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Women, Children and Human Rights: The CEDAW Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child




Introduction: Making Equality a Reality for Women
Issues of Complementarity and Conflict in the Human Rights Framework
Complementarity and Conflict in Family Law Issues-Rights of Children and Rights of Parents
Advocacy on the Conventions
NGO Roles and Relationships



The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) identify a group of human rights that, if achieved, would universally redefine how human beings relate to each other. If discrimination against women were truly and entirely eliminated, relationships between women and men would no longer be defined by stereotypical thinking and unequal power relationships. If discrimination against children were eliminated, all children would be recognized as human beings with basic rights as individuals rather than as property of their families and communities. These two conventions have the highest number of ratifications of any of the human rights treaties1-and the highest number of reservations. Apparently governments find the basic principles politically irresistible, but they fear the fundamental change that would result from full, unreserved compliance.

Advocates for the human rights of children and of women have a considerable commonality of interest in what the two conventions define as fundamental social and legal change. Historically, however, neither the NGO community nor the monitoring committees have worked together to define and make the most of these commonalities to reinforce each other's work. Some experts and advocates have indicated that there are apparent conflicts between the rights stated in the two treaties. This IWRAW consultation was convened to bring experts and advocates together to address the perceived conflicts as well as the commonalities, following closely upon an expert group meeting on the subject convened in the same week by IWRAW, Save the Children, UNICEF, and the UN Division for the Advancement of Women.2

The CEDAW Convention was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979. The CRC was adopted ten years later. With near-universal ratification in a very short time, experience under the Convention on the Rights of the Child has made up in depth for what it lacks in length. In light of the cumulative experience in working with both conventions and the clear confluence of

interests between the two, the international community-NGOs, governments, and experts-has an opportunity now to develop an agenda for cooperation that can dramatically advance the rights stated in both treaties and address any apparent conflicts between them.

The IWRAW consultation was designed to address both theoretical and practical concerns and possibilities. Some of these were first addressed in a meeting held in Cairo in December 1996, sponsored by UNICEF Egypt, between members of the CEDAW Committee and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Committee experts discovered how closely they could work together as a community that has special knowledge of these issues. Given the potential for increasing the effectiveness of implementation it is critical for the experts and the NGO community to sort out apparent conflicts of interest as to rights under the two conventions and find ways to resolve them.

Background and Overview of Consultation

Salma Khan, CEDAW Chair

After noting the results of the Cairo meeting, Khan described a project to develop materials for incorporating CRC and CEDAW in the curricula of six Middle Eastern law schools, sponsored by UNICEF Middle East/North Africa Regional Office. The concluding conference on that project, held in Beirut in September 1997, noted that there are significant differences in the way the two treaties are approached by States Parties. The differing patterns of ratifications and reservations with respect to the two treaties, indicates an underlying gender issue. Khan encouraged advocates for each convention to collaborate closely to extend and strengthen the work of each, while still paying close attention to the differences in how the treaties are perceived.

Ratification and Reservations by States Parties

Ms. Khan described how, when taken together, CRC and CEDAW provide a continuum of human rights protection under international standards. Each guarantees similar sets of rights. Together, CRC and CEDAW guarantee rights throughout a woman's lifetime that can be pursued under the CRC for girls up to the age of eighteen. Both treaties protect the welfare of children. Several articles of CEDAW relate to the interests of children: Article 2 (equality); Article 5 (maternity); Article 9 (nationality); Article 11 (maternity leave); Article 12 (health care); Article 16 (best interests of the child paramount with respect to equality between the parents). The critical areas of health and education in children's lives discussed in CRC both are fundamentally linked with women's human rights. CRC and CEDAW also share concerns with violence and sexual abuse.

Nonetheless, the differences in how these two conventions are perceived by states are reflected in the ratification rates and in reservations. CRC has near-universal ratification while CEDAW had, as of early 1998, stagnated at 161 ratifications.3 Countries that overtly reject the concept of universal, fundamental human rights of women, have comfortably ratified CRC. Out of twenty-two Arab countries, only eleven have ratified CEDAW, while all have ratified CRC. CRC is perceived as a convention addressing the care and protection of children, which appear to be inarguable. It is not seen as anti-discriminatory, although the nondiscrimination provisions are clear and significant. The CEDAW Convention, however, has always and only been perceived as dealing with issues of women's equality rather than protection, requiring an effort to address discrimination-a much more difficult process for many governments.

