Asia Pacific: Statement by IWRAW Asia Pacific on the Occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the Work of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific) hails the CEDAW Committee – past and present – for their commitment and their continuous effort to expand international standards and jurisprudence on the human rights of women; and to combating discrimination and achieving substantive equality.
The implementation of the CEDAW Convention is central to the elimination of discrimination against women and for the realisation of equality between men and women. As a treaty monitoring body of the CEDAW Convention, the CEDAW Committee is ensuring the implementation of the CEDAW Convention and eliminating discrimination against women from the world. To achieve full recognition of women’s human rights, and for people-centred social change to work, treaty bodies and governments need to address socially constructed power relations, norms and practices which inform family dynamics, community structures, religious bodies, state institutions, and political parties as well as mass and social movements. State accountability needs to be secured through placing gender equality outcomes at the centre of all state governance and planning and making all sectors and departments of the state equally responsible for its implementation and realisation. Lack of resources, and culture and religion can no longer be an excuse used by our governments for continuing violation and discrimination. The elimination of discrimination need to be addressed through the recognition of all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of women without delay.
As stake holders in the treaty body processes, we acknowledge the demanding work of the CEDAW Committee in undertaking three sessions per year of monitoring of state obligations under CEDAW and in carrying out its role in expanding the jurisprudence and interpretation of women’s human rights. We laud the Committee’s ongoing commitment to dialogue with civil society in pursuit of its mandate, its Concluding Observations, General Recommendations and decisions under the Optional Protocol not only as the fulfilment of its mandate but also bears testimony to the expanding nature of the Committee’s commitment to address the realities of women’s lives with a more holistic approach that seeks to provide broader and progressive interpretation of the normative framework of the CEDAW Convention.
In the last 5 years, the CEDAW Committee’s General Recommendations represent their ongoing commitment to expand and institutionalise human rights norms for women. General Recommendations 27 and 28, in particular, with its articulation of non discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identities continues to support and be used as sources of evolving standards of human rights, reflective of emerging issues and offering possibilities for overcoming the ever-increasing obstacles to the realisation of human rights. The decisions made under the Optional Protocol to CEDAW which includes adopting a due diligence approach in holding states accountable for private acts and recommending that state provide appropriate compensation; address prejudices and stereotypical gender notions in legal procedures and court proceedings; as well as ongoing training of the justice sector, continues to build the confidence in the communication procedure as means of accessing justice for the victim/survivor.
IWRAW Asia Pacific supports the theme of the 30th anniversary which is on “Women’s Political Participation and Leadership”. Noting the layers and intersectionalities of discrimination, it is essential to locate women’s rights at the heart of change and also increase the participation of women within the change process. This is important in order to lead to women’s empowerment and full and equal participation in all spheres of society, including participation in decision-making processes, and access to power, which are fundamental for the achievement of gender and social justice, substantive democracy and peace for all. It is in this regard that IWRAW Asia Pacific continues to engage in the CEDAW reporting cycle since 1993. We strongly believe that women must speak in their own voices about their own experiences and realities. Therefore, we facilitate the participation of women from the national level in the review process, build capacities on the principles of the CEDAW Convention, provide technical assistance in the preparation of shadow reports and dispatch these reports to the CEDAW Committee members. This has been at the core of our “From Global to Local” programme, which we have implemented since 1997. The programme has also contributed to the creation of a global movement demanding accountability from States to fulfil their obligations towards women. Through this programme we have facilitated the participation of women in the reporting process from 134 countries and continue to support the submissions of individual communications and requests for inquiry under the Optional Protocol to CEDAW.
What is the reality for the CEDAW Committee today?
Economic and trade liberalization, the capitalist market economy, non sustainable consumerism are larger questions shaping the current environment for women’s enjoyment of rights which the CEDAW Committee has to confront in its role scrutinising the women’s human rights records of states. Women remain a marginalized group in society due to the multiple and intersectional forces of discrimination that make it more difficult for women to be social actors on an equal basis with men and to utilize the state system to achieve gender equality. International norms that currently exist on the duty and role of the state towards promoting and protecting women’s rights in the family sphere are often ignored. Inequalities based on gender identity, and exacerbated by class, ethnic, racial and other divisions, are a feature of all societies. Religious fundamentalism and cultural resistance to women’s human rights, conceptual and resource gaps in duty bearers for CEDAW implementation, lack of land and inheritance rights, the status of ethnic minorities and indigenous communities, and the situation of rural women, refugee women and female migrant workers are continuing areas of concerns for women globally. Many states do not fully implement CEDAW nor ensure that their laws and policies adequately conform to CEDAW standards for gender equality. This is due to poor enforcement, limited capacity of agencies and weak accountability. Women continue to lose ground and this regressive pattern has negatively affected women's struggle against pervasive and deeply entrenched gender relations in our societies.
The expanding expert interpretations and jurisprudence of the CEDAW Committee will continue to support the engagement and participation of women with the broader development of women’s human rights that is currently centred on addressing the backlash and retrogression of fundamental and universal principles of women’s human rights. It is pivotal for women to maximise the opportunities and spaces and participate as full agents of change. The ongoing processes of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)and the upcoming reviews of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the programme of action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), as well as the implementation of the outcomes of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20) will be an opportunity to ensure that a feminist perspective, placing women’s lived realities and contribution at the centre of the model for change, is a move towards implementing the normative framework of CEDAW.
As the CEDAW Committee evolves and continues in its trajectory of ensuring the holding of states accountable towards the full realisation of women’s human rights, we call on the CEDAW Committee to continue reflecting its work on the lived realities of women on the ground and to continue prioritising the participation of women from the grassroots to the international levels in the CEDAW processes – from providing alternative information during the constructive dialogue to substantively engaging in the drafting processes of the general recommendations.
Further, we also call on states parties to demonstrate further commitment to the CEDAW Convention and act to strengthen the treaty body system, noting the comments of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the current crisis in the treaty body system, specifically ensuring the central role and visibility of the treaty body system in providing authoritative guidance on human rights. We recommend states act to ratify the Optional Protocol to CEDAW, remove all reservations to the CEDAW Convention, ensure the continuing independence and autonomy of treaty body members, and provide required human and financial resources for the functioning of the CEDAW Committee as a mark of their recognition and respect for the human rights of women.
IWRAW Asia Pacific is fully committed to support the CEDAW Committee in its work for the realisation of the CEDAW Convention, and the actualisation of the human rights of women. In this timely moment we would also like to commend the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) which provides the CEDAW Committee the secretariat support in its untiring endeavours to strengthen the work of the CEDAW Committee and commitment to facilitating the engagement of civil society in this process.
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