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The International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) was organized in 1985 at the Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi, Kenya, to promote recognition of women’s human rights under the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), an international human rights treaty. IWRAW was founded on the belief that the human rights of women and girls are essential to development and that equality between women and men will only be achieved through use of international human rights principles and processes. Since its inception, IWRAW’s program has expanded to encompass advocacy for women’s human rights under all the international human rights treaties. IWRAW operates as an international resource and communications center that serves activists, scholars, and organizations throughout the world. IWRAW is directed by Dr. Marsha A. Freeman and is based at the University of Minnesota Law School, Minneapolis, Minnesota USA, affiliated with the University’s Human Rights Center.

eds Marsha A. Freeman, Christine Chinkin, Beate Rudolf,
Oxford University Press, 2012.
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Online version also available through OUP’s subscription service for libraries and institutions
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“The foundational assumption of the Commentary is that CEDAW, its Optional Protocol, and the work of the Committee matter. . . . The Commentary will serve human rights scholars and students, gender activists, policy makers, and the wider international law community for decades to come.?

– Lisa R. Pruitt, IntlLawGrrls blog

“ . . . a model of meticulous research, thoughtful critique and unwavering commitment
to social justice.? 
– Julia L. Ernst, Melbourne Journal of International Law

Our history

IWRAW began as a network of NGOs, scholars, and individual activists concerned with publicizing and monitoring implementation of the CEDAW Convention. The IWRAW program at the University of Minnesota was established as the communications and resource link for the network. The IWRAW program pioneered shadow reporting (NGO participation in the review of a country that has ratified a treaty) to the CEDAW Committee and shadow reporting on women’s human rights to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In addition to producing shadow reports for sixty country reviews and holding international consultations on topics related specifically to the CEDAW Convention, IWRAW has engaged in training, conferences and expert groups, and global events such as the Fourth World Conference on Women and its follow-up reviews, all with a view to expanding the knowledge and application of the CEDAW Convention and other human rights treaties to advance women’s human rights.

IWRAW remains unique in its focus on building and supporting capacity—both among NGOs and within the treaty bodies—for using the entire international treaty system as a key to accountability for women’s human rights. To that end, and particularly in view of the major changes in the human rights monitoring system resulting from the United Nations reform process, IWRAW participated in the treaty monitoring bodies’ Inter-Committee Meetings and Chairpersons Meetings, and contributes to other projects of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. IWRAW played a leading role in developing new relationships between the international NGOs that are concerned with the human rights treaty monitoring process and enhancing their role in developing and evaluating new monitoring procedures.

Tools for promoting women’s human rights
IWRAW manuals and guides are designed to promote NGO understanding and use of international human rights treaties in their domestic advocacy as well as to help NGOs advocate for women’s human rights on the international level. They include: 

  • Assessing the Status of Women in the 21st Century: A Guide to Monitoring and Reporting on Women’s Human Rights under the CEDAW Convention.
    Builds on earlier manuals such as Assessing the Status of Women. Forthcoming 2015.
  • Producing Shadow Reports to the CEDAW Committee:  A Procedural Guide
    Detailed information on the logistics of producing and submitting shadow reports. Updated 2009.
  • Equality and Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: A Guide to Implementation and Monitoring under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights2004. 
  • New Harmonized Guidelines for Human Rights Treaty Reporting: Opportunities for Women’s Rights NGOs
    Explains new reporting guidelines that apply to all the human rights treaties.  These guidelines provide women’s NGOs with a simplified way to approach all the treaty monitoring bodies. 2008.

NGOs and women’s human rights

The achievements thus far in women’s human rights are the result of efforts by many actors on many levels. In 1993, IWRAW Asia Pacific was established as a sister program to IWRAW, to focus on CEDAW-related activities in the Asia Pacific region. Operating as an entirely separate entity, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, IWRAW Asia Pacific now coordinates NGO participation in the CEDAW review process and works on selected CEDAW-related issues. For a list of other NGOs concerned with women’s human rights, see Resources.

For more information, please see our Basic Facts.