CEDAW – Understanding of the Equity Principles

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and came into force in 1981; adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, it is often described as an international bill of rights for women. Read along to know more about what this did for the betterment of women!


The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and came into force in 1981; adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, it is often described as an international bill of rights for women.  Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.

There are at present 189 States parties to the CEDAW. States parties are countries that have ratified or acceded to the international treaty. Through ratification or accession, a country agrees to be legally bound by the treaty’s provisions. India is one among the 189 states parties that have agreed upon the norms of CEDAW with an exception to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The final status of Jammu and Kashmir has not yet been agreed upon by the parties i.e. India and Pakistan.

The question of equity

CEDAW’s title itself announces its purpose of eliminating “all forms” of discrimination against women. The general definition of “discrimination against women” in Article 1 embodies a broad principle of equality. Article I For the purposes of the present Convention, the term “discrimination against women” shall mean 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. Article 1’s definition of discrimination against women helps us greatly in understanding the close relationship between equality and non-discrimination. But it is also important because it is a legal definition that states are obligated to make part of their national normative framework when they ratify the Convention.[1]  It is well bearing on the States to cater to the protection of women and ensure that criminals receive the most retributive of punishment when it comes to sexual assault of any kind of woman. ‘Equality’ and ‘equity’ are words that are often heard when it comes to addressing women’s rights; both these words are only heard and never implemented.

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To achieve substantive equality in all spheres CEDAW requires two types of actions by the State:

(1) actions to achieve equality of opportunity between men and women, and

(2) actions to correct the inequalities of power between men and women.

The first type action requires that all women regardless of their race, ethnicity, etc. have the right to equality of opportunities with men of access to the resources of a country or community. This must be guaranteed through laws and policies with their respective mechanisms and institutions to assure compliance.

How hard is it for the States to bring about a positive law for women? In a country like India, where marital rape is not illegal, it seems to be really difficult. The Justice Verma Committee and the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women[2] have called on the government to remove the exception for marital rape and define marital rape as a criminal offence. The Government of India ignored the recommendations of the Verma Committee when it drew up amendments to the criminal law in March 2013. A report prepared by a parliamentary committee opposed the removal of the exception on marital rape[3]. In May 2014, a ‘fast-track’ court in Delhi designated to hear cases of sexual assault against women relied on this exception to rule that sexual intercourse between a legally wedded husband and wife “even if forcible, is not rape.”[4]

This is one among the many women’s right alienation cases in India.


The 71st session of the Convention was held at Geneva from 22 October to 09 November 2018. India signed the Convention on 30 July 1980 and ratified it on 9 July 1993. However, it has not yet signed the Optional Protocol[5] to the Convention, despite many recommendations to this effect in its second Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in May-September 2012.[6]

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There is no commendable change in the Indian scenario towards the brutal stereotypical insights and advancements towards women. The Report submitted by Amnesty International on the 58th session of CEDAW held in June 2014[7] makes an unbiased observation on the grave issues that have been left undecided and ignored during the year. The report clearly observes the cases of sexual violence allegedly perpetrated against women and girls by armed groups and security forces among other injustices.


It is rather saddening to note that nothing has changed to bring peace and security over the lives of women. No roads are safe. ‘Women empowerment’ is easily said than done. CEDAW aims at creating a positive impact on women’s safety and security by maintaining an interstate comprehensible alliance.

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[1] Article 2, CEDAW

[2] Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Rashida Manjoo, Mission to India (A/HRC/26/38/Add.1), April 2014, para. 78(c).

[3] Rajya Sabha Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, One Hundred and Sixty Seventh Report on the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Criminal%20Law/SCR%20Criminal%20Law%20Bill.pdf. When the bill was debated in Parliament, similar arguments were made about the criminalization of marital rape weakening the institution of the family.

[4]State v. Vikash, decided by Special Fast Track Court, Dwarka, New Delhi on 7 May 2014. Unique Case ID No. 02405R0349722013.

[5]a separate treaty open to ratifications by States who are already party to the CEDAW Convention, was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 15th October 1999 and entered into force in December 2000.

[6] Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, India, A/HRC/21/10, 9 July 2012, recommendations 138.19 (Brazil); 138.21 (Czech Republic); 138.23 (Republic of Korea); 138.37 (Timor-Leste); and 138.38 (Costa Rica).

[7] Amnesty International, Submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, 58th session (June 2014)

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