The CEDAW Convention provides a positive legal framework for women's rights but it will not automatically confer rights on women. What it does is that it legitimises women's claims for rights and women can be transformed from being passive beneficiaries to active claimants. It creates the space for women's agency.
The CEDAW Convention is largely dependent on the political will of governments. This political will can be created through a strong and highly conscious constituency, not only among women and women's groups but within government bureaucracy as well. The urgent need is to raise awareness and develop skills at various levels in relation to the CEDAW Convention among women, government functionaries, lawyers and members of the judicial system. At the ground level, advocacy for the application of the norms of the CEDAW Convention has to be linked to the international mandate of equality and non-discrimination.
NGOs can play a crucial role in alerting States to their obligations, collaborating with States on their programmes where NGOs are better placed to forge links with communities and households, developing alternative models to State models of intervention, and monitoring State activities and their impact. Importantly, NGOs can serve as a facilitating link with communities and individuals, and feed information to and from State institutions to citizens.
NGOs become particularly vital centres of advocacy around women's interests and rights given State resistance to implementing change. This may arise in different contexts from a combination of factors: the ideology of governing parties or rulers, the resources that a State has and how it chooses to distribute them, the people who staff state institutions and their biases and prejudices, their distance from communities and field realities, the size of implementing agencies and so on. NGOs offer a viable organisational alternative, particularly where they may be smaller in size, and located within communities. NGOs, particularly where staffed or influenced strongly by feminist agendas, can play a particularly effective role in addressing issues of women's rights and empowerment at local levels, and feeding insights from the field into national and international advocacy.
NGO interventions and advocacy in relation to specific processes of the CEDAW Convention can have several spin-off effects. At the international level, NGO involvement in the CEDAW Convention reporting process can help to feed important information to other bodies of the UN and ultimately influence international processes, policies and programmes. It can also work its influence domestically, where it helps to bring NGOs together to discuss important aspects of State action, emphasise collaborative work in expanding ideas and activism around rights, create greater media awareness, and ensure that state interventions are being monitored and assessed for effectiveness. NGOs can also publicise State reports and the concluding comments of the CEDAW Committee to a wider national audience, where States may avoid doing so. At the local level, discussions around concepts and practice of women's rights can provide a very sound basis for influencing policy and creating spaces for change.
There are different ways activists have worked or engaged with governments on CEDAW. There is a very wide range of areas that NGOs may be called on to work with governments. The participants identified areas where they or other NGOs were involved with government:
- Participation in government committees or commissions
- Membership in advisory councils (in a consultative capacity)
- Organisational participation in providing technical assistance to government programmes
- Participation as an NGO member of government delegations to world conferences, CEDAW
- Bill drafting
- Preparation of state party reports to treaty bodies, particularly CEDAW. This could take place in several contexts:
a) Participation in the drafting committee set up by government to which NGOs are invited to sit as part of the committee.
b) Individuals with expertise on CEDAW are contracted to write the report/ facilitate the process of writing the report as consultants.
c) Consultation process where NGOs are brought in to give feedback and recommendations.
- Service delivery projects
- Provision of capacity building and trainings
- Support for national human rights institutions
- Drafting policy/ plan of action formulation
As there are many ethical and strategic implications of working with the state we include here some point to ponder when considering working with governments:
The following questions were highlighted as concerns that one has to bear in mind when considering working with governments:
i) Why do governments want to work with NGOs? Why do they seek these kinds of collaborations?
ii) Why do NGOs work with governments? What is the impetus (globally)?
iii) What are the dilemmas, benefits and costs? These will of course differ according to the category of work.
iv) On what basis should NGOs make a decision when they should participate, withdraw and refuse? Some suggestions for consideration are:
- Who is the NGO is accountable to? How should it work out its position on things and where to draw the line?
- If governments ask for a coalition of NGOs, how does one position oneself with other groups? What if there are right wing groups within the coalition? How does one retain one’s own agenda?
- To consider situations where a conflict of interest might arise - where there is a demand of confidentiality on the one hand, thus that NGO is unable to disclose/ share vital information with other NGOs.
Providing Technical Assistance to Governments
- NGOs are increasingly being seen as a resource group which is able to provide technical assistance to governments. We however need to be able to draw the line between showing governments how to do something and taking over the government’s work (i.e. getting coopted). We need to know how to move between these distinctions without getting compromised.
- Sometimes IWRAW Asia Pacific is asked to recommend a local activist and sometimes to recommend someone from outside the country. There is a diference between NGOs getting involved in their own country and NGOs going to another country to work with the foreign government (and consideration needs to be paid to how the national groups and NGOs in that country feel about that having external NGO resource persons advising their state on CEDAW.