Of the six major human rights treaties, CEDAW has the largest number of reservations. These reservations pertain to rights that are similar to those which were easily accepted in the Children's Convention. The preponderance of reservations to CEDAW are on Article 2 (elimination of all forms of discrimination against women); Article 7 (elimination of discrimination in political and public life); and Article 9 (right to nationality and citizenship). Countries reserving Article 9 of CEDAW did not enter reservations to citizenship rights guaranteed in CRC. As to CRC the largest number of reservations is to Article 14, which guarantees children freedom of thought and freedom of religion. The second largest number of reservations to CRC is to Articles 20 and 21 which address adoption and foster care. All other articles, including right to inheritance, have been accepted by States Parties.

Khan noted that there is now talk in the UN system about unifying the treaty bodies. There have been proposals to unify the monitoring of the rights of women, children and other people. The time may come, said Khan, when this type of proposal could be entertained, but she noted that we should be very careful and ensure that areas of cooperation are well identified in order to prevent the rights of either women or children being subsumed by the other. As each child reaches adulthood at 18, her rights need to be guaranteed and enjoyed throughout her life from childhood through adulthood.

Khan concluded that the two conventions should be worked together more closely. It must be clearly understood that all human beings, not only women, are affected by issues of women's human rights and children's human rights. If women are provided equal rights, children too will enjoy more rights. If women's human rights are guaranteed, children's human rights will be guaranteed.


Issues of Complementarity and Conflict in the Human Rights Framework

Moderator: Jane Connors
Lead Resources: Savitri Goonesekere, Dan Seymour

Complementarity of CRC and CEDAW

Women's Rights and Children's Rights are Human Rights

According to Professor Savitri Goonesekere of Sri Lanka, the denial of life chances for girls-in her country and everywhere-is an abuse of authority. For her, she said, there never has been an issue of distinguishing between children's rights, women's rights and human rights. While current economic realities may result in increased efforts to undermine and divide the work and principles of the treaties, it is critical to recognize the importance of these rights, government accountability for their implementation, and that one agenda must not subsume the other.

The concept of the complementarity of rights recognizes that both conventions discuss the well-being of women and of children and the realization of their rights. While CRC and CEDAW are two separate treaties and must continue to be seen as such, their areas of compatibility can reinforce each agenda as long as we ensure that emphasis on either convention does not undermine rights in the other.

Dan Seymour of Save the Children Alliance agreed with Goonesekere's statement that one rights agenda should not subsume the other and recounted an experience that highlighted this. In a refugee camp in Bangladesh he met a thin and sick fourteen-year-old Muslim girl from Burma. She had given birth a week earlier to a tiny, low birth-weight child. In that camp rations were distributed through heads of households, which meant the male head of household received the rations. But these rations were not getting to this young mother and her child. The girl was too young to have a child, she was malnourished, and she and the baby died that week. How much do we, as advocates for women or for children, differ in what we feel and believe, Seymour asked, when we are confronted with such situations?

Seymour noted that the modern conception of human rights parallels the development of human rights law. The great human rights declarations of the US and France were written for men only. But the change in how human rights are viewed has been in the recognition of discrimination: the idea of equality born from the principle that all people are born free and equal, and with the same rights. Human beings have rights and these rights are non-negotiable. Rights cannot be overridden by other considerations; they cannot be traded off. You cannot sacrifice the life of one person to save the lives of ten.

We share, said Seymour, fundamental beliefs: women's rights are human rights and children's rights are human rights. Yet in some places it is difficult for people to believe that children or women have rights. In refugee camps, for example, some men have find it strange and difficult to believe that women have rights at all.

