Spoiler alert: CEDAW is alive

Pame Martín García
Posted October 6, 2020 from Argentina

Do you know why we have the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women? For the powerful work and fight of women since the middle of the XX Century in the UN and in streets, in houses, universities, neighborhoods, everywhere. However, what means have CEDAW? I tell you a brief story of CEDAW with some examples from my country: Argentina and its importance in women’s life, such as in society. Therefore, to democracy.

The 80s were crucial for liberty and equality in South America because dictatorial government were finished and we could opened the door of life. Argentina ratified CEDAW in 1985, when the new democrat government started, by Act 23.179. In 1994, CEDAW acquired constitutional hierarchy. How? Women pushed it because a full democracy demands respect and rights for all people without any distinction. In 2006, Argentina approved the Optional Protocol that receives and considers communications claiming to be victims of a violation of any of the rights outlined in the Convention by that State Party.

Remember that CEDAW is an international instrument born in 1979, forty years ago. It is a unique legal mechanism where State Parties (states that ratified the Convention) must report and are evaluated by a Committee of the Convention. It is a UN Body with 23 experts on women’s rights from around the world.

CEDAW and General Recommendations are the base of many legal instruments such as laws and public policies in the countries. This Convention has many articles on different issues, one of them is on the participation of women in politics, and it was a crucial article for Argentina. It was the first country to have a Quota Act in 1991. Women, again, were vital for it, women from CSO and women from political parties. This Act opened ways for women in other countries too. In Argentina, it permitted that more women participate in power spaces as decision-makers, especially in the legislative branch where the agenda changed and other issues appeared on women’s rights, and LGBT people. For example, sexual and reproductive health and rights, education, violence against women, equal marriage, and gender identity, among others. 

Nowadays, 189 countries have ratified CEDAW, and it is the Convention with more ratifications after the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In these four decades, the Committee has presented 37 General Recommendations –GR- on diverse issues on CEDAW and these upgrades and complement it. Moreover, GR becomes norms of international customary law, and this is essential to push our rights and guarantee them.

I want to share four General Recommendations: number 23, Women in Political and Public Life; number 24, Women and Health; and number 19 on Violence against Women and 35 on Gender-based Violence. GR23, in paragraph 8 express that “Invariably, women have been assigned to the private or domestic sphere, associated with reproduction and the raising of children, and in all societies, these activities have been treated as inferior. By contrast, public life, which is respected and honored, extends to a broad range of activities outside the private and domestic sphere. Men historically have both dominated public life and exercised the power to confine and subordinate women within the private sphere… they have been excluded from political life and the decision-making process…” It is a reality now in some countries and societies and this GR was written in 1997. Ten years later, in my region, LAC, the Quito Consensus was adopted in the X Regional Conference of Women. Their countries agreed to adopt all necessary affirmative action measures and mechanisms, including legislative reforms and budgetary measures, to ensure women’s full participation in public office and in political representative positions. It included a view to achieving parity in the State’s institutional structure (executive, legislative and judicial branches) and at the national and local levels, as an objective for Latin American and Caribbean democracies. Just under ten countries have parity laws in LAC and the process to access laws of quotas started in ´90 and to parity laws began with the new century. However, laws are not enough. We need substantive equality like CEDAW mentions. We need real equality because patriarchy always finds a way to obstacle our rights with traps o other mechanisms.

GR24 is from the final of XIX Century, 1999, and it has important information to achieve sexual and reproductive health and rights, among other issues. One of the recommendation in this GR, paragraph 31c, is “Prioritize the prevention of unwanted pregnancy through family planning and sex education and reduce maternal mortality rates through safe motherhood services and prenatal assistance. When possible, legislation criminalizing abortion should be amended, in order to withdraw punitive measures imposed on women who undergo abortion”.  According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, 26 countries in the world prohibit abortion in any circumstances; seven of them are from Latin America and the Caribbean. Last year, we celebrated 25 years since International Conference on Population and Development –ICPD- have seen an overwhelming global trend toward liberalizing abortion laws, with nearly 50 countries worldwide enacting laws expanding the grounds under which abortion is legal. Sexual and reproductive rights are human rights and girls, adolescents, women need to access them to get other human rights, and it is an issue of justice.

