Bringing CEDAW to life: the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women turns 30

Date: Monday, July 9, 2012

For three decades, the 23-member Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has worked to bring the landmark Women's Convention (CEDAW) to life. In response to the Committee's review and recommendations, governments have changed their laws, policies and approaches to women in line with international gender equality goals.

As a result their work has opened up opportunities for women across the world, whether to own land, run for parliament or access healthcare.

In recognition of the Committee's 30-year milestone, UN Women and the Office of the High Commission of Human Rights held a panel discussion on 9 July 2012 at the UN Headquarters in New York. The event gave a particular focus to women's political participation and leadership.

Speaking at the event, UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet commended the members of the committee for their dedication. She was joined by senior UN and CEDAW staff, and by Ms. Eleonora Menicucci de Oliveira, Brazil's Minister of Policies for Women (on behalf of president Dilma Rouseff ), and Ms. Shanthi Dairiam, Founder of the International Women's Rights, Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW-AP).

Although celebrating the leaps made in women's political participation over the past 30 years, Ms. Bachelet stressed there is work yet to be done. She spoke of the power of temporary special measures, such as quotas or parity laws, to close this gap. “Women constitute 51 per cent of the world's population, yet they are under-represented in the allegedly representative bodies that make key decisions affecting their lives, she said, noting that the global average for women parliamentarians stands at just 19.5 per cent.

Of the 33 countries with 30 per cent or more women in parliament today, 26 have quotas in place that helped to ensure this outcome.
In the panel discussion that followed, three dynamic political experts discussed the political opportunities for women in their countries, and the success and challenges of the quota systems used in each.

“Women's political participation is a question of rights, and efficiency, stated Ms. Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, the current Speaker of Uganda's parliament, which, as a result of quotas, comprises 35 per cent women. She detailed the ways that women's political engagement has impacted the country, by for example, pulling important yet sidelined issues into the public eye and political realm, from female genital mutilation to domestic violence. Also speaking, Ms. Sapana Prahdan Malla, a member of the Nepalese Constituent Assembly, and Professor Souad Tiki from Tunisia, spoke of the practical challenges that continue to face women, once elected, and the way that the provisions of the Women's Convention continue to aid them as they measure, define and protest their disadvantage.

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