CRC and CEDAW: Filling in the Gaps

Emna Aouij, CEDAW member from Tunisia, noted that each convention fills in gaps in the other. In her position as a children's judge she has a great interest in both CRC and CEDAW. She noted that Article 42 of CRC was important in requiring States Parties to make the Convention widely known among adults and children, something not seen in other conventions. She noted, too, the importance of Article 29 of CRC, which provides that the state must favor the development of personality, respect of cultural values, equality among sexes, tolerance and the protection of the rights of children. This article states that, in the family and at school, children are to be taught tolerance, respect for each other, and equality. CRC fills another gap in CEDAW in addressing the protection of children from violence and sexual exploitation.

CEDAW has an important role in addressing gaps in CRC concerning the needs of girl children and adolescent girls in such areas as health care and the right to privacy.

Dan Seymour noted that a broad, holistic view of human rights creates space for more effective work. Using the complementarities of CRC and CEDAW is a good place to start.

Linkages Between The Two Treaties

With the development of human rights theory and practice, socioeconomic issues, previously addressed as needs, have now been defined as rights. Gooneskere said that in CEDAW and CRC, socioeconomic rights are being placed on the international agenda as core rights that are entitlements of citizenship. CRC states children's right to development, and CEDAW articulates socioeconomic rights. With respect to child labor, governments in Africa and Asia continue to define the socioeconomic problems out of which child labor arises as issues only of needs, not of fundamental rights. It is the challenge of governments, and the responsibility of civil society, to take children from the workplace and put them in school, because no government, and no family, has the right to deny children basic health and education. It is the human rights treaties that have brought this to the fore as an issue both in government planning and among activists.

Goonesekere suggested that the articles of CRC pertaining to health, education, violence, family and the concept of support for women can be used in tandem with CEDAW to develop common agendas. Seymour used the particular example of rape as an issue that highlights the complementarity, not only of CRC and CEDAW, but also of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture, as all these treaties and their monitoring bodies address such violence against women and children.

While many participants felt that CRC does tend to stereotype women as mothers, Gooneskere also noted complementarity with CEDAW's broader view of women's rights and responsibilities in that CRC refers to joint parent responsibility and community responsibility. CRC brings in men, the community and government, as key participants in the care of children, offering the opportunity for a woman to be a mother with children and still have life chances-opportunities for her own development-in her community.

Goonesekere emphasized that the function of the treaties is to address human rights of women and of children at the national level. Both treaties create accountability on the part of governments which is of primary importance to NGOs such as IWRAW. Activism alone, she stressed, cannot push an agenda forward without state responsibility, accountability and the participation of civil society.

Conflicts Between CRC and CEDAW

Issues of Cultural Relativism

The CEDAW and CRC have been challenged in many quarters by the claim that their standards are Eurocentric and individualistic. Professor Gooneskere stated that these challenges must be addressed to prevent the undermining of children's and women's human rights. The treaties describe the family as a unit whose function is to realize the well-being of the individuals within it as well as to reinforce the family itself. This concept is supported in Islam, Christianity and Buddhism; all reinforce the view that communitarian interests must never undermine the significance of the individual. Communitarian development is based on equity and respect for the human being. Communitarian interests can never justify bonded labor, child labor, or slave labor. These interests can never justify denial of life chances for girls. The community's economic and social agenda can never justify torture.

The value of the individual must not be denied. The claim of family or communitarian interest should be challenged when it is used to deny women's or children's human rights.

Professor Goonesekere also addressed the need for civil society in the North to understand the struggles of women in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The struggle of women in these countries is to reinforce their traditions using the tools of human rights, rather than departing from those traditions. Economic globalization and structural adjustment have eroded "family values" - but the family is not always the benign victim. The reality in South Asia is that, often, the family is at the core of practices that exploit women. Additionally, the breakdown of social norms in situations of armed conflict, means that certain protections afforded to women and children are lost. It is critical to use the principles of human rights to find the positive forces in the various local cultures and link them to modern conditions. As the moral core of many of our countries breaks down we need to look for new solutions. Human rights are the right tool for this effort, and governments that have ratified CRC and CEDAW must internalize the obligations they have undertaken internationally. People in the North must recognize these challenges and help these countries reinforce human rights.

A discussion participant suggested that, rather than viewing that the southern countries should follow the ideologies and ways of thinking of the North where the focus is on the individual, perhaps both the South and the North are moving toward a new philosophy where individuals and communities are perceived in a balanced way in which we are all working together.