Finally, I would like to highlight the last GR: 19 and 35. Both are vital to women’s life. GR19 is from 1992, early to the fundamental events in ´90 and in the first years of the XXI Century. One of the things that GR19 expose is “Gender-based violence, which impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of human rights and fundamental freedoms under general international law or under human rights conventions, is discrimination within the meaning of article 1 of the Convention…” Twenty-five years later, in 2017, GR35 illuminated GR19, updated, and complemented it. GR35 includes violations of sexual and reproductive health rights and highlights the need to change social norms and stereotypes that support violence. Also, promote the autonomy of women in all spheres. The language of the GR35 is more progressive and broad.

Today, CEDAW is alive because we exist in the UN, streets, parties, etc., and it needs us yet. It requires of the feminist and women movement; it needs more monitoring of feminisms. Moreover, CEDAW needs honest accountability of States Parties, and they are alive too, but not always to implement these issues and guarantee human rights to all women and girls.


*Pamela is BA in Political Science and feminist activist, from Argentina.

Comments 10

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Busayo Obisakin
Oct 06
Oct 06

Dear Gracia,
You are greatly welcome to World Pulse and to be connected with amazing women round the world. Thank you so much for this highlight about CEDAW! It was the best thing that could happen to women but like you have said we need to continue as feminist and women movement to put in more effort to ensure honest accountability of sates parties. A lot of the states ratified CEDAW but are they implementing the issues and ensuring human right of women and girls? NO! We have to intensify our advocacy until every word of CEDAW is implemented.
Thank you for sharing

Nini Mappo
Oct 06
Oct 06

Hello Pamela,
Welcome to World Pulse, and congratulations on your first power post. It's great to get some news on the strides your country is making to build more gender inclusivity, the obstacles and possible solutions. The push for women rights and closing the gender gap continues!

Anisa Mahmoudi
Oct 06
Oct 06

CEDAW is alive because we exist!!! I absolutely love that!! Thanks for sharing! May we never give up on championing the rights of women, even when facing challenges and hurdles.

Oct 07
Oct 07

Hi Pame,
Thank you for this comprehensive piece about CEDAW and introducing me to the work of the organisation. The discussions and decisions around the elimination of all kinds of discrimination against women are very important, as well as the knowledge about these issues. More than ever, we need to be proactive with the current explosion of the internet and be sensitive about its effect on our own lives and the people around us. Moreover, it is disheartening that various forms of discrimination against women have not waned, although these issues been on the front burner of the UN and similar organisations for a while. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown highlighted the undesired effect of this discrimination even more, hence we must continue to raise our voices like you have just done by sharing your very detailed first post on World Pulse. Now, I know that CEDAW is alive and "it needs us yet."

Congratulations and a warm welcome to the sisterhood! 'Nice to have you join us. Please, let's get to know you better by completing your bio soon. Keep sharing and shining.

Love and hugs,
E. J.

WHR Institute
Oct 07
Oct 07

Thanks for this passionate call to engage with and support CEDAW, Pamela! As you stated, it's power comes from when we take it in our hands. Now more than ever, we need each other.

Ana Lozano
Oct 08
Oct 08

¡Gracias por tu post! It is a thorough and comprehensive analysis of CEDAW, how it's been applied (especially in Latin America and Argentina), how much we've advanced, and how we must keep working. It is a long road ahead indeed, but as you have succinctly put it: As feminists, we're here making it happen.
I'd love to hear your take on the Argentinian leading pro-choice movement and activism. It paved the way for the whole of Latin America, sparking and re-energizing the regional movement and mobilization, so it would be really interesting to hear about your own experience as a feminist from Argentina. Considering that the Senate did not pass the law proposal, what do you think is next for the movement?
That would be great for a new story from you, although I might be asking for too much! I would just love to hear more from a Latin American sister. Of course, feel free to write about whatever you please, as that what World Pulse is for. By the way, welcome!
Un abrazo,

Oct 09
Oct 09

Thank you, Pamela, for such a detailed introduction into this important General Recommendations and a description of Argentina's path in the field.

Aminata Jaiteh
Oct 12
Oct 12

Hi Pame, this is extremely good. Thank you for refreshing my mind on CEDAW and its provisions. Let's keep pushing.
Regards, Aminata.

Oct 18
Oct 18

Great article, Pame! I loved that you wrapped up with a reminder that ensuring women's rights requires a whole-of-world approach as much as a whole-of-society approach to be effective.

Paulina Nayra
Oct 20
Oct 20

Dear Pamela,
How are you? I am happy to learn about how Argentina ratified CEDAW. Yes, CEDAW is very much alive in our country, too. The Philippines enacted the Magna Carta of Women in compliance to CEDAW. Wish to hear from you again and learn about the situation of women in Argentina.

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