Writing of the government’s periodic report to CEDAW.
In working with the government on its CEDAW country report, it is important to identify the dilemmas that needed to be worked out, modes and lines of engagement clearly drawn and long term considerations before embarking on the endeavour. These include questions around who works with whom, what forms of advocacy do we take up, at what levels do we engage in advocacy and using what methods? Individual and institutional identities and potential identities with the state should be clearly defined beforehand.
Resolving these dilemmas is an individual process grounded in the realities of the national women’s groups experience. It helps to ask, to what end are we engaging in such a fashion? What is the objective of the partnership with government? In situations where we do not see it as conflicting for us, it is an easier decision to work with the state, for example, on the implementation of a programme, to be on a government committee or commission. These are not conflicting and we will do it. When NGOs are involved in the drafting of the country report, there is also a level of comfort, because you are in there as a group. But when one is invited as an individual, then the comfort level becomes difficult to handle.
Sometimes reasons given by the state about why an NGO/individual is selected is that they have done advocacy from within the state on issues of political participation, have strong research backgrounds (from a research organisation), are apolitical, and someone recommended our names. This is alright to some extent, but there is still a dilemma.
There are also some benefits from this process:
- Providing NGOs one small space to expand out advocacy.
- Opportunity to work on setting up a mechanism within the government.
- Brings NGO experience and ideology to influence and advocate with the state to look at every programme, policy and law through the lens of CEDAW. This can help break resistance.
Some non-negotiable terms with the state are a good idea.
From the experience of an NGO who had written the state report, some of these non negotiables included
i) Requiring cooperation of the Department of Women and Children (WCD) and it is important that all departments come in as part of an interdepartmental committee.
ii) Requiring involvement of senior officials not less than the secretaries of the ministries should be on the inter-ministerial committee.
iii) Commitment of the interdepartmental committee to be vibrantly engaging in the collation and analysis of information. The members of the inter-ministerial committee will go through a training session on CEDAW, how to collect and analyse data. Most do not know about CEDAW and we have managed to get all departments in for training.
iv) This report will be owned by the state, not by the writers who would only work on the analysis of the data, putting it into perspective. They can suggest action plans but the onus of committing to action is that of the state Commitments have to be made by the inter-ministerial committee.
v) The report has to be shared widely, regionally with NGOs and the state governments (which have not been actively engaging in the process of writing the report). There is a need to hold consultations to disseminate information before submitting the report - this is mandatory. The facilitation of the consultations will be by the state government and they will finalise the report based on the consultation.
The purpose of the shadow/alternative report is to provide the CEDAW Committee with information on the substantive rights outlined in the CEDAW Convention. So for example since Article 10 of the CEDAW Convention is on the right to education, the report would include information on the right to education. And since Article 9 is on the right to nationality, the report would include information on the right to nationality. And so on and so forth. In relation to each of these rights, the report explains what the status of this right in your country is and what can be done to improve it.
With a shadow report, you have an added element to the report. It not only includes that status of that right in your country (as explained above) but it also compares the status of that right as compared to the information provided by the government. So for example for the right to education, the shadow report would discuss the status of that right in your country plus compare it with the information on the right to education provided by the government in its report. It is a critique of the government's report.
What is the difference between a shadow report and an alternative report?
First it is important to note the difference between a shadow report and an alternative report. When an NGO writes its report, with access to the government report submitted to the CEDAW Committee, this is called a shadow report. When an NGO writes its report where no government report is available (e.g. either because their government has not written one or it writes it too late), this is called an alternative report.
How should I organize my report?
The best way to organize your report is by Article. So, for example, each subheading in your report will be an article of the CEDAW Convention. Subheading one would be on Article 1 of the CEDAW convention (the definition of Discrimination in your country), subheading two would be on Article 2 of the CEDAW Convention (policy measures that have been undertaken to eliminate discrimination in your country), etc.
The broad structure of the CEDAW Convention is as follows:
- Articles 1 – 5 provides the general substantive framework of the Convention.
- Articles 6 – 16 provides specific substantive areas of the Convention.
- Articles 17 – 23 outlines the role of the CEDAW Committee and the procedures pertaining to the Convention and finally,
- Articles 23 – 30 outlines the administration and interpretation of the Convention.
Note, the shadow/alternative report need only provide information on the substantive articles of the CEDAW convention, i.e. Articles 1 - 16. Note also, Articles 1 - 5 of the CEDAW Convention should be written differently than Articles 6 – 16 since they cover broader issues as opposed to the specific ones enumerated in Articles 6 – 16. (See specific guidelines for these articles in Part II).