Contrary to the claims of some, accepting the human rights treaties does not mean letting the North set the human rights agenda. In fact, said Gooneskere, the Southeast Asian countries have critiqued the fact that human rights have only been associated with political and civil rights, and have pushed for the recognition of social and economic rights.

Seymour stated that supporters of universal human rights are strongly opposed to violations of culture in the name of human rights. But at the same time, if traditional cultural practices or their interpretation violate rights, then those practices and/or interpretations should be opposed. It is important to recognize that the human rights approach may not be compatible with all cultures. As to rights being a Western construction, said Seymour, an African mother being tortured never says that rights are a Western imposition.

The Stereotyping of Women as Mothers

Salma Khan noted that, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the large number of newly democratizing countries, and rising nationalism, there is a developing trend toward the overprotection of the role of motherhood. Many of these newly democratizing countries are encouraging women to have more children, even in countries with population problems. Many of these countries have no programs of affirmative action to benefit women in employment, education, or participation in public life, but they have adopted "affirmative" policies to promote motherhood. Thus women are considered only in their role as mothers rather than as full human beings.

This is a crucial issue that leads to the concern that CRC must not be used to stifle women's rights. This can happen if women are only seen as conduits for the realization of children's rights, rather than as human beings entitled to the full enjoyment of their own human rights.

The Prioritization of Human Rights versus Human Rights as Absolutes

Dan Seymour discussed the apparent conflict between viewing human rights as absolute and non-negotiable, and practical situations in which it would seem that rights must be prioritized. The universal and absolute nature of human rights means that we cannot decide that civil and political rights are more important than socioeconomic rights, or that the right to not be tortured is more important than the right to eat. However, sometimes implementation efforts can create a conflict in realization of different rights.

Seymour used child labor as an example. In Bangladesh, when efforts to make child labor illegal succeeded, children were no longer able to work for wages. However, making waged labor illegal, without providing for alternative sources of support, simply increased the financial pressure on families, and the incidence of child prostitution skyrocketed-an issue of the right to be free of sexual exploitation. Prioritization became essential. The conflict was resolved at the policy level by suggesting that instead of outlawing child labor, it should be made a less rational alternative for families.

Goonesekere stated that the important concept is to provide life chances for women and girls. Once the state is committed to children's rights and life chances, women can go to work without contravening the rights of children. Additionally, the employment of women tends to take children out of the labor force. But resources must be allocated to provide the child care and other services needed by women and children. The governments of the Philippines and Sri Lanka, for instance, while they allow women to migrate to work, do nothing to support women with child care or to prevent child abuse. Equal life chances must be ensured by providing education for girls and women along with access to health care and employment.

Seymour disagreed with the "life chances" approach, noting that a double burden lands on women when children do not work. He stated that rights cannot be resolved based on life chances because that makes rights negotiable at the practical level. According to the life chances approach, the problem is removed if services such as child care are provided. But in practice, choices have to be made. We have to acknowledge, he said, that these are real problems and they impact women's lives.

Opportunities for Collaboration

Seymour pointed out that the consultation participants are all humanitarians; there is great potential for working together. Collaboration, he said, does not have to mean there are demons waiting around the corner.

Areas of potential collaboration discussed included, among others:


Complementarity and Conflict in Family Law Issues-Rights of Children and Rights of Parents

Moderator: Pramila Patten
Lead Resources: Maame Bafour Awuah, Magdalena Rwebangira

Panel moderator Pramila Patten emphasized that the consensus of the meeting was building on the side of complementarity. She reiterated that the rights of one group cannot be used to cancel rights of another. CEDAW and CRC together guarantee women's human rights throughout their lives.

Custody and Maintenance

Maame Bafour Awuah of Botswana reported on the use of CRC and CEDAW in Botswana in dealing with issues of custody, maintenance and guardianship. Articles 9, 18 and 27 of the CRC refer to children's standard of living, and Article 2 refers to discrimination-issues basically covered by Article 16 of CEDAW. The complementarity between the two treaties in these areas is fairly clear.

In Botswana custody is generally given to the mother when parents divorce. Stereotypically the mother is the caregiver and the father is charged with provision of maintenance and has the right of access to the child. After divorce, although the mother has custody, the father remains the legal guardian and has the right to make legal decisions regarding the child. Often the father takes the children out of private school and places them in public school over the objection of the mother, who does not have the legal right to contest this decision despite having physical custody.

An unwed mother in Botswana has sole custody and legal guardianship of her children. The obligations of the father are limited by statute to $10 per month for maintenance of the child-and this only until the child reaches 13, or 16 if the child remains in school. The mother essentially must pay for her right to guardianship as she has to pay all maintenance costs for raising the child. Mothers are usually willing to bear this burden to retain rights of control of her child.

Awuah noted that CEDAW provides an excellent basis for activists to address the maintenance issues because it provides for joint responsibility of both parents in raising children. In addition,

Article 27 of CRC provides that children shall have an adequate standard of living. Article 2 provides that children shall not be discriminated against due to the status of their parents. Both conventions provide that parents have shared and equal responsibility.

The $10 limitation on maintenance payments was challenged in a series of cases based on Botswana's obligation to uphold the international conventions it has ratified, including CRC and CEDAW. As a result of these test cases, unwed mothers and illegitimate children may now go to High Court to obtain maintenance taking into account the needs of mother and child, instead of being required to claim under the maintenance statute in a lower court. Because there is no limit on maintenance awards issued by the High Court, women now have a better chance of obtaining a realistic sum for support of their children.

Health Issues

Magdalena Rwebangira of Tanzania discussed the complementarity of CRC and CEDAW as to mutual recognition of women's and children's rights to health. In Articles 12 and 14 CEDAW addresses access to health for women, while CRC more elaborately states health rights for adolescent girls, including rights to information, privacy and consent (while maintaining a focus on the best interests of the child).

Rwebangira reported that, in developing countries, and particularly Africa, both adolescent girls and the community in general expressed a desire to include boys in the health education and services that had typically been seen as the concern of girls only. The girls in one group wanted boys included because they felt boys didn't understand them. It became important to see how boys perceive the health of girls.

A key issue of complementarity is the health of adolescent girls. In Rwebangira's experience health professionals may neglect girls because of their suspicion that adolescent health needs are related to sexual activity. For example, girls admitted to hospital with abdominal pain are expected to confess that they have undergone an illegal abortion. If they don't confess, they are left without care. They are also expected to disclose who provided the abortion. The attitudes of government officials, institutions, parents and health care givers are key impediments to protection of privacy and provision of adolescent health care in developing countries. With respect to this issue, complementarity of the treaties means that the adolescent's rights can be addressed by both the women's movement and the children's movement.

Conflicts on health issues arise because women fear that their status will be threatened by assertions of adolescents' rights. Adolescents' right to health conflicts with traditional harmful practices like female genital mutilation (FGM) that tend to be supported by parents, religious leaders and religious communities. Both CRC and CEDAW provide a framework for working within communities on these issues. When women's rights are protected by CEDAW there can be space for a dialogue concerning the rights provided for children in CRC.

This same effect of a rights framework can be seen in addressing the issue of bridewealth. Mothers are ambivalent: payment of bridewealth gives status to the mother and the daughter, and it is the only time in her life, according to custom, that the daughter has something to share with the family. At the same time, it is associated with lack of consent to marriage and with seeing children as property. The two treaties can be used to address these issues-giving mothers more power, so they don't need bridewealth to enhance their status, and giving girls a value beyond what they can bring into the family through bridewealth.

The complementarity of the treaties with respect to health offers the opportunity to discuss gender roles. Rwebangira noted that complementarity presents the possibility of children having their opinions taken into consideration, to take part in decisionmaking in their families, to discuss their health, sexuality, and reproductivity. It makes space for the creation of a new society that addresses civil and political rights, social and economic rights, and cultural rights within communities. The involvement of children, she concluded, is our best hope for achieving and bringing about sustained democratization in the state for both women's and children's human rights.


