Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

 On 18 December 1979, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and entered into force as an international treaty on 3 September 1981. The Convention was the culmination of more than 30 years of work undertaken by the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which was established in 1946 to monitor the situation of women and to promote women’s rights. While Commission’s work has resulted in several declarations and conventions, the CEDAW remains the central and most comprehensive document.   

The Convention firmly established women’s rights within the discourse of human rights. While reaffirming the meaning of equality and equal rights of men and women, the Convention also establishes an international bill of rights for women and an agenda for action by countries to guarantee the enjoyment of those rights.     

The Convention contains 30 Articles, of which the first three Articles define the scope of the treaty and iterates its understanding of discrimination. The subsequent 14 Articles specify the agenda for equality. The Convention covers three dimensions of the situation of women. Civil rights and the legal status of women receives the broadest attention, followed by reproductive rights and the impact of cultural factors on gender relations. 

From the perspective of women in employment and workplaces, the following Articles have much significance on the Business and Human Rights agenda:  

Article 11 of the Convention addresses women’s right to work, including their free choice of employment, equal employment opportunity, equal remunerations, and protection of health and security in working conditions. Furthermore, the Article provides special protection for women in case of maternity to ensure their effective right to work, such as, maternity leave, the right to one or more daily breaks or a reduction in working hours for nursing mothers, and child care facilities.  

1. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular:  

(a) The right to work as an inalienable right of all human beings;  

(b) The right to the same employment opportunities, including the application of the same criteria for selection in matters of employment;  

(c) The right to free choice of profession and employment, the right to promotion, job security and all benefits and conditions of service and the right to receive vocational training and retraining, including apprenticeships, advanced vocational training and recurrent training;  

(d) The right to equal remuneration, including benefits, and to equal treatment in respect of work of equal value, as well as equality of treatment in the evaluation of the quality of work;  

(e) The right to social security, particularly in cases of retirement, unemployment, sickness, invalidity and old age and other incapacity to work, as well as the right to paid leave;  

(f) The right to protection of health and to safety in working conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of reproduction.  

2. In order to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of marriage or maternity and to ensure their effective right to work, States Parties shall take appropriate measures 

(a) To prohibit, subject to the imposition of sanctions, dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy or of maternity leave and discrimination in dismissals on the basis of marital status;  

(b) To introduce maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits without loss of former employment, seniority or social allowances;  

(c) To encourage the provision of the necessary supporting social services to enable parents to combine family obligations with work responsibilities and participation in public life, in particular through promoting the establishment and development of a network of child-care facilities;  

(d) To provide special protection to women during pregnancy in types of work proved to be harmful to them.  

3. Protective legislation relating to matters covered in this article shall be reviewed periodically in the light of scientific and technological knowledge and shall be revised, repealed or extended as necessary. 

Article 14 of the Convention focuses on the rights of women working in rural areas, which require special attention due to the nature of work relationships, poor working conditions and higher poverty levels. Majority of women in the rural economy work as subsistence farmers, small-scale producers, plantation workers and agricultural labourers. Article 14 of the CEDAW specifically addresses the challenges and inequalities that rural women workers face by adding a separate provision for the application of all the provisions of the Convention, including the right to work under Article 11. The Article also recognizes the unseen and undervalued work that women undertake.  

1. States Parties shall take into account the particular problems faced by rural women and the significant roles which rural women play in the economic survival of their families, including their work in the non-monetized sectors of the economy, and shall take all appropriate measures to ensure the application of the provisions of the present Convention to women in rural areas.  

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, that they participate in and benefit from rural development and, in particular, shall ensure to such women the right:  

(a) To participate in the elaboration and implementation of development planning at all levels;  

(b) To have access to adequate health care facilities, including information, counselling and services in family planning;  

(c) To benefit directly from social security programmes;  

(d) To obtain all types of training and education, formal and non-formal, including that relating to functional literacy, as well as, inter alia, the benefit of all community and extension services, in order to increase their technical proficiency;  

(e) To organize self-help groups and co-operatives in order to obtain equal access to economic opportunities through employment or self employment;  

(f) To participate in all community activities;  

(g) To have access to agricultural credit and loans, marketing facilities, appropriate technology and equal treatment in land and agrarian reform as well as in land resettlement schemes;  

(h) To enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communications.  

The full text of the CEDAW and its Articles can be accessed here: