How the Treaty Helps Women Worldwide

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Stopping violence against women
Promoting girls' education
Improving health care
Ensuring women's legal rights
Improving women's lives at work

The Treaty for the Rights of Women is the most complete international agreement on basic human rights for women.  The Treaty is officially known as the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979. As of March 1, 2007, 185 countries have ratified the Treaty for the Rights of Women.

The Treaty for the Rights of Women addresses basic human rights of women. It can be a useful tool to reduce violence and discrimination against women and girls, ensure girls and women receive the same access as boys and men to education and health care, and secure basic legal recourse to women and girls against violations and abuses of their human rights.

Women around the world have used the Treaty to achieve important reforms in their country that reduce violence and discrimination. Measures have been taken against sex slavery, domestic violence and trafficking of women; millions of girls are now receiving primary education that were previously denied access; women's health care services have improved, saving lives during pregnancy and childbirth; and millions of women have secured essential loans and the basic right to own or inherit property.


Stopping violence against women:

  • In Colombia, the courts ruled in 1992 that the absence of legal recourse then available to a female victim of domestic violence violated her human rights to life and personal security. The state now ensures protection for all such women.1
  • In Uganda, the states and cities have created programs and policies to campaign against domestic violence, using state funds for the purpose.1
  • In Costa Rica, the courts are authorized to order an abusive spouse to leave the home and to continue providing economic support. Training and programs to combat sex crimes are being established, and women officials must handle rape investigations and prosecutions.1

Promoting girls' education:

  • Slovenia and Switzerland have changed their school admission policies to benefit girls.1
  • Pakistan introduced coeducation in primary schools in 1996-97 after treaty ratification, and saw sharp increases in female enrollment, especially in rural areas.1
  • India universalized its Integrated Child Development Services program in 1997, after treaty ratification, and girls now account for nearly half of all pre-schoolers.1
  • Jordan implemented compulsory education and expanded literacy programs for girls.3

Improving health care:

  • Australia launched efforts to promote awareness and prevention of breast and cervical cancer, including postcards reminding 3 million women to get pap smears.2
  • Israel allocated funds to pay for mammograms for women ages 50 to 74.2
  • Argentina developed a program to prevent teen pregnancy and provide necessary care when it does occur, particularly for homeless girls.2
  • The Philippines set up a new nationwide maternal and newborn health care program.2
  • Argentina, Mexico, and Australia instituted programs to provide health care to indigenous and migrant women.2

Ensuring women's legal rights:

  • Laws to advance women's participation in decision-making have been adopted in 22 of the 182 countries that have ratified the Treaty.
  • In Tanzania, the Supreme Court invalidated a customary law that barred women from inheriting clan property, citing the Treaty for the Rights of Women and other rights treaties as "a standard below which any civilized nation will be ashamed to fall."1
  • Zambia ratified the Treaty for the Rights of Women in 1985 and in 1991 extended its Bill of Rights to cover sex discrimination.1
  • Women proposing revisions for the Ugandan constitution in 1995, referred to the Treaty for the Rights of Women for guidance, and now many of its provisions reflect Treaty standards.2
  • Since 1989, legislation in China has highlighted equality between men and women. Women are now guaranteed joint ownership of marital property and equal inheritance.1
  • A Botswana appeals court cited the Treaty in overturning a law that gave citizenship to children of men married to foreigners but not to those of women married to foreigners.1

Improving women's lives at work:

  • Germany, Guatemala, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom are among the countries that have improved maternity leave and child care for working women in accord with Treaty provisions.1
  • In Australia, the government cited its treaty obligations in passing national legislation against sexual harassment in the workplace.1

1. Landsberg-Lewis, Ilana, ed., "Bringing Equality Home," United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), New York, NY, 1998.
2. Milani, Leila Rassekh, ed., "Human Rights for All," Working Group on Ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Washington D.C., 2001.
3 Jordan, CEDAW 22nd session, 2000: 10, available at