Last updated: July 20, 2020
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and entered into force two years later, faster than any previous human rights treaty. Also known as the “bill of rights for women,” the CEDAW defines what constitutes discrimination against women and outlines state parties’ obligations to end such discrimination by, for instance:
In addition, the CEDAW establishes the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (“the Committee”), a group of 23 independent experts on women’s rights who meet three times a year in Geneva. The Committee provides guidance for and also monitors each state party’s compliance with the CEDAW by drafting general comments on the scope of treaty obligations, issuing statements when major events related to women’s rights occur, and conducting reviews of state parties’ progress in implementing the treaty. In accordance with the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW, the Committee may also accept individual complaints and communication alleging a state party’s violation of rights under the CEDAW. However, since China is not a party to the Optional Protocol, the Committee may not accept individual complaints related to China.
To comply with the review process, each state party must submit for review a report to the Committee every four years on steps taken to implement the Convention, but, in practice, reports are often combined and reviewed every four or more years. To prepare for a state party’s review, the Committee designates a member of the committee as the “Country Rapporteur,” who facilitates and coordinates the entire process of reviewing a state party’s report and the preparation of all associated documents. One such document is the “list of issues and questions,” prepared by the Country Rapporteur and a pre-sessional working group of five experts, which highlights the Committee’s major areas of concern and additional information the state party should provide. The state party is invited to reply to the list of issues and questions within six weeks. After considering all the materials, the Committee engages in an interactive dialogue with representatives of the state party during a Committee meeting. The Committee may designate task forces of up to six members to take the lead in the dialogue with the state party. Following the dialogue, the Committee adopts concluding observations, which include final remarks and recommendations, and may request that the state party submit a follow-up report on select areas two years after the review.
Civil society members can provide input to the Committee at various points by submitting reports, making oral statements, and organizing side events and briefings for Committee members. The Committee also encourages state parties to consult and incorporate information from civil society members in their national reports and follow-up procedures, and requires that the concluding observations are widely disseminated following the review. In addition, the Committee also considers information from civil society and other stakeholders such as UN agencies and national human rights institutes.
China ratified the CEDAW in 1980.
When states become parties to international treaties, they are permitted to do so with reservations, understandings, or declarations, which clarify the states’ interpretation of certain provisions, or change the state’s rights and obligations under the treaty. To be valid, any such conditions cannot contradict the purpose of the treaty itself. At the time of ratification, China declared that it would not consider itself bound by paragraph 1 of article 29, which states:
Any dispute between two or more State Parties concerning the interpretation or application of the present Convention which is not settled by negotiation shall, at the request of one of them, be submitted to arbitration. If within six months from the date of the request for arbitration the parties are unable to agree on the organization of the arbitration, any one of those parties may refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice by request in conformity with the Statute of the Court.
Since its ratification of the CEDAW, China has been reviewed by the Committee five times. See side bar for official documents and HRIC contributions related to China’s CEDAW reviews.
Combined Seventh and Eighth Review (2014)
Combined Fifth and Sixth Review (2006)
Combined Third and Fourth Review (1999)
Second Review (1992)
Initial Review (1984)