|Bringing Equality Home - Implementing the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (UNIFEM, 1998, 45 p.)|
UNIFEM is deeply committed to bringing about systematic change that leads to women's empowerment and gender equality. The Fund has integrated a rights-based framework into our work, which means that we view the pursuit of sustainable human development as a fundamental human rights issue and are committed to consistently relating human rights to the development dialogue. We are convinced that a women's human rights framework equips women with a way to define and express their experiences of violence, discrimination, and marginalisation. This framework provides a critical perspective for the development of concrete strategies for change, by employing a gendered lens in the examination of the human rights norms and standards that hold States accountable for creating the conditions necessary to achieve equality and non-discrimination for women in all areas of their lives.
UNIFEM has worked with non-governmental organisations, Governments, and partner agencies in the UN system to ensure that women's human rights continue to be a centrepiece in the follow-up to the world conferences, building on the foundation laid by Vienna and the Beijing Platform for Action. Our work in this area is guided by our understanding that the task of transforming social values and creating a culture of respect for the human rights of women is a complex and lengthy process. Norms and standards of human rights are usually set in the international fora, but once this has been accomplished the next critical step in realising these rights begins through implementation at the national level.
In promoting the realisation of women's human rights, UNIFEM has developed an array of initiatives around the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The CEDAW framework can be tremendously useful in working for legal and policy changes at local, national, and international levels. We have developed new programming aimed at: (a) achieving universal ratification of the Women's Convention and removal/narrowing of States' reservations (b) strengthening awareness of CEDAW and of the capacity of women's organisations to use it in their advocacy work and, (c) collaborating with other partners to support the work of the CEDAW Committee and strengthening the Women's Convention. Indeed, we have pledged to become to CEDAW what UNICEF has been to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
UNIFEM recently provided CEDAW training to women's NGOs at two global workshops co-sponsored with International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific and held in New York during the January 1997 and 1998 sessions of the CEDAW Committee. A total of 33 women's human rights advocates from 17 countries reporting to the Committee have participated thus far in the training. These training workshops focused on strengthening women's rights advocates' understanding of the Convention and of the Committee's working methods, as well as exploring CEDAW's potential application to their advocacy work at the national level. The presence of these advocates at the January CEDAW sessions also enabled them to provide valuable information about the status and concerns of women in their countries to both the CEDAW Committee and their reporting Governments. UNIFEM will continue to support annual global training workshops during the January session of the CEDAW Committee, replicate these trainings at the national and regional levels, and to facilitate the connection between global and local advocacy around the Women's Convention.
This year the United Nations is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such an anniversary invites us to reflect, to glance backward and make an historical assessment of the progress of international human rights and to appreciate how far we have come. But when thinking about women, this is neither an obvious nor an easy exercise. Women's rights as human rights, in a realistic and viable form, have only recently been accepted by the international community as part of the human rights lexicon. CEDAW came into force in 1981, as the first international human rights treaty to systematically and substantively address the needs of women. However, these gains made on paper at the international level simply set the stage for the real work: the implementation of CEDAW and other human rights instruments at the national level. This is where CEDAW really has meaning for women and translates into the potential to improve women's lives and their societies. The history of women's human rights has just begun.
If the stories brought together in this booklet have any single message, it is that women themselves must be and will be the authors of this history. These are stories about new and changed constitutions, about court decisions giving women the legal right to land and to protection from sexual harassment, about new laws that prohibit gender-based discrimination, and about Government policies that respect women's health needs. What is apparent in each case is that CEDAW, as a document, did not in and of itself bring about these changes. Rather, it was the determined, cooperative, innovative, and strategic work of women's NGOs - and the stimulation of the political will of Governments - that changed the conditions of women's lives. CEDAW provided them with a powerful, internationally recognised lever.
This booklet does not attempt to provide an exhaustive listing of all of the work that has been done with CEDAW to date, and many of the initiatives it describes are still very much in progress. What it provides is a collection of 'snapshots' of a dynamic process currently taking place around the world as societies explore ways of using the Convention to bring concrete improvements to women's daily lives.
We hope that we have produced a useful resource for women's human rights advocates, Government representatives, policy-makers, and others involved in implementing human rights for women. To this end, we have tried to provide as much information as possible about selected examples of how CEDAW has been successfully implemented to make a real difference. A listing of women's NGOs has been provided in order to facilitate the exchange of information and additional details about successful strategies. The real knowledge on what CEDAW can do for women - and what women can do with the Convention - rests there.
UNIFEM will continue its efforts to help forge the political will to implement the programmes and policies necessary to enable every woman in the world to live a life free from violation and to exercise and enjoy all her human rights. Bolstering the ratification and implementation of CEDAW is a pivotal part of building a culture that understands, respects, and promotes equality for women. In this year of celebrations and commemorations of the United Nations' principles of human rights, we at UNIFEM know that freedom, empowerment, sustainable communities, and development cannot be achieved without the full realisation of the human rights of women.