The 52nd session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (hereafter “CEDAW” or “Committee”) took place this summer in New York. During its three-week meeting, the Committee celebrated its 30th anniversary by hosting a public event on Women’s Participation and Leadership; reviewed the work of eight state parties; and issued a statement linking the Committee’s work to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) negotiations.
The Committee is the formal body responsible for the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (hereafter “Convention”). Composed of 23 experts and mandated to create general recommendations based on the themes established by the Convention, the Committee can also initiate inquires against states parties when credible information has been put forward that women’s rights are being violated.
Observing state performance
Committee Chair Silvia Pimentel presided over the 52nd session and discussed some of the work the Committee has undertaken since its last session, noting especially the Committee’s involvement in strengthening treaty bodies reporting and related processes, a debate that has been spearheaded by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR).
During this session, the Committee reviewed and issued concluding observations for the Bahamas, Bulgaria, Guyana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Mexico, New Zealand and Samoa. The Global Action to Prevent War reported on all of the sessions but we found the Committee’s reviews of Mexico and Bulgaria of particular interest.
In its concluding observations for Bulgaria, for example, the Committee noted both its disappointment that the government’s reporting had not been timely and that the delegation’s answers to the Committee’s questions “were not always clear and precise” (see CEDAW /C/BGR/CO/4-7, para. 2, 3). The Committee noted its concerns pertaining to the visibility of the Convention in Bulgaria and recommended the state party to ensure relevant stakeholders are made more aware of the Convention and its priorities, and implementation mechanisms (see CEDAW /C/BGR/CO/4-7, para. 10a).
On the issue of stereotypes in Bulgaria, the Committee expressed its concerns that despite efforts to eliminate familial and societal stereotypes, notions continue to exist about “the roles and responsibilities of women as mothers and spouses that continue to affect their education and professional choices.” (See, CEDAW /C/BGR/CO/ para.21). In regards to violence against women, the Committee recommended that Bulgaria repeal national legislation that calls for the termination of legal proceeding against a rape perpetrator when he marries his victim as well as limited prosecutions for crimes of domestic violence or rape occurring between marital spouses (See, CEDAW /C/BGR/CO/para. 23-24, 25).
Similarly, while the Committee was appreciative of Mexico’s response to written and verbal questions, in its recommendations the Committee encouraged the state party to ensure that the Convention is implemented in national legislation as well as rework its national strategy to address some of the issues with organized crime and domestic violence (CEDAW C/MEX/CO/7-8 para. 2, 10, 12a-b). In the context of political participation, the Committee recommended that Mexico ensure compliance “with the federal and state electoral legal frameworks, including by amending or repealing discriminatory provisions against women” (CEDAW C/MEX/CO/7-8 para. 23a).
Arms Trade Treaty: the gender perspective
The Committee’s 2011 session started discussions on the content of their General Recommendation on Women in Conflict and Post-Conflict Situations. This year’s session was significant because of the important policy links the Recommendation will establish with other parts of the UN system. This is to highlight the fact that different aspects of security do not exist in a vacuum, and it is necessary to create a suitable security sector that promotes human rights, prevents conflict and encourages broad participation by women.
As such, this year’s session presented an opportunity to make the necessary connections between the Convention, the Committee and the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations. On 24 July 2012, the Committee adopted a statement noting that the “arms trade has specific gender dimensions and direct links to discrimination and gender-based violence against women with far-reaching implications for efforts to consolidate peace, security, gender equality and to secure development.” (see, Statement of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the need for a gender perspective in the text of the Arms Trade Treaty, adopted 24 July 2012). In addition, the “Committee urges that language to prevent gender-based violence against women including rape and other forms of sexual violence through the control of arms and restrictions on international transfers are included in all three parts of the ATT, namely the Preamble, the Goals and Objectives and the Criteria section.”
Linking a gender perspective with the Arms Trade Treaty highlights the impact of illicit arms flow on women’s empowerment. This was a particularly important statement by the Committee, pending the finalization of its General Recommendation on Women in Conflict and Post-Conflict Situations.
Empowering the Committee to empower Women
This year’s session also coincided with a discussion on strengthening treaty bodies that took place in July, parallel to the Committee’s session. The treaty body sessions highlighted the fact that while treaty bodies like CEDAW carry a significant amount of momentum in addressing critical issues for the broader women peace and security agenda; their work and progress is often held back by procedural barriers, including burdensome reporting and significant backlogs regarding the review of reports already submitted.
In conclusion, while there are accessibility issues pertaining to the work of the Committee, nevertheless its sessions provide an important forum to assess progress on the broader women peace and security agenda. While the Security Council, through Resolution 1325 (2000), calls for women’s participation in peace processes and decision making, the resolution alone fails to directly address the barriers that impede full participation. Employment and education are basic rights that all members of the population have an equal right to access. Likewise, all members of the population have a right to participate freely in their societies without facing pushback via traditional stereotypes or insufficient legal structures. As both a monitoring body and a body advocating for women’s rights, CEDAW provides an opportunity where states parties are questioned directly about their responsibilities under the Convention and also identifying some of the barriers associated with going from paper to practice- from policy to implementation.
Moving forward from here, the Committee’s next session will be held in October in Geneva. In the upcoming months, it will be interesting to see how this summer’s session will impact upcoming meetings and debates, including potential further ATT negotiations or the formal creation of the General Recommendation on Women in Conflict and Post-Conflict Situations.
Melina Lito, Program Director, Women Peace and Security, Global Action to Prevent War
For more extensive reports on the review of each of the state parties for the 52nd session, please see: http://gapwblog.wordpress.com/
For the concluding observations issued by the Committee for this session, please see: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/cedaws52.htm
Statement of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the need for a gender perspective in the text of the Arms Trade Treaty, adopted 24 July 2012, please see: