Press Releases

    30 June 2004

    Background Release                                                                                                                       

    Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee Holds Thirty-First Session in New York, 6 - 23 July

    CEDAW to Review Reports of Eight States Parties

    NEW YORK, 30 June (Division for the Advancement of Women) -- The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will hold its thirty-first session at United Nations Headquarters in New York from 6 to 23 July 2004.

    The 23 experts of the Committee, who serve in their personal capacities, monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979 and came into force in 1981. The Convention, which as of 17 June 2004 had been ratified or acceded to by 177 countries, requires States parties to eliminate discrimination against women in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. In pursuing the Convention’s goals, States parties are encouraged to introduce temporary special measures designed to promote equality between women and men.

    On 22 December 2000, the Optional Protocol to the Convention entered into force.  The Optional Protocol entitles the Committee to consider petitions of violations of rights from individual women or groups of women who have exhausted national remedies. It also entitles the Committee to conduct inquiries into grave or systematic violations of the Convention. As of 18 June 2004, there were 61 States parties to the Optional Protocol.

    Since 1997, the Committee has met twice annually. In August 2002, the Committee held an exceptional session in order to reduce the backlog of reports awaiting consideration. At this forthcoming thirty-first session, the Committee will review the reports of eight States parties to the Convention, including the combined initial through third periodic reports of Angola, Latvia, and Malta; the fifth periodic reports of Bangladesh, Dominican Republic, and Spain; the second and third, and fourth and fifth periodic reports of Equatorial Guinea; and a follow-up report by Argentina to its fifth periodic report.

    Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. They are also committed to submit reports, one year after becoming a State party and then at least once every four years thereafter, on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations. In addition to reviewing the reports and evaluating progress made in implementation of the Convention in the State party concerned, in concluding comments, the Committee formulates general recommendations on particular articles or issues covered by the Convention. The Committee may also invite United Nations specialized agencies to submit reports. Experts receive country-specific information from non-governmental organizations, which are able to brief the Committee’s pre-session working group and plenary meeting.

    To date, the Committee has considered 126 initial, 100 second, 78 third, 53 fourth, 27 fifth and two sixth periodic reports. It has also reviewed five reports on an exceptional basis -- Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), and Rwanda.

    The Committee has adopted 25 general recommendations covering such issues as violence against women; reservations to the Convention; equality in marriage and family relations; women in political and public life; women and health; and temporary special measures. The Committee will begin work on its twenty-sixth general recommendation at this session. When completed, this new general recommendation will address article 2 of the Convention on States parties’ overall obligation to eliminate discrimination against women and actions to achieve that goal.

    Convention Background

    With the accession to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women by Swaziland on 26 March 2004, the number of States parties to the Convention reached 177. The Convention is the international human rights treaty with the second largest number of ratifications and accessions.

    Often described as the international bill of rights for women, the Convention in its 16 substantive articles defines discrimination against women and provides an agenda for national action to end such discrimination. Discrimination against women is defined as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil, or any other field”.

    The Convention spells out the basis for realizing equality of men and women through ensuring women’s equal access to, and equal opportunities in political and public life -- including the right to vote and stand for election -- as well as in education and employment. States parties agree to take all appropriate measures, including legislative and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

    On 6 October 1999, the United Nations General Assembly adopted an Optional Protocol to the Convention, which enables women who allege to be victims of discrimination on the basis of sex to submit complaints to the Committee. By accepting the Optional Protocol, States recognize the competence of the Committee to receive and consider complaints from individuals or groups of individuals within their jurisdiction, after having exhausted domestic remedies, and meeting other admissibility criteria. It also creates an inquiry procedure enabling the Committee to initiate inquiries into situations of grave or systematic violations of women’s rights.

    Although the Optional Protocol includes an “opt-out clause”, allowing States, upon ratification or accession, to declare that they do not accept the inquiry procedure, it explicitly provides that no reservations may be entered to its terms. Opened for signature on 10 December 1999, as of 18 June 2004, 75 States had signed the Optional Protocol, and 61 have ratified or acceded to it. Only two States Parties -- Bangladesh and Belize -- have opted out of the inquiry procedure. The Optional Protocol came into force on 22 December 2000.

    The 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women called upon governments to promote and protect the human rights of women through the full implementation of all human rights instruments, especially the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It urged universal ratification of the Convention by the year 2000 and asked governments to limit the extent of any reservations to the Convention.

    The twenty-third special session of the General Assembly “Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century”, which took place in June 2000, called on governments to ratify the Convention, limit the extent of any reservations to it, and withdraw reservations which were contrary to the object and purpose of the Convention or otherwise incompatible with international treaty law. It also asked governments to consider signing and ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention.

    States Parties to Convention

    As of 17 June 2004, the following 177 States had either ratified or acceded to the Convention, which entered into force on 3 September 1981:  Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia and Montenegro, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

    States Parties to Optional Protocol

    As of 18 June 2004, the following 61 States had either ratified or acceded to the Optional Protocol of the Convention which entered into force on 22 December 2000:  Albania, Andorra, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Philippines, Romania, Senegal, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Thailand, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

    Committee Membership

    The current members of the Committee, serving in their personal capacity, are:  Ayse Feride Acar, Turkey; Sjamsiah Achmad, Indonesia; Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdani, Algeria; Huguette Bokpe Gnacadja, Benin; Dorcas Ama Frema Coker-Appiah, Ghana; María Yolanda Ferrer Gómez, Cuba; Cornelis Flinterman, the Netherlands; Naela Gabr, Egypt; Françoise Gaspard, France; Aída González Martínez, Mexico; Cristine Kapalata, United Republic of Tanzania; Salma Khan, Bangladesh; Fatima Kwaku, Nigeria; Rosario Manalo, Philippines; Göran Melander, Sweden; Krisztina Morvai, Hungary; Pramila Patten, Mauritius; Victoria Popescu Sandru, Romania; Fumiko Saiga, Japan; Hanna Beate Schöpp-Schilling, Germany; Heisoo Shin, Republic of Korea; Dubravka Šimonovic, Croatia; Maria Regina Tavares da Silva, Portugal.

    For more information on the Committee and women’s rights, contact:  Women’s Rights Section, Division for the Advancement of Women, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Room DC2-1228, United Nations, New York, NY 10017; fax:  (212) 963-3463, e-mail:

    Visit the Committee page of the website of the Division for the Advancement of Women at

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