Background of OP CEDAW

In 1993, the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna recommended the examination of the possibility of introducing the right to petition under the CEDAW Convention. This possibility was examined by an independent expert meeting in Maastricht in 1994 and, in 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing made the elaboration and ratification of the OP-CEDAW a key element of the follow-up to the commitments made by governments to women's human rights. In 1996, the open-ended working group of the Commission on the Status of Women, set up to draft the OP-CEDAW, met for the first time to consider views submitted by governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations. The drafting process took three years to complete. OP CEDAW was adopted in the U.N. General Assembly on 6th October 1999, and in December 1999, on Human Rights Day, the OP-CEDAW was opened for signature, ratification and accession. It came into force on 22nd December 2000.

Chronology of OP-CEDAW

1973-1976

Drafting of the CEDAW Convention by the Commission on the Status of Women. Canada, the Netherlands and Sweden make suggestions concerning a complaints procedure, and Belgium submits a proposal for future examination of this issue.

1977

Consideration of the draft CEDAW Convention in the Third Committee of the General Assembly. The Netherlands suggests the idea of an individual complaints procedure.

1979

The text of the CEDAW Convention is adopted without a complaints procedure.

1991

In a report on strengthening the communications procedure of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Secretary-General recommends that consideration be given to the development of an optional protocol to the CEDAW Convention.

An expert group meeting convened by the Division for the Advancement of Women recommends that the UN consider the possibility of developing an optional protocol to the CEDAW Convention.

1993

A significant number of women's movements include the consideration of a Complaints Procedure under CEDAW in the list of demands to be made in the World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna).

The CEDAW Committee's suggested list of issues to be addressed in the World Conference on Human Rights includes the consideration of a Complaints Procedure under CEDAW. The CEDAW Committee's opinion at the time was that an optional protocol would place CEDAW on equal footing with other human rights instruments.

The World Conference on Human Rights recommends the examination of the possibility of introducing the right to petition under the CEDAW Convention

1994

The CEDAW Committee suggests to the Commission on the Status of Women that an expert group meeting be convened to prepare a draft optional protocol.

The Commission on the Status of Women, in a recommendation to the Economic and Social Council, agrees to examine the feasibility of introducing the right to petition.

An independent experts meeting is convened in Maastrich, Netherlands. Several members of the CEDAW Committee and a group of experts convened to prepare a draft optional protocol. The group was brought together by international NGOs and funded by the governments of Australia, Holland and a number of other countries. The resulting document was widely circulated

1995

The CEDAW Committee adopts suggestion 7 of the Committee's views on the elements to be included in an Optional Protocol to the CEDAW Convention.

The Commission on the Status of Women recommends that the Economic and Social Council establish an in-session open-ended working group to meet in parallel with the Commission on the Status of Women in 1996.

The Beijing Platform of Action supports the elaboration of an Optional Protocol to the CEDAW Convention.

1996

The first session of the in-session open-ended working group of the Commission on the Status of Women takes place and Ms Aloisia Wörgetter from Austria is elected Chairperson.

The working group holds an exchange of views and also considers the views submitted by governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations.

The working group recommends the renewal of its mandate.

The working group recommends that the Commission invite the Secretary-General, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations to share further views on an optional protocol, and to prepare a comparative summary of the existing communications and inquiry procedures and practices under the international human rights instruments and under the United Nations Charter.

1997

The second session of the in-session working group of the Commission on the Status of Women takes place. It has before it a comparative summary of existing communications and inquiry procedures and the additional views of governments and other actors. The Chairperson submits a draft on an optional protocol, and the working group completes the first reading of the Chairperson's draft on the optional protocol.

The Chairperson prepares a summary of views and comments made by delegations during the negotiations which is included in the working group's report to the Commission.

The working group recommends to the Economic and Social Council, through the Commission on the Status of Women, the renewal of its mandate for two additional sessions.

The working group recommends the Commission on the Status of Women to invite the Secretary-General to prepare an annotated comparison of the draft optional protocol and the proposed amendments thereto with the provisions of existing international human rights instruments.

1998

The third session of the in-session open-ended working group of the Commission on the Status of Women takes place. It has before it the annotated comparison of the draft optional protocol with existing instruments and completes the second reading of the draft optional protocol.

The Chairperson prepares a summary of views and comments made by delegations during the negotiations which is included in the working group's report to the Commission.

1999

The fourth session of the in-session open-ended working group of the Commission on the Status of Women takes place. It completes drafting of the optional protocol and recommends it for the adoption of the Commission on the Status of Women. The Commission transmits the draft for adoption of the General Assembly, through the Economic and Social Council.

Interpretative statements are made by a number of governments in the working group upon adoption of the draft.

On 6 October, the General Assembly adopts resolution 54/4 containing the Optional Protocol.

On 10 December, Human Rights Day, the OP-CEDAW is open for signature, ratification and accession, and 23 States sign it.

2000

On 22 December 2000, three months after the deposit of the tenth instrument of ratification, the OP-CEDAW enters into force.

Source: Adapted from The Optional Protocol: Text and Materials and the Optional Protocol to the Convention of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (UN, 2000) and Donna Sullivan in Inter-American Institute of Human Rights Publication ,  “Optional Protocol: Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, 2000”

The OP-CEDAW was adopted in an effort to ensure and further the implementation of the CEDAW Convention in the 188 countries (as of May 2014) that ratified and hence are bound by it. To date, there are 104 OP-CEDAW States parties.

International, regional, national and local non-governmental organisations supported the adoption of the OP-CEDAW and participated in the NGO Working Group on the OP-CEDAW. Their representatives were able to bring in experiences from various regions, follow negotiations consistently, understand the issues at stake and developed expertise needed after the OP-CEDAW came into force. At present, NGOs are encouraged to develop common strategies for the ratification and use of the OP-CEDAW.

For more detailed information on OP CEDAW, please read this document.