It is apparent that over the past three decades, the issue of unequal gender relations was universal all over the world (Baldez 419). In other words, gender disparity became an issue of international concern. There was need to reform gender policies in international organizations and even at domestic level. Notably, non-governmental women organizations emerged and strongly influenced both national and global dynamics to reform the gender norms that had been embraced for considerably long period of time. One of the common developmental milestones was the formation of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979 (Byrnes and Bath 517). The convention made significant efforts to create awareness and possible reforms on diverse forms of gender norms across the world. As a matter of fact, this convention mainly aimed at advocating for universal standards of gender norms and practices and eliminates all forms of bigotry against women (Pruitt and Vanegas 263). As expected from the early beginning, it has not been a smooth sail for the convention since it has faced numerous challenges in the process of bringing about the much desired change in gender fairness. Nevertheless, the convention has fundamentally shaped the scene of gender norms all over the world. It is against this backdrop that this paper intends to use case studies to evaluate the achievements and defects of the women’s Rights convention and its optional protocol.
To begin with, Baldez (419) asserts that CEDAW is often referred to as an international bill of women rights. The convention has managed to define clearly what specifically constitutes discrimination against the feminine gender. In this context, it defines discrimination as any form of exclusion, restriction or distinction made on the basis of sex (Pruitt and Vanegas 263). Additionally, such an act is said to have a nullifying effect since it inhibits women to participate in most types of important activities in society. The convention states that women should have equal rights with men. Moreover, they should be allowed to enjoy their fundamental freedom including participating in civil, political, economic and social matters (Pruitt and Vanegas 263). In line with this, the convention has come up with agenda that serve as a national action to eradicate gender discrimination.
It is imperative to note that since the convention wad ratified by United Nations in 1979; it has highly influenced states to embark on strategies that will assist in ending discrimination against women (Baldez 419). Through public awareness, CEDAW has sensitized states to adopt effective measures of ending unlawful discrimination against women. For instance, through a collective approach, the convention has established tribunals and numerous public institutions all over the world. Such institutions have been established to ensure effective protection of women against all forms of prejudice. Therefore, it is reasonably beyond doubt that the convention has successfully been able to trim down all forms of bigotry committed against women by persons, states or organizations (Pruitt and Vanegas 263).
Moreover, it is evident that the convention has provided an avenue for realizing equality between men and women all over the globe. However, the use of the term equality has led to growing controversy since those against such proposition argue that there is no way both gender can be equal. Rather, the campaign should be towards establishing gender fairness, better known as gender equity. In this case, it is arguable that CEDAW acts as the standard holder of equality norms (Byrnes and Bath 517). By so doing, women have been able to access and enjoy equal opportunities in all aspects of life. Further research studies have revealed that since the convention was ratified, women have significantly participated in public life. Observable evidences include participation in voting and contesting in elections as candidates. Taking a case study of Bangladesh, the convention has promoted women candidacy allowing them to contest for electoral offices (Baldez 420). Research has revealed that quotas of women in public offices have increased significantly in the past two decades. Therefore, the convention has helped to redefine the notions of equality and political advocacy in Bangladesh and also in other parts of the world. Indeed, the impact of the convention can be felt across the globe in terms of championing for the women’s rights.
In addition to this, women have the pleasure to participate and have access to education employment and healthcare services. Empirical evidences have revealed that CEDAW is the only convention that upholds and safeguards reproductive rights of women. As a human right treaty, it has significantly addressed forces that deprive women freedom by making them feel inferior (Pruitt and Vanegas 264). It has been identified that tradition and culture are the major influential forces that shape gender norms and family relations. In this case, they prohibit women from participating in numerous fields of life such as politics and civil matters. It is beyond doubt that the convention has been able to disapprove the forces by affirming the rights of women to own, acquire and retain basic freedom (Baldez 419).Notably, the convention has formed human right treaties with states to end all forms of exploitation and trafficking of women especially among vulnerable regions.
It is certain that the convention has successfully managed to strengthen laws on domestic violence. As a human rights advocate, the convention made proposals that recommended gender-based violence issues to be included in their charter. Notably, general recommendations on gender-based violence were made in 1989 and 1992. Significant changes were realized due to manifold efforts through NGOs, tribunals and world conferences on human rights. The efforts acted as groundswells of scrutinizing acts of gender-based violence (Byrnes and Bath 520). In this case, domestic violence became an issue of concern among human rights issues. Consequently, a declaration was made by Human Right Committee to fight against gender-based violence. Taking a case study of a country like Ghana, issues of gender-based violence were very rampant. Notably, in mid 19th century, there lacked public discourse on domestic violence in Ghana. This called for urgent action by Human Rights Advocates to criminalize practices of female genital mutilation and cruel widowhood acts. Therefore, CEDAW came in at the right time to set standards to curtail gender-based violence in Ghana through the use of legal arms and public awareness.
