Progress on eliminating discrimination against women
Gladys Acosta Vargas, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, shares the latest developments
2 Mar 2022

The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is over 40 years old. How do you assess its overall impact on women’s rights?

With 189 member states, the CEDAW has clearly had a global impact, above all for the women in each State Party. This Convention is largely an offspring of the feminist movements of the 1970s, and it has led to a fundamental rethinking of the basic conception of human rights by recognizing the other half of humanity as bearers of full rights in civil, political, economic, cultural, economic and all other social spheres. At the same time, there has been considerable patriarchal pushback to the expansion of human rights in every region of the globe that needs to be continuously dismantled.

The 1970s into the 1980s proved to be one of the most fertile periods for introducing a gender analysis in every area of human rights. With the CEDAW in place, no UN human rights convention can leave out a gender focus any longer. This has been a conceptual development nurtured by a living movement that continues to evolve in the present day. The legal orders at the constitutional level have registered substantial improvement in the everyday application of justice, even if this application has still been not fully consolidated. In this regard, the Optional Protocol (114 ratifications) has been an important tool in addressing individual cases and conducting investigations when State Parties fail to protect women from discrimination.

Effective implementation of the Convention at the institutional level is, of course, a complex and unfolding process which necessitates sustained social movements in order to demand that states fully reform their policies and practices regarding gender discrimination. Women and men alike are today more conscious of women’s human rights and it is clear that the CEDAW has played a role in this consciousness-raising.

Achieving equality is one objective of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

In which areas more efforts are needed to end grave violations of women’s rights?

In the first place, women need to continue making advances in the political sphere, gaining greater access to the upper echelons of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the state. Persistent patriarchal relations of power need to be continually challenged and transformed, and this is necessary not only in the state, including the military, but also in the private sector, political parties, labor and social organizations. Greater emphasis has to be placed on eliminating the tolerance of any form of gender violence, above all in law enforcement communities. At the same time, globalized economic conditions have resulted in diverse forms of violence against women and their bodies that likewise must be confronted. Ironically, gender violence actually grows as women’s rights become recognized, revealing the link between resistance and patriarchal violence.

The protection of sexual and reproductive rights need to be continually incorporated in the legal agenda and in everyday conduct, backed by health systems that respect women’s rights in the public and private arenas. These are rights which form the deepest basis of individual autonomy which, as part of the intimate sphere, are among the most difficult to change. It is important to understand that many of these rights have been especially denied to indigenous women, who additionally defend their bodies and their territories as an integral, cultural struggle for planetary survival. It is in response to the initiative of indigenous women’s organizations that the CEDAW Committee has accepted the challenge to interpret the rights mandated by the Convention through an “indigenous lens” by formulation of the upcoming General Recommendation on the Rights of Indigenous Women and Girls.

What motivates you on a personal level to fight for women’s rights?

I have personally lived and directly experienced some of the adverse consequences of patriarchal oppression. This is what convinced me that collective resistance and action is the only way to overcome it.

* Laura Johnson is a UNOG Translator and a Member of the Staff Coordinating Council.
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