CELEBRATING CEDAW: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE
By Madeleine Brecher
ICJW Representative to UN/NY
On 9 July 2012, CEDAW 30 was held at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York. It was a fine celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) commencing with a morning program and interactive panel discussion entitled, “Focusing on Women’s Political Participation and Leadership- In Pursuit of Equality.” The session was moderated by Ivan Simonovic, Assistant Secretary-General, New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Conference Room 3 was packed to capacity.
CEDAW essentially constitutes the international bill of rights for women. Since women clearly do not have equal rights with men, it was felt that additional means of protecting women’s human rights were required. The Convention identifies many specific areas where there has been discrimination against women, for example in regard to political rights, marriage and the family, and employment. Like all treaties, CEDAW creates legal obligations for countries that have agreed, through ratification or accession, to be bound by the Convention. Such countries are referred to as “States’ parties”. The first meeting of the CEDAW committee was held in Vienna in 1982. To date, the Committee has reviewed over 450 country reports. Through its constructive dialogues with Governments and its Concluding Observations, it has provided guidance on how to improve the situation of women in the countries concerned.
I am always so moved when I hear Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality, speak. She reminded us that the CEDAW experts make recommendations to governments on how to improve the human rights of women in their countries. The Convention itself seeks to expand women’s leadership and political influence to parity by 2030. Ms. Bachelet supports quotas for women since those governments which do have quotas have shown greater progress in increasing the participation of women in decision making. It is not simply the right to vote which gives women power; it is the right to run for office and bring different concerns to the table. She was clear on the fact that all male governments cannot possibly have the same sensitivity toward women’s issues! She reminded us all that seeing female political leaders front and center provides young women with positive role models. It’s also good for boys to see this as well.
Further tributes were on the program. Speakers spoke of progress in their own countries during this 30 year journey since signing onto CEDAW. This is thanks to the work of the CEDAW Committee and other stakeholders, not least the States’ parties themselves as well as hardworking, involved NGOs. However, it is nowhere near good enough. This living document provides the tools for change. Implementation is the eternal problem. The Arab region and the Pacific Islands have been slow to show any improvement in expanding women’s rights. Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga from Uganda was on the panel. She is the current Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament. She is a dynamo who let it be known, without mincing words, that she has had important opportunities to make positive changes for women proving that women in political positions CAN make things happen. Mr. Simonovic offered the concluding remarks on the morning session.
In the evening, NGO CSW/NY was proud to host a festive Reception honoring the CEDAW Committee at 30. Filling the room were all the CEDAW experts, many Ambassadors, members of the Secretariat, representatives of UN Agencies, Mr. Simonovic, Mde. Bachelet’s Chief of Staff Roswitha Newls along with several other UN Women principals and, of course, dozens of NGO representatives including 3 from ICJW (Fran Butensky, Rita Fishman and myself) and 1 from NCJW, USA(Leslie Sternlieb). We were delighted to spend time with CEDAW expert from Israel Ruth Halperin-Kaddari and her young daughter Avital (see attached photo). The food was grand, the wine was flowing and important networking was taking place. The Experts received fabulous t-shirts from NGO CSW/NY showing them as the new Super Heroes.
CEDAW 30 was a fine celebration honoring the Committee which has become recognized as the legitimate and internationally respected voice for the human rights of women and girls.! Let us hope that the next decade sees greater improvements in laws, policies and programs to transform the lives of women and girls throughout the world. Thank you CEDAW!