That notwithstanding, the convention has managed to liberalize laws on abortion. Taking case studies of Colombia, Mexico and China, it is evident that CEDAW has fundamentally liberalized abortion laws (Byrnes and Bath 522). In this case, the convention has helped to eradicate conservative policies that regarded abortion as a crime without considering vital aspects that gives an exception for the act (Pruitt and Vanegas 265). The constitution of the countries ruled out that abortion should not be procured at any cost and have made it punishable. Nevertheless, Human Rights advocates emphasized that abortion should not be considered an offence on three circumstances (Baldez 421). Such circumstances include, if the mother life is in danger, pregnancy resulting from incest as well as fetal malformation. Notably, the convention prolonged its campaign that eventually liberalized abortion laws and summoned constitutional changes to support the laws. This was a landmark achievement by the convention bearing in mind that similar attempts had been made in the past by other organizations with minimal success.
It is essential to note that CEDAW has got a tool of assessment that is used to monitor how member states comply with the conventional rules (Byrnes and Bath 525). The assessment tool acts as a mechanism to uncover the prevailing legal obstacles that could possibly inhibit the achievement of gender equality in member states. Research has revealed that the convention has successfully been able to eradicate real life hurdles that bring about discrimination of gender. Nevertheless, irrespective of the numerous achievements, CEDAW has faced myriad defects. In this case, it is important to address such shortcomings in details.
From a careful review of literature, it is evident that CEDAW had faced numerous challenges prior to its ratification in 1979 (Baldez 421). Needless to say, one of the major defects of the convention is its weak enforcement mechanism. Research has revealed that member states who adopt the ratified convention are bound by its terms and conditions. In this case, the convention provides two procedures to ensure that the states comply with the terms and recommendations. For instance, the convention uses the inter-state procedure and the reporting technique to enforce its obligations among member states (Byrnes and Bath 524). In this case, the interstate procedure deals with interpretation and applications of the convention’s policies in member states. Nevertheless, it is notable that conflicts arise since different states interpret the policies differently. Research evidences have revealed that for a long time, much effort has been wasted in the process of putting arbitrations to solve conflicting issues. Most issues have been left in the hands of International criminal justice to determine the fate (Byrnes and Bath 527). Moreover, there are myriad obstacles that have hindered the implementation of convention’s mechanism. For instance, most of the members lacked incentive to initiate and enforce the procedures set by the convention.
It is notable that there has been an underlying issue on the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs of a country. This is an international norm and is largely supported by state parties Therefore; this norm hinders the implementation of the convention’s procedures. In any case, there are quite a number of states that have faced criticism since some of their domestic policies encourage gender inequality. Nevertheless, such states hinder the convention from taking appropriate measures when cases of bigotry emerge. Additionally, there are those who decline from being held up with the procedures of CEDAW (Baldez 422). In line with this, state reporting mechanism has been used as a tool to monitor how state parties adhere to the regulations of CEDAW. While the latter has been a general requirement for member states, enforcement still remains as a major challenge especially in cases where there is lack of adequate cooperation between the state and the convention. It has been realized that once reports are submitted to the convention, there lacks effective strategies for punishing the states that do not comply with the obligation of CEDAW. At this juncture, it is imperative to note that it becomes quite cumbersome for the convention to engage in mediation between member states in regards to application of its obligations. Therefore, it is arguable that the convention’s enforcement mechanisms have been inadequate to achieve effective vigilance over infringements of the set polices (Baldez 422).
Researchers have revealed that reservations are also a major defect facing CEDAW (Byrnes and Bath 527). It has been noted that there exist unrestrained number of reservation among state parties against the convention’s obligation. For instance there exist some reservations on equality and a conflict arises from the expansive expression of the concept by the convention (Baldez 422). Notably, indifferences that exist among member state results to reserved interpretations. Moreover, such reservations remain questionable since they often fail to conform to the purpose and requirements of the convection. Additionally, it is evident that CEDAW is one of the most reserved instruments of UN. For instance, the convention permits approval of numerous reservations wrong as they conform to its obligations. Nonetheless, it does not provide mechanism through which the state parties can ensure that their reservation conform to the conventional requirements. It is definite that the convention lacks the mandate to limit reservations that violates its requirements. Furthermore, it lacks procedural measures to limit reservations among state parties. Notably, there still exist divisive views on reservations among member states. However, drafters of the convention have adopted liberal policies that are meant to minimize the conflicting and normative dilemmas among state parties (Baldez 421). Therefore, the convention has endorsed to address existing reservations as a way of improving its status quo. Notably, in response to the demand for the convention to address the impending challenges, an optional protocol was adopted.
