The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is an international human rights treaty that has now been signed by 187 of the 194 countries in the world. It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979 and entered into force in 1981. Canada ratified the Convention in 1981.

CEDAW Rights

The Convention is inspired by the fundamental principles that all human beings are equal in dignity and worth, and that women and men are equal persons in all respects.

Countries that ratify the Convention agree to protect, respect and fulfill the rights of women that are set out in it. A central element of the Convention is the clear duty of governments to take positive action to ensure women’s equality. Article 3 of the Convention says:

States Parties shall take in all fields…all appropriate measures…to ensure the full development and advancement of women…

Specific articles of the Convention cover a wide range of social, economic, civil, and political rights, including the right to legal protections and remedies when rights are violated, to equality in employment, equal pay for work of equal value, child care facilities, paid maternity leave, and equality in marriage, politics, and economic and social life.

The CEDAW Review Process

The Convention establishes a Committee with the mandate to monitor the progress of each country in realizing its commitments. The CEDAW Committee is comprised of twenty-three experts on women’s human rights elected to four year terms by the countries that have ratified the Convention. (Committees established under international human rights conventions and covenants are referred to as ‘treaty bodies.’)

Each country is reviewed by the Committee approximately every four years.

Canada’s Reviews

Canadian governments, lead by the federal government, prepare a report on Canada’s compliance with the Convention, with each province and territory contributing material on its own record.

Representatives of Canada go to Geneva for a scheduled in‑person session with the Committee. A federal official heads the delegation, which usually includes representatives from federal government departments, and some provincial and territorial governments. The Committee members question Canada, and engage in a “constructive dialogue”. The Committee then prepares its Concluding Comments, noting where progress has been made and identifying issues that need to be addressed. The Concluding Comments contain specific recommendations for Canadian governments.

Canada was reviewed in 1997, 2003, 2008 and will be reviewed again in 2015.

NGOs and the Reviews

The participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in reviews by treaty bodies is actively encouraged by the United Nations. In particular, NGOs are invited to submit alternative reports and to attend in‑person sessions.

NGOs in attendance at the meetings of the CEDAW committee have both formal and informal opportunities to address and meet with members of the discuss concerns.

The Committee’s Recommendations 

FAFIA and other NGOs publicize the recommendations of the Committee and attempt to work with governments to ensure the full implementation in Canada of women’s rights under CEDAW. Governments in Canada have been criticized by UN treaty bodies for the lack of follow-up on recommendations. Both the treaty bodies and Canadian NGOs have called on the federal government to create effective mechanisms to oversee Canada’s implementation of its commitments under CEDAW and other international human rights treaties.

CEDAW Optional Protocol 

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is a separate supplementary document to the Convention, which not only allows the Committee to initiate an inquiry (see CEDAW Inquiry page) but also allows an individual or a group of individuals to submit a complaint (called a communication) to the Committee if they believe a Convention right has been violated and the complaint cannot be resolved in Canada. Canada ratified the Protocol on October 18, 2002. The first communication against Canada to be heard on its merits was Kell v. Canada. The full text of this decision is included in Reports and Submissions.

Why Does CEDAW Matter?

The Convention sets out internationally recognized norms against which the performance of governments can be measured. The review procedures provide a mechanism through which the international community and women in their own countries can hold governments accountable for respecting the commitments they have made. International accountability mechanisms are particularly important where women are under‑represented in government decision-making and when full implementation of the human rights of women is still a work in progress.

FAFIA’s Reports

2016 FAFIA Coalition Submission
Because its 2016! A National Gender Equality Plan!

2016 Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres and FAFIA joint submission
Violence against Women

2016 The Native Women’s Association of Canada and FAFIA joint submission
Implementation of CEDAW Recommendations from Article 8 Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

2016 The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, Chair in Indigenous Governance and FAFIA joint submission
Indigenous Women and Women in Detention

2008 FAFIA Framework for CEDAW Implementation
FAFIA proposal for implementation mechanism

2008 FAFIA Press Release on CEDAW Recommendations
Canada asked to report back to CEDAW Committee on two priority recommendations

2008 British Columbia CEDAW Group Report to CEDAW
Inaction and Non‑compliance: British Columbia’s Approach to Women’s Inequality

2008 FAFIA Report to CEDAW
Women’s Inequality in Canada

2003 FAFIA Report to CEDAW
Canada’s Failure to Act: Women’s Inequality Deepens

Other Resources

2007 “Minding the Gap: Human Rights Commitments and Compliance”
Canadian women’s use of CEDAW procedures, from Poverty: Rights, Social Citizenship and Legal Activism. (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007)

2012 Canada Follow-up Report in response to Kell Decision
Canada responds to CEDAW Committee’s decision

2012 CEDAW Decision in Kell v. Canada
Decision finding Canada in violation of rights of Cecilia Kell to protection from male violence, access to housing and legal aid

2008 CEDAW Concluding Comments
Recommendations to Canada from the CEDAW Committee after review of Canada’s 6th and 7th reports

2003 CEDAW Concluding Comments
Recommendations to Canada from the CEDAW Committee after review of Canada’s 5th report