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Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women


The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is the international human rights treaty that focuses specifically on equality between women and men in all areas of life. It is often referred to as the ‘women’s bill of rights’. The UK ratified CEDAW in 1986.

By ratifying the treaty, the UK is committed to taking steps to end discrimination against women in all forms. CEDAW provides the basis for making equality between women and men a reality

You can read the full text of CEDAW on the UN Women website and our short film explains how the treaty can be used to bring about change.

How the CEDAW cycle works

Each treaty operates on its own unique timetable. We are now coming to the end of a period of follow-up activity for CEDAW where we have been working with the government and civil society organisations to try and implement the committee's concluding observations. 

A flow chart showing the various milestones of the CEDAW treaty cycle

CEDAW work by the Commission

We have produced the following reports and research as part of our treaty monitoring activity:

We have produced the following material related to this treaty:

  • Inquiry into appointments onto boards of directors of FTSE 350 companies (March 2016).
  • Research into pregnancy discrimination, and guidance and toolkits for employers and employees (2015/16).
  • Response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights' inquiry into violence against women and girls (March 2014).

In July 2013, the Committee raised concerns about many issues related to the implementation of this treaty in the UK. Their recommendations included:

  • ensuring that women can access courts effectively
  • ratifying the Istanbul Convention (a Council of Europe Convention combating violence against women) 
  • making forced marriage a criminal offence
  • adopting a comprehensive national action plan to tackle trafficking in women and girls
  • improving mental health care in all prisons, and
  • taking steps to end occupational segregation (the concentration of men and women in certain jobs, or in certain levels of job) and reducing the gender pay gap.

CEDAW is monitored by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, a body made up of 23 experts on women's rights from around the world.

Governments submit reports to the Committee around every five years. These ‘State Reports’ explain the steps taken to implement the treaty and the impact on the enjoyment of these rights. Read the UK Government’s most recent report (August 2011).

The Committee also considers evidence from other sources. As one of the UK’s National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), the Commission can submit information to this process in what is known as a ‘shadow report’.

The Women's Resource Centre also coordinated a shadow report from a coalition of 42 women's and human rights organisations from across the UK in April 2013, funded by the Commission.

The Committee publishes a report of its examination of the State Report and any shadow reports with recommendations for action. This is known as the ‘Concluding Observations’.

The Committee sometimes issues general recommendations which explain the application of the treaty in particular situations or for specific groups, such as disabled women. You can find these recommendations on the UN website.  

Individual complaints

The Committee can consider complaints from individual women or groups of women against states that have ratified the Optional Protocol to CEDAW (which the UK has done). The Committee can investigate more widespread and systematic violations of women's rights.

The Commission has published guidance on using the CEDAW Optional Protocol. 

Last updated: 31 Jul 2017