An optional protocol is a human rights’ treaty that was adopted by CEDAW in order to allow state parties or individual groups to submit violation claims to the convention’s committee (Byrnes and Bath 517). In other words, the protocol was meant to complement the convention to achieve its far-reaching goals. Initially, the protocol was adopted in 1999 following seven years of formal discussion after the 1993 world conference on human rights (Baldez 423). Notably, the optional protocol gave mandate to CEDAW committee to enquire about situations that lead to violation of women rights. In line with this, such enquiries were to be carried out in state parties. In line with this, state parties work cooperatively with CEDAW’s committee to ensure that women rights are protected (Byrnes and Bath 527).
It is imperative to note that the protocol provides mechanisms that help to achieve the procedures of CEDAW. Therefore, the protocol establishes communications and inquiry procedures. Communications procedures allow accords women with the right to report and complain to the committee incase their rights get violated. In response to this, the Convention will identify an effective remedy for victims and guarantee protection of their rights (Byrnes and Bath 528). It is important to highlight that the protocol establishes specific procedures that the committee should follow to inspect the relevance in communications. From this point, the committee is required to adhere to the procedural requirements to determine the fate of the victims. Prior to the establishment of the optional protocol, research has revealed that communications procedures have been effective in ensuring that convention’s obligations are enforced in time. Moreover, individual claims have been addressed and violation of the convention’s requirement prevented in time. It is essential to note that the protocol have empowered the convention to allow state parties to tale relevant actions against individuals who cause irreparable damage to victims (Baldez 422).
Byrnes and Bath (529) comprehend that the protocol uses inquiry procedure to empower the committee to make enquiries about state parties who violate obligations of CEDAW. Notably, serious violations of women rights go without being noticed. Examples of isolated violations include women trafficking, sexual abuse and domestic violence. Therefore, it was assumed that inquiry procedure will be able to unearth isolated violations and report them to CEDAW. More often, human rights convention face constrains on how to initiate enquiry on isolated cases. However, the procedure is very unique since it overcomes such constraints. The optional protocol is essential since it doe not put restrictions on who should conduct the enquiry. It is worth to note that adopting the optional protocol gave room for timely focus of egregious issues (Baldez 423). Besides this, inquiry procedure has added advantage in the process of enforcing the convention to safeguard women rights.
According to Byrnes and Bath (530), one of the demerits of inquiry procedure is that communication procedure might fail to expose widespread nature of certain violations. For instance, there are those violations that occur unofficially and go without being noticed. Additionally, individuals might face threats in the process of submitting communications related to serious violations. Furthermore, it is clear that inquiry procedure does not require pubic stand. For communications procedure, an individual might be silence or shunned down by the state authority. In line with this, it is definite that enquiry procedures are conducted by external bodies that can address broad range of issues in a particular context (Byrnes and Bath 531). Therefore, it is arguable that the adoption of the optional protocol acted as a leeway to overcome impending challenges that faced CEDAW.
To reiterate on this, it is imperative to mention that CEDAW provides an expansive definition of gender inequality. As a Human Rights treaty, it has broadly expanded the concept of gender equality to the extent that it has been embraced in international laws. Furthermore, this is the most comprehensive convention that has acted as an instrument to protect women from all forms of bigotry. The convention addresses the fundamental aspects of women rights in civic, political, economic, social and cultural relations. It is imperative to note that the convention has numerous achievements on human rights. For instance, it has liberalized abortion laws, enhanced gender equality and has fostered increased participation of women in numerous facets of life. Nevertheless, the convention has faced numerous defects such as reservations and weak intervention mechanisms. In response to this, the convention adopted an optional protocol in 1999 as a back-up to realize its far-reaching goals. Through the protocol, the convention has been able to surmount fundamental challenges. Therefore, it is beyond doubt that the convention has significantly fought for women’s rights both at the domestic and international level.
Baldez, Liza. “The UN Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW): A New Way to Measure Women’s Interests.” Politics & Gender, 7.3 (2011): 419-423. Print.
Byrnes, Andrew and Eleanor, Bath. “Violence against Women, the Obligation of Due Diligence, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women–Recent Developments.” Human Rights Law Review, 8.3(2008): 517-533. Print.
Pruitt, Lisa and Marta, Vanegas. “CEDAW and Rural Development: Empowering Women with Law from the Top Down, Activism from the Bottom up.” Baltimore Law Review, 41.284(2012): 263-267. Print.