Advocacy on the Conventions

Moderator: Shireen Huq
Lead Resources: Janet Kabeberi, Shaheen Sardar Ali, Lamis Nasser, Shanthi Dairiam

Relationship of Reporting Processes of the Two Conventions

Janet Kabeberi of Kenya reiterated the essential principles shared by the two treaties discussed earlier in the consultation: children's rights and women's rights are human rights; the human rights of women and of children are indivisible, are interlinked and are equally important for the status and well-being of children and women; and the best interests of the child are paramount.

Kabeberi emphasized that neither CRC nor CEDAW should be used to narrow the rights granted to children and women as human beings by general human rights law. The realization of these rights is a partnership between the government, community and the family based on an understanding of promoting these rights. Strategies to facilitate the process of achieving rights within the CRC and CEDAW must take into account cultural attitudes, political and economic factors and laws and policies as expressed by each of these institutions.

Kabeberi described the reporting process of CRC and CEDAW, a process that is central to the achievement of children's rights and women's human rights.

CRC's reporting requirement is in Article 44: States Parties undertake to submit an initial report two years after ratification and periodic reports every five years thereafter. NGOs and other specialized agencies may prepare reports for submission under Article 45(a). NGOs also may prepare a shadow report, which enables the committee to compare the report of the NGO with that of the state.

Article 18 of CEDAW requires States Parties to prepare an initial report to CEDAW within one year of notification and periodic reports every four years. Article 22 calls upon specialized agencies to make reports to the CEDAW Committee on countries under review per session. The Committee also accepts and uses NGO shadow reports, although the Convention does not explicitly provide for them.

Reporting on the two conventions is a process that begins with monitoring implementation by the State Party. Implementation activities should continue even after initial and periodic reports have been filed by the state. The reporting process is therefore not just a matter of participating in report preparation every five years (CRC) or four years (CEDAW); rather it is a process that demands continuous commitment from all involved.

The existence of programs on paper is not enough. It is imperative that the extent of implementation is fully researched with the following questions in mind: Are programs designed for the promotion of children's rights and women's rights as human rights? Are the programs based on the idea of the protection and promotion of these rights as special rights?

States that have ratified the conventions have the primary duty of implementation. But there are others involved in the implementation process-NGOs, the community and family units-and it is the governments' responsibility to provide an enabling environment to allow these actors to play an effective role. The community and family unit are critical because the realities of the two conventions need to be brought home to children and women at the household level. NGOs are crucial to the monitoring and implementation processes because they ensure that attention is called to sensitive national issues often omitted in the government report. NGOs also may participate in the preparation of the government report; therefore it is important to forge alliances with the government.

There are many NGOs doing work and preparing reports related to CRC and CEDAW. They may run the risk of not having adequate information because of failure to consult one another, and because certain governments do not always make statistics public. Therefore, NGOs need to form coalitions to act as monitors of the implementation process. These monitoring coalitions must not only be active as human rights bodies, but must also act as pressure groups to ensure that their governments meet the compliance standards. Failure to continuously monitor CRC and CEDAW implementation may result in the degeneration of the two conventions into a broad statement of principles and little more.

The monitoring coalitions may: ensure that laws are continuously renewed; regularly scrutinize the status of women and children; evaluate future programs and isolate critical cases; scrutinize government policies; build expertise through research and test cases; and, periodically produce public reports and make their findings widely known. Kabeberi concluded by stating that the coalitions will also have to deal with the problem of lack of awareness among policy makers, NGOs and the community about CRC and CEDAW-especially since ignorance is a major obstacle to effective implementation of the two conventions.

Denise Allen of Jamaica raised the issue of NGOs needing to take the lead in the difficult process of linking groups together, and in working on country level policy formation. NGOs can take the lead in being a voice for citizens-including children, whose voices are denied in many countries.

Effect of Reservations and Withdrawal Strategies

Shaheen Sardar Ali of Pakistan highlighted three areas in which reservations to the human rights treaties can have major implications for implementation and enforcement of children's and women's human rights.

Human rights activists, said Ali, must challenge States Parties' reservations. It is important to analyze the reservations in professional and non-confrontational ways. As to the Muslim states' reservations, the idea that there is a monolithic norm applicable to all Muslims must be challenged. There is not just one static immutable Muslim law.

