12.8 What is CEDAW?

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The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
(CEDAW), is an international human rights law treaty.

CEDAW aims to remove discrimination against women in all areas of life. This includes treating women equally and creating laws, policies and government and community structures to remove any discrimination.

The CEDAW Committee was created to monitor how governments are working to put CEDAW into place. The Committee is made up of international experts. Countries are required to report to the Committee every four years.

CEDAW defines discrimination as anything which prevents women, regardless of their marital status, from having their full rights and freedoms on an equal basis with men in politics, economics, social, cultural, civil or any other field (paraphrased).

Under the CEDAW approach, non-discrimination applies to both direct and indirect discrimination.

Direct discrimination is where men and women in the same situation are treated differently because of their sex. (Example: men and women are paid differently for the same work.)

Indirect discrimination is where men and women in the same situation are treated the same, but the effect or result of that is women are disadvantaged. (Example: men and women are given the same holidays from work, but pregnant women workers are not given maternity leave). There is also intersectional discrimination, where women experience discrimination because of a combination of factors such as age, disability, caste, ethnicity, poverty, sex etc.

CEDAW tries to enforce a substantive equality approach, which requires that as well as there being formal equality (e.g. laws, policies, rules for equality), women should also be equal in fact,  so there may need to be special programs in place to ensure that women’s equality is a reality.

CEDAW also recognises that sometimes governments may place special measures to give women a chance to overcome the historical effect of discrimination against women. For example, some governments have set quotas for the number of women politicians, to encourage more women to become politicians.

In CEDAW there are ten key articles on different women’s issues and rights, these are:

Trafficking and prostitution

Participation in political and public life






Cultural / social life Rural development Marriage and family

In addition, the CEDAW Committee also produced a general comment (No 19), in which they stated that violence against women was a form of discrimination against women. States that have signed CEDAW are bound under international law to protect these rights of women. Australia has been a signatory to CEDAW since 1984.

When Australia ratified CEDAW, it lodged reservations to the treaty on two issues; paid maternity leave and the employment of women in armed conflict. In light of the introduction of the Paid Parental Leave Act 2010 and the Australian Government’s decision to remove gender restrictions in the Australian Defence Force, it is reviewing Australia’s reservations to CEDAW with a view to removing them.