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.