Emna Aouij, CEDAW member from Tunisia, discussed the experience in her country, which she described as one of the most advanced Muslim states regarding the rights of women. Despite the fact that Tunisia follows Islamic codes, an advanced, progressive reading has been applied allowing ratification of CEDAW. There are still problems with respect to the rights of women in the family when the codes are enforced in a discriminatory way to limit women's rights. But, Aouij said, Islam is a culture of peace. One can ask theologians and separatists to apply an authentic, progressive reading and interpretation of the text to remove some of the reservations that have no relation to Islamic law.

Withdrawal of Reservations: Malaysia

Shanthi Dairiam reported on efforts in Malaysia towards withdrawal of reservations. She noted that implementation of the full convention is the goal, and attainment of this goal is not necessarily any closer for countries that have fully ratified compared with those that have made reservations. Therefore an assessment has to be made of the best use of energy and resources in order to achieve implementation.

The critical issue in Malaysia was context, and each reservation had to be examined in light of the that. The CEDAW Convention was ratified at a historic moment for Malaysia, in July 1995, just before the Fourth World Conference on Women. Malaysia wished, in the context of its international state relationships, to be seen as supporting women's equality and rights.

Ratification, even with reservations, placed Malaysia on the list of countries supporting CEDAW. The reservations were on the critical Article 2(f) (that government will take appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination); on Article 5(a) (elimination of customary and cultural practices premised on stereotypes of women's inferiority); Article 7(b) guaranteeing women equality in policymaking; Article 9 on nationality; and Article 16, rights in the family.

Analysis of the context helps in challenging states as to their motives. If the state was interested in appearing to support equality, did this ratification meet that goal? It is necessary to analyze and question in depth the issues and contradictions arising out of the reservations. Does the state have the capacity to implement the Convention fully? Does it have the technical capacity? What about intra-state relationships? Who or what agencies and branches of government are involved? They may be in conflict with one another. Who has authority? Whom do we have to target?

For activists in Malaysia this meant much hard work for a long time to get the state to be accountable. A document was drawn up that outlined the following points:



After two years of advocacy, including developing technical knowledge and leveraging support within high government circles, success was achieved in gaining withdrawal of almost all of the reservations.

Advocacy Strategies Using the Two Conventions

Lamis Nasser of Jordan outlined the six basic premises on which her convention advocacy is based: gender segregated data approach; life cycle perspective; girl child approach; rights based approach; education as most effective means for shaping values; and integration of gender into development programs.

Nasser also outlined projects and proposals for developing advocacy on an academic base. These included establishing a human rights course as a university requirement; establishing a course on CRC and CEDAW in faculties of law; integrating sections on CRC and CEDAW in other academic departments; encouraging national studies of CRC and CEDAW; encouraging dissemination of information and human rights groups on campus; offering an advanced degree in human rights; encouraging students in all faculties to tackle human rights in their papers; having a human rights professor in all universities; establishing reference libraries on human rights; publishing an interdisciplinary magazine on human rights including women's rights and children's rights.

Recently six law schools in the Arab world completed a project to incorporate the two conventions into their curricula, sponsored by UNICEF Middle East/North Africa Region.

Nasser listed a number of NGO advocacy tasks, such as pointing out ethnic and cultural influences in gender practices, including education on women's and children's rights in literacy programs, and establishing working relationships with the media and with secular and religious leaders to promote these rights. But she also emphasized the extensive responsibilities of government to amend national laws and regulations to conform with CRC and CEDAW and to form effective mechanisms to implement the conventions; to disseminate gender segregated data, and to train departments of justice and the judiciary in dealing with women and girls. Government can develop gender sensitive indicators, include gender sensitive information in schools, and include women's and children's rights in curricula relevant for each grade.

In the discussion, Jane Richards of the Commonwealth Medical Association stated that it was a great gap not to include health professionals and discussion of medical ethics. Nasser agreed that advocacy for the conventions must include health issues and health workers.

Daniel Whelan of the International Center for Research on Women noted that, often, many who work in development lack knowledge of the human rights framework and do not see themselves in advocacy roles. However, development is often the means by which rights can be realized. Governments may ratify the conventions, with or without reservations, but the development systems are put in place without regard to rights. He stated that, in working with an organization that focuses on gender equity in development programs, he sees the potential power of linking development systems to the human rights framework.


