The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, is a legally binding international treaty adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly. It is one of the most broadly endorsed human rights treaties, with 189 countries having ratified it. Because it is a legally-binding treaty, it can be an important entry-point for advocacy. In terms of SRHR, CEDAW is also the only human rights treaty with a strong focus on the reproductive rights of women, and which explicitly mentions culture and tradition as potential barriers to gender equality.

Countries who have ratified CEDAW are asked to submit national reports which describe the situation of women’s human rights in their country, and what policies or programs the government is implementing to comply with their treaty obligations every four years. At the same time other organizations may also submit so-called ‘shadow reports’, which may provide an alternative picture on the situation of women’s human rights and gender equality in the country. These documents are reviewed by the CEDAW Committee which then presents their Concluding Observations – a document which also highlights areas of concern and provides recommendations for further action that the government is encouraged to take.

The Optional Protocol (OP) is a vital part of CEDAW which allows individuals or groups in countries who have ratified the OP to file a complaint against their government for ‘grave or systemic violations’ of the Convention. The Committee then begins an inquiry procedure and may rule that a country has violated the rights of the complainant(s).