The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women oversees implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) through its consideration of State reports, individual complaints, inter-State complaints, and inquiry requests, and its preparation of general recommendations, statements, and general discussions. As of October 2021, 189 States are party to the CEDAW.
- WORKING METHODS
- CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION
- RESEARCH AND ADDITIONAL SOURCES
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is composed of 23 independent experts on women’s rights who are elected for a term of 4 years. See CEDAW, art. 17. Elections for 9 out of the 18 members occur every two years in order to ensure the Committee maintains a balance between changing the Committee’s composition and continuity. See id. The Committee also has five officers: a Chairperson, three Vice-Chairpersons, and a Rapporteur, who all serve for a term of two years. See CEDAW, art. 19. Further information about the election process can be found on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ website on Elections of Treaty Body Members.
The Committee generally holds one annual session lasting for no more than two weeks in Geneva, Switzerland. The schedule of past and upcoming Committee sessions is available online, and the OHCHR maintains a Master Calendar of all UN Member States’ upcoming treaty body reviews.
State parties are required to submit an initial report within one year after acceding to CEDAW, and should be no more than 100 pages long. State parties to CEDAW are then required to submit regular periodic reports on how rights are being implemented every 4 years, or whenever the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women requests them. See CEDAW, art. 18. The regular periodic reports should be no more than 70 pages long, and focus on the period between the previous report and current report. See Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Overview of the Current Working Methods of the Committee, CEDAW/C/2004/I/4/Add.1, 7 November 2003.
Regular periodic reports require each State party to submit (1) a common core document, which lists general information about the reporting State, a framework for protecting human rights, and information on non-discrimination and equality, and (2) a treaty-specific document, which accounts for specific information relating to the implementation of CEDAW and any national law or policies taken to implement CEDAW.
Recently, however, the CEDAW Committee implemented changes intended to result in a simplified reporting procedure, also referred to as “list of issues prior to reporting.” See OHCHR, Simplified reporting procedure. Going forward, the CEDAW Committee may now prepare a list of issues before the State submits its periodic report. See id. Pursuant to this procedure, the State’s periodic report must only answer the questions raised by the CEDAW Committee in its list of issues, rather than address the State’s implementation of each article of CEDAW. See id. The simplified reporting procedure is available to all States parties who have previously submitted an initial report and a common core document within the last five years. See id. For more specific guidelines regarding the form and content of reports, the Secretary General has published a Compilation of Guidelines on the Form and Content of Reports to be Submitted by State Parties to the International Human Rights Treaties.
Following the receipt of the periodic reports, the Committee will host a pre-session working group of five members who will create a short list of issues and questions that the full Committee will consider at the following session. State parties will have an opportunity to respond to the list of issues and questions prior to engaging in a constructive dialogue at the Committee’s session. Afterwards, the Committee will adopt concluding observations, which generally includes sections on positive aspects the State has complied with CEDAW, a potential list of factors and difficulties in implementation of CEDAW, and principal areas of concern and recommendations. The Committee also keeps a current list of concluding observations.
In June 2008, the Committee introduced a follow-up procedure requesting State parties to provide follow-up information on the implementation of two recommendations in its concluding observations within two years. See Other Activities of the Human Rights Treaty Bodies and Participation of Stakeholders in the Human Rights Treaty Body Process, UN Doc. HRI/MC/2013/3, 22 April 2013, para. 5.
The Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women may consider individual complaints that allege a violation of an individual’s rights under CEDAW if the State is party to the Optional Protocol to CEDAW. See Optional Protocol to the Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (adopted 6 October 1999; entered into force 22 December 2000). Articles 2 through 4 of the Optional Protocol list the Committee’s criteria for considering an individual complaint. As of October 2021, 114 States are party to the Optional Protocol.
In order to submit an individual complaint, a model complaint form can be used to provide: (1) basic information, (2) the State party, who is also a party to CEDAW, in which the complaint is directed against, (3) a chronological list of facts on which the complaint is based and any supporting documentation, (4) the rights set out in CEDAW that have been alleged to be violated, (5) any information about steps taken to exhaust domestic remedies at the national level, and (6) a note if the matter is pending before another international tribunal. All individual complaints should be submitted to the Petitions Team mailing address:
Petitions and Inquiries Section
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Following the Committee’s Rules of Procedure, Rule 63 allows the Committee to provide for interim measures in the period between receipt of the individual complaint and a decision on the merits. Interim measures will be provided if the Committee considers it necessary to avoid irreparable damage to the victim or victims of the alleged violation.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women also has a table summary of its recent jurisprudence, which includes the articles invoked, subject matter, any procedural issues, and the outcome. More information for the procedure on individual complaints can be found in the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 23 Frequently Asked Questions about Treaty Body Complaints Procedure and Procedure for Complaints by Individuals under the Human Rights Treaties webpage.
Article 29 of CEDAW provides a mechanism for States to resolve inter-State disputes concerning the interpretation of application of the Convention. See CEDAW, art. 29. This procedure allows for disputes to be resolved in the first instance by negotiation, and should that fail, by arbitration. If the parties then fail to agree to the arbitration within a period of 6 months, then one of the States may refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice unless a State opted out of the procedure by making a declaration at the time of ratification or accession to CEDAW.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women does not have a mechanism in place for urgent interventions.
Complaints of Systematic Violations (Inquiry Procedures)
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women can also consider inquiries on grave or systematic violations of any of the rights set forth in CEDAW. See Optional Protocol to CEDAW, art. 8. State parties may opt out of the inquiry procedure at the time of signature, ratification or accession of CEDAW by declaring that the State does not recognize the competence of the Committee to undertake inquiries. See Optional Protocol to CEDAW, art. 10.
The inquiry procedure is confidential and the State party’s cooperation is sought at all stages. Generally, the inquiry procedure proceeds in five steps.
- The Committee receives information that the rights contained in CEDAW are being systematically violated by the State party.
- The Committee invites the State party to submit relevant observations.
- Based on the relevant submissions and observations, the Committee may then designate one or more of its members to conduct an inquiry and then submit an urgent report to the Committee. With the State party’s consent, the initial inquiry may involve a visit to the State’s territory.
- The Committee examines the report and then transmits any findings, along with comments and recommendations to the State party.
- The State party is then requested to submit its own observations and any measures it took regarding the Committee’s findings, comments, and recommendations within a specified time period.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women also prepares general recommendations that discuss any issue relating to women that it believes State parties should devote their focus towards. Each general recommendation does not necessarily target a specific article of CEDAW. The Committee maintains a current list of general recommendations on its website.
Open Letters and Statements
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women adopts statements to clarify its position with respect to international developments and any issues that bear upon CEDAW’s implementation. See Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Ways and Means of Expediting the Work of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW/C/2007/I/4/Add.1, 25 October 2006.
Thematic Discussions and Conferences
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women also hosts General Discussion days in order to commence the process of adopting a general recommendation. Past general discussions have included rural women, access to justice, women in conflict and post-conflict situations, and harmful practices.
CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION
NGOs and other civil society groups do not require ECOSOC consultative status to engage with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Furthermore, any group may submit information to the Committee or prepare an individual complaint on behalf of a victim. Certain requirements, including prior registration, regulate civil society organizations’ participation in-person in the Committee’s sessions, however. See the CED’s Civil Society webpage for additional information.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women invites NGOs and other civil society stakeholders to provide submissions about the States whose reports are before the Committee. All submissions should be sent by email (in pdf format) and by post (30 hard copies) at least two weeks prior to the beginning of each session. NGOs are also encouraged to provide reports or other State-specific information to the pre-session working group. Those submissions can either be sent by email (in pdf format), given directly by NGO representations to the pre-session working group (10 hard copies), or at least two weeks prior to the beginning of the pre-session working group (10 hard copies). For more information regarding NGO reports, please consult the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s Information note provided by OHCHR for NGO Participation.
NGOs are also invited to make oral interventions in respect of the States being considered at the Committee’s Sessions. The pre-session working group also provides an opportunity for NGOs to provide oral information. NGO representatives that do wish to address the Committee or pre-session working group must provide: (1) the NGO’s name, (2) the names of the NGO’s representatives, and (3) proposed dates of attendance. All information must be submitted to [email protected] at least two weeks prior to the beginning of the session or the pre-session working group.
All NGOs and civil society stakeholders are also welcome to attend Committee’s sessions as observers, in which case they will not be given the opportunity to address the Committee.
If an NGO or other civil society stakeholder wishes to attend a Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Session, the organization is required to be duly registered. Participants will have to create an account and register through the United Nations Indico system.
More information can be found on the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s webpage for Information Note on Accreditation to attend sessions of Treaty Bodies.
RESEARCH AND ADDITIONAL SOURCES
The Committee’s outputs can be found on its website and are linked to in the relevant sections above. The UN Treaty Body Database also collects these documents, which may be searched by several criteria, but not by keyword or subject matter. For additional research tools, view the Research Aids section of this Online Resource Hub.
Another useful resource is the International Service for Human Rights’ Simple Guide to UN Treaty Bodies (2010), which examines each treaty bodies’ reports, individual communications, State-to-State complaints, inquiry procedures, urgent interventions, general comments, and how NGOs can engage with treaty bodies.