NGO Roles and Relationships

Moderator: Marianne Haslegrave
Lead Resources: Gladys Acosta, Aissa Soumaré

Training on Human Rights Issues

Working with displaced persons in Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia and Peru, Gladys Acosta has first-hand experience with the significance of gender-based methodology for training. Contrary to common assumptions, displaced populations are principally women, children and older people, with men generally a minority. Displaced populations are largely women trying to guarantee the survival of their children and family. Discrimination is further exacerbated by the poverty of indigenous and racial minorities in displaced communities.

A gender-based methodology is not just about women-it is a human rights approach. The most relevant element of this methodology is the recognition of the problems that confront women, that everyday domestic realities constitute the universe of women. In displaced communities women need both access to labor markets and psychological services to reconstruct their autonomy in the economic, political and social spheres. A gender-based approach allows women to articulate their interests and needs and identify other ways in which they can participate.

Women must be recognized as children's rights advocates. Women and children can develop common strategies to realize CRC and CEDAW as national standards. Within this the special needs of girl children must be highlighted. An explicit human rights approach must be established to link women's and children's rights.

Complementarity Programming

In Mali, it is customary to say that when a child is beautiful, slender and tall, it is the child of the whole village, but a child who is sickly and unsuccessful is your child. According to Aissa Soumaré, community life exists to share responsibilities, yet the community often does not accept responsibilities for the negative. This became the basis to tackle the problem of the rights of women and children, whose relationship forms the basis of society. Currently Mali has a program for implementation of the CRC that was designed by government and UN agencies.



While many participants in this consultation had worked with both treaties, the implementation, monitoring and reporting processes for each of the treaties have been addressed as dealing with separate issues, separate sets of rights. But in truth, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child lay out fundamental rights common to all human beings, regardless of age. At the conclusion of the consultation, a number of participants expressed commitments to work at country and regional levels to develop the relationships between the two treaties and the respective NGO communities. It is critical to continue to reach out to more people who share the common interests expressed in this consultation; there is a commonality of interest in challenging the patriarchal status quo.

The consultation began the process of negotiation on a theoretical level about the treaties and how they operate. The commonalities are apparent, and it is incumbent upon us to make the most of that. The areas of difference can be negotiated more effectively when we understand the power of the commonalities in challenging patriarchal assumptions and actions.

As Mary Maboreke of Zimbabwe noted forcefully, these treaties are about the rights of our own adolescent daughters. They are also about the rights of children, women-all human beings-to live freely, fully, and to their greatest potential.



Gladys Acosta, Peru. Trainer and consultant

Shaheen Sardar Ali, Pakistan. Professor of Law, University of Peshawar; visiting faculty, University of Warwick and University of Hull, UK

Maame Bafour Awuah, Botswana. Director, Metlhaetsile Women's Information Centre

Jane Connors, Chief, Human Rights Unit, United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women

Shanthi Dairiam, Malaysia. Director, IWRAW Asia Pacific

Marsha Freeman, USA. Director, IWRAW

Savitri Goonasekere, Sri Lanka. Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Colombo

Marianne Haslegrave, United Kingdom. Executive Director, Commonwealth Medical Association

Shireen Huq, Bangladesh. Founding member, Nariphokko; consultant, Danida

Janet Kabeberi, Kenya. Regional Coordinator, Women and Law in East Africa; program officer, UNIFEM Kenya

Salma Khan, Bangladesh. Chairperson, CEDAW

Lamis Nasser, Jordan. Consultant, UNICEF Jordan

Pramila Patten, Mauritius. Activist lawyer, founder of Women's Legal Action Watch

Dan Seymour, United Kingdom. Human Rights Officer, Save the Children UK

Hadja Aissa Diallo Soumaré, Mali. President, Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Women and of Children




1 As of December 1998, 190 countries had ratified the CRC and 162 had ratified the CEDAW Convention.

2 A report on this consultation is available from IWRAW for US$5 (cost of mailing).

3 The 162nd ratification was in fall 1998.


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