Women’s rights are human rights!

Statement on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of CEDAW

– Women’s rights have made a lot of progress during the last 30 years, but we still have a long way to go to achieve equality in the enjoyment of all human rights, says Heidi Hautala, chair of the European Parliament Sub-Committee on Human Rights, on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW.[:]


The Convention, adopted on 18 December 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an international bill of rights for women. CEDAW has now achieved nearly universal ratification, with 186 countries having become States parties to it. Among the seven countries that have not yet ratified it are Sudan, Somalia, Iran and the United States.


– While CEDAW has achieved almost universal ratification, it has more reservations than any other human rights treaty. This is in itself a clear discrimination, as it means that many states cannot agree to parts of the convention, just because it is for women! says Ms Hautala, stressing the need for MEPs to convince their homologues in other countries to lift reservations to the convention. Positive examples of this in recent years include Egypt and Jordan, who thereby have facilitated for women to pass on their nationality to their children, for example.


– CEDAW has shown that it can be a powerful tool for change and for furthering women’s rights, says chairman Hautala. Uganda, South Africa, Brazil, Australia and others have changed their constitutions to adapt to the convention. India developed national guidelines on workplace sexual assault after the Supreme Court, in ruling on a major rape case, found that CEDAW required such protections.


-But even if legislative and other measures to protect women’s rights are a State’s obligation as soon as it ratifies CEDAW, these actions do not happen by themselves. It requires pressure from both parliaments and civil society to hold States accountable to their obligations. The European Parliament, with its extensive contacts with parliamentarians in other countries, has therefore a very important role to play.


-In the coming year, women’s rights will receive an increased attention in the Sub-Committee on Human Rights, when we will have a closer look at complementary EU tools, such as the recently adopted EU Guidelines on combating violence and all forms of discrimination against women, as well as the EU strategy for the implementation of UN resolutions on women, peace and security, on which we are in the process of commissioning a study.

– At almost all major UN conferences one of the battle fronts is on women’s human rights, most often about women’s right to self-determination, to own land or on other fundamental rights which must belong to all on this planet, whether they are men of women. The pretext to continue to supress women is often cultural or traditional values. Unfortunately we see most unholy alliances varying from Vatican to Sudan further to the United States. This must come to an end. At least the new US administration has promised to be “back on track”, Heidi Hautala says.