The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted on 18 December 1979 by the UN General Assembly (CEDAW)
Article 1 – 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 3 – States Parties shall take in all fields, in particular in the political, social, economic and cultural fields, all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.
Article 10 – States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in order to ensure to them equal rights with men in the field of education (…).
The Convention, called also the CEDAW Convention (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979 and it mainly concerns the legal situation of women as well as needs for pursuing a policy eliminating discrimination against women. The Convention refers to, among others, the norms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights emphasising the inadmissibility of discrimination and the need to recognise that all human beings are born free and equal and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein, without distinction based on sex.
The convention is one of the most important acts of international law comprehensively discussing the issue of discrimination on grounds of sex and providing for the obligation to implement specific solutions and standards in the area of counteracting biased, unequal treatment on grounds of sex. The provisions of the Convention clearly focus on the need to grant women and men equal rights in all spheres of life and subject them to increased legal protection.
According to the provisions of the Convention, the discrimination against women is 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. The Convention widely refers to the issue of discrimination on grounds of sex, condemning any of its manifestations and introducing an obligation to pursue an active policy to eliminate it in political, social, economic and cultural life. The states which adopted and ratified the Convention undertook to introduce regulations aiming at acceleration of actual equality of women and men. The Convention provides for the obligation to introduce regulations which would put an end to the discrimination against women in political and public life, law, employment, education and access to education and health care. The Convention adopted a possibility of application of the so-called positive discrimination – an action for equalising women and men through the adoption of temporary measures to improve the situation of women, among others, in order to protect maternity.
The Convention obliges the States Parties to adopt any measures in order to introduce social and cultural changes of behaviours of women and men in order to achieve elimination of superstitions and customs or other practices based on stereotypes and conviction of inferiority or superiority of one sex over the other. A significant part of the Convention was dedicated to the obligation to introduce appropriate measures that would put an end to the discrimination against women in the political and public life, in particular through ensuring to women, on equal terms with men, the right to vote, to participate in the formulation of the government policy, to hold public office, to participate in non-governmental organisations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country.
The Convention also referred to the need to fight against discrimination in education and access to education. According to Article 10 of the Convention, the States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in order to ensure to them equal rights with men in the field of education and in particular to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women same conditions for career and vocational guidance, for access to studies and for the achievement of diplomas, access to the same curricula, the same teaching staff examinations, equipment, the same opportunities to benefit from scholarships, access to programmes of continuing education, to participate actively in sports and physical education, etc. The Convention paid particular attention to the issues concerning equal treatment in employment and to the need of taking all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in this field. It is reflected in, among others, emphasising the need to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of marriage or maternity, e.g. by:
- introducing prohibitions of dismissing women on the grounds of marital status, pregnancy or maternity leave;
- introducing maternity leave with the right to pay or other comparable social benefits;
- encouraging the provision of the necessary supporting social services to enable parents to combine family obligations with work responsibilities and participation in public life;
- providing special protection to women during pregnancy in types of work proved to be harmful to them (Article 11).
An important decision of the Convention is also the fact of establishing a Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, whose basic aim is to examine the application of the Convention’s provisions by the States Parties and of their gradual implementation to the national legal order. Furthermore, the States Parties undertook to present a report to the United Nations Secretary-General concerning legal, judicial, administrative measures taken by them to implement the provisions of the Convention.