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In 1979, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Many describe this as a "Bill of Rights" of sorts for women around the world. Discrimination is defined by the convention as any exclusion, restriction, or distinction made because of sex which would serve to undermine their basic human rights and freedoms. By ensuring that women have equal access to both public and political life, including participating in democratic processes and having a voice in their governance, the convention sought to create a climate of constant progression for women around the world. The convention also took the bold move of taking clear positions on various issues, including upholding a woman's reproductive rights, reinforcing her ability to change her own nationality or that of her children, and condemning the trafficking of women for any and all purposes.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

The United Nations Charter specifies the organization's commitment to the rights of women, and that commitment is reiterated in the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it was not until 1993 that the United Nations affirmed that human rights also were women's human rights.

But the intervening years were not without progress. The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), signed Dec. 18, 1979, marked a significant step toward the recognition of, and protection of, the rights of women around the world. It went into force in September 1981, and now has 97 signatories and 165 parties to the convention.

The UN Commission on the Status of Women, and its working group, The UN Division for the Advancement of Women, are responsible for establishing an enforcement mechanism for CEDAW. Also worth a note are the following:

  • Convention on the Political Rights of Women (1953);
  • Convention on the Nationality of Married Women (1957);
  • Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages (1962).

Major conferences include The UN's Forth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, which adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Five years later, at Beijing+5, the UN General Assembly reaffirmed its commitment to the fundamentals of the Beijing conference. At that time, the United States updated the platform to include issues including violence against women, trafficking in women, education, health, poverty, debt relief, the impact of globalization on the world's women and a number of other issues.

Member nations that participated in the convention pledged to work toward full gender equality in a variety of ways, including incorporating these foundational principles into their own legal framework through the abolition of any and all discriminatory legislations or protocols; creating legal measures for women to take action against any discriminatory actions; and working to ensure public and private entities alike work to end discriminatory practices within their own nations.

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A research paper on CEDAW discuss the international bill of rights for women. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was an international success for human rights worldwide.

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