerning women’s participation in public life. The CEDAW Committee commended Antigua and Barbuda for making progress but noted that the level of women’s representation in decision-making was still low in “the public and private sectors” (para. 31). Angola also had a similar situation (para. 31). Both countries were advised to make use of quotas as a temporary special measure in order to accelerate women’s full and equal participation in elected and appointed bodies (para. 32 (a); 32 (c)). The two countries were also advised to engage in raising public awareness and sensitization of politicians and the media as another means of advancing women’s “democratic participation” (para. 32 (d); para. 32 (a)). Specifically, Antigua and Barbuda was advised to “provide training and capacity-building programmes for women” (para. 32 (b)) interested in holding public office. Angola was specially advised to “designate a mechanism to monitor” (para. 32 (b)) the provision in its Political Parties Act No. 22/10 which requires a minimum of 30 percent women on the electoral list.
CEDAW has been a path-breaking very long process that has accomplished much. Gradual changes have been achieved and it has been possible to expand the range of women’s rights into all sectors and areas of private and public life. The General Recommendations and the Concluding Observations have been two very useful methods of explaining and detailing these rights and providing guidance to States Parties on how Article 7 can be implemented in a meaningful manner.
It should be mentioned that much has been attained due to the strong advocacy by individual women, their organizations, and allies. A strong advocacy platform can encourage countries to implement Article 7. The advocacy platform can sensitize citizens of their role in giving women the opportunity to lead their countries to the same extent as men.
 Promoting-land-rights-to-empower-rural-women-and-end-poverty https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2016/10/14/,
 Women in politics in Dominica (2019) http://caribbeanelections.com/dm/education/women.asp,
 Gender Quotas Database https://www.idea.int/data-tools/data/gender-quotas/quotas