Skip to main content

Woman of the World - The Optional Protocol to CEDAW

Woman of the World -
Know Your International Human Rights

The Optional Protocol to CEDAW

Many countries that are parties to CEDAW have established domestic mechanisms to create and enforce the rights within CEDAW. For example, Australia's Sex Discrimination Act embodies many of the rights of CEDAW.The
Optional Protocol to CEDAW was accepted by the UN General Assembly on
6 October 1999 and opened for signing and ratification by national governments
that were parties to CEDAW. Its provisions became operational on 22 December
2000.

The purpose of the
CEDAW Optional Protocol is to strengthen the enforcement mechanisms available
for the rights within CEDAW. The Protocol provides for complaints to be
taken directly to the UN. Although CEDAW represents a strong and valuable
statement of women's human rights, it is not always enforced by governments
within their domestic legal systems. The rights exist, but they often
fail to be enforced.

Complaints procedures
such as the Optional Protocol exist under other international Conventions
-the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment (CAT). These optional agreements can be signed
and ratified by the national government which is already a party to the
original Convention.

The Optional Protocol
to CEDAW allows women to bring a complaint about a breach of the rights
under CEDAW to the CEDAW Committee. To bring a complaint, it must first
be shown that all remedies available through the law in that country have
been exhausted. It is important to note that the Optional Protocol does
not create new rights, but provides a new enforcement mechanism for existing
rights that have been in force since a national government became a party
to CEDAW.

Many countries that
are parties to CEDAW have established domestic mechanisms to create and
enforce the rights within CEDAW. For example, Australia's Sex Discrimination
Act embodies many of the rights of CEDAW. However, for the following reasons,
the Optional Protocol remains important for all nations, particularly
those nations that still have some way to go with respect to implementing
the rights of CEDAW domestically.

  • The Optional Protocol provides a 'backup' for domestic law and policies to ensure that they are adequate and effective.The
    Optional Protocol provides a 'backup' for domestic laws and policies
    to ensure that they are adequate and effective.
  • Domestic laws
    and policies sometimes have gaps so that some women are not able to
    exercise or protect their rights - the Optional Protocol ensures that
    an enforcement mechanism is available.
  • In countries
    with a federalist system, state and federal governments may have separate
    and independent legislative power. Therefore, the actions of one level
    of government may be contrary to CEDAW while the other is not. An Optional
    Protocol would help to ensure that all levels of government in a country
    find domestic methods to set uniform standards in accordance with CEDAW.
  • