Behind the scenes at the CEDAW

On Monday women’s rights advocates from across Scotland came to Edinburgh to learn how the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) can help women living here access their rights.

The UN adopted CEDAW in 1979 to progressively end discrimination against women. It provides objectives and recommendations, but, most importantly, CEDAW holds signatory governments – the UK government is one – to account for progress on women’s rights.

Seminar organisers Engender and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) invited Dr Niklas Bruun of the CEDAW Committee, to explain how it works:

After ratifying CEDAW, a government submits an initial report on the state of women’s rights in their country, along with any reservations they have about implementing specific articles of the Convention.

The CEDAW Committee provides feasible recommendations based on the country’s unique circumstances and requests a follow-up report (to be presented within two years) of what is being set up to address flagged concerns.

Four years after the initial report, the country returns with a new report detailing what they have accomplished, and specifically addresses a list of questions posed by the Committee in advance.

Six weeks after the submission of each report, governments must meet with the CEDAW Committee to discuss their progress, receive new concluding observations for implementation, and the cycle continues.

Where do NGOs and individuals fit in?

The CEDAW Committee does not just take information from governments.  It has its own sources of information including: special rapporteurs, other treaty bodies, and an acronym army including the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The UN’s also warmly welcomes NGOs to the table.

Apart from helping governments fulfil their CEDAW obligations back home, NGOs and other independent bodies can contribute shadow reports, which provide a critical perspective on the official reports submitted by the government.  They can also raise any concerns directly with the Committee.

CEDAW in Scotland

Vice-Convenor of Engender, Emma Ritch explained that Scotland’s position as a devolved government gives us some great opportunities.

  • We can lobby MSPs as well as MPs to hold the UK government to its CEDAW obligations, especially in areas that have the greatest impact on Scottish women or women living in Scotland.
  • We can lobby for a Scottish process, using our devolved powers to deliver here on the Commission’s concluding observations for the UK.

However, our devolved government also makes for a complex policy environment, and sometimes it’s difficult to know who is responsible for what. At the moment, the UK’s CEDAW reports focus more on the context of England without much comparison of the different situation in Scotland.

Emma suggested some useful ways women in Scotland could get involved:

  • UK-wide NGOs know about working across devolved boundaries. Scottish NGOs and individuals can work with these groups to engage effectively with both parliaments and best represent to the CEDAW Commission the distinctive issues of devolved states.
  • We can learn from the experiences of other devolved states like Northern Ireland and claim a special place at the table to influence concluding observations.
  • We can take part in any UK processes to implement the Commission’s concluding observations.

Engender Scotland and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have experience attending talks and submitting shadow reports to CEDAW. If you are an individual or organisation that would like to add your voice, they would be more than happy to hear from you. 

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