What language should my shadow/alternative report be in?
Whilst the shadow report can be prepared in English, Spanish or French, you are strongly advised to provide an Executive Summary of the report in English. The Executive Summary would include:
- A summary of the main critical points of the shadow/alternative report;
- A summary of the recommendations to the critical points above and to the challenges encountered in the implementation of the CEDAW Convention.
For complete guidelines on how to write a Shadow/Alternative report to CEDAW, with examples from Article 1-16, please click here.
For a guideline on writing Shadow Reports on Economic Social and Cultural Rights of women please refer to this guide here
Another role women's groups can play in the CEDAW process is contributing to the formulation of General Recommendations by the CEDAW Committee. This way, women can infuse their perspectives into the development of jurisprudence on the human rights of women within the international human rights system.
Once the CEDAW Committee decides the subject matter of the General Recommendation, they invite written inputs from the NGO community. These can be sent to the Division for the Advancement of Women. During the CEDAW sessions, the Committee will sometimes hold a dialogue with NGOs eliciting ideas for the General Recommendation.
The Committee decides well in advance the subject matter of the General Recommendation and it takes at least two to three years to finalise it. So it must be noted that suggestions for the drafting of a General Recommendation may not be taken up immediately.
The Committee is currently drafting a General Recommendation on State Obligation, Article 2 of the CEDAW Convention. Previously, the Committee had also expressed interest in elaborating on the intersectionality of rights, as well as the right of older women to non-discrimination.
General recommendations adopted by the CEDAW Committee have interpreted rights progressively and developed new standards. For example, GR 19 establishes that all forms of VAW are prohibited. Until date, the Committee has adopted 29 general recommendations (GR) (As of December 2013).
NGOs are also able to influence the creation of general recommendations. NGOs can lobby the Committee and as part of their recommendations suggest the Committee develop a GR that deals with their issue/context. When the Committee has decided to develop this GR, they will establish a working group to draft the GR and hold a one day consultation for interested parties to which NGOs can send and provide information and inputs in the discussion. In this way NGOs obtain a space and opportunity to influence the substantive text of any GR.
Women's groups can also play a role by lobbying their governments to nominate women who are familiar with issues of concern to women, have the grounding, or are progressive, to the CEDAW Committee. It is very important for women's groups and women's rights advocates to continue advocating for the inclusion of independent feminist experts in the CEDAW Committee.
Representation in the CEDAW Committee needs to take into consideration regional balance, rather than nationality per se. This is because at the end of the day, these regional experts will play an important role in bringing your views forward. Given this, it is imperative that interested NGOs contact their Ministry of Foreign Affairs and/or UN missions to receive updated information and lobby for support of particular independent experts, even if they may not be from your country.
As you may already know, the CEDAW Convention is the only UN human rights treaty that focuses on gender issues. In this regard, it is important that the twenty-three experts of the CEDAW Committee have an understanding of the realities of women's lives. The 23 members of the CEDAW Committee are elected for four-year terms, with only half the members being replaced each time elections take place. It is important to monitor these elections as the independence and expertise of the CEDAW Committee members contributes to the progressiveness of this body. Since the Optional Protocol entered into force, there is some concern that governments may be more cautious in nominating candidates, and instead, bring forward candidates from the "establishment".
Members of the CEDAW Committee are elected pursuant to article 17 of the CEDAW Convention by States parties from among nationals of that country. However, it is important to note that these members serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of that States party. Members are elected for a term of four years.
Each CEDAW Committee member hast he potential of advocating for women's rights at three levels:
1) To uphold the notion that States are accountable to women;
2) To continuously further rights contained in the CEDAW Convention along feminist principles;
3) To ensure that women's NGOs are included in CEDAW-related processes.
What to do:
a) Before March of the election year: At the national level, before the nomination period in March, begin to propose names of women's activists and feminists for the election with your government. Obtain their support for your candidate by creating publicity and support for her candidacy.
b) Once the list of nominees have been released in mid year: If you are in contact with progressive representatives of your government in your home country or in New York, please contact them and let them know that women's groups and women's rights advocates globally want independent experts from all over the world to be elected to the Committee. Please let them know that they are responsible for ensuring that the CEDAW Committee process continues to strengthen national efforts towards the realisation of women's rights. In some cases, it would be useful to send a letter stating what you know of the existing nominees and give reasons as to why you are recommending specific names to be considered (both in your region and in others).
c) States parties meeting in June-July: To ensure your state votes for your candidates.
To see the current CEDAW Committee Member, please click here.