|Bringing Equality Home - Implementing the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (UNIFEM, 1998, 45 p.)|
As of November 1998, CEDAW had been ratified by 162 States, although many of them ratified with reservations that limited their obligations to implement CEDAW principles in significant ways. The focus of these reservations varies. Frequently they concern potential conflicts between CEDAW and customary or religious law, or they reduce the State's obligations in the area of family relations.
States are entitled to enter reservations when they sign on to a convention or treaty, but according to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, reservations that are not compatible with the object and purpose of the Convention should not be permitted. Many of the reservations that States have entered on CEDAW seem to have crossed this line. States have reserved on whole areas of rights entitlement. In a few instances, they have made reservations that would seem to remove their obligation to implement the Convention as a whole. For example, Malaysia has reserved on CEDAW's implementation (article 2(f), that requires the State "to take all appropriate measures" to end discrimination against women.
The high number of CEDAW reservations that effectively withhold key Convention guarantees from women, or that undermine its core concepts of gender equality and non-discrimination, is deeply troubling. The CEDAW Committee has expressed its concern, and both the Vienna Declaration and the Beijing Programme of Action have urged countries to withdraw reservations "that are contrary to the Convention or which are otherwise incompatible with international law."
Because so many substantial reservations have been entered on the Women's Convention, women's NGOs frequently find themselves in the position of having to conduct two separate campaigns to bring CEDAW home. After ratification, their work has to begin a second time, to remove the constraints that reservations impose on CEDAW's application. Even if the State cannot be convinced to lift its reservations completely, real progress can be achieved if a blanket reservation to a CEDAW article can be narrowed down, so that all women are not deprived of this article's protection in all circumstances. Women's NGOs are engaged in important work on reservations, and there have been some successes - for example, Brazil has lifted its reservation, and Bangladesh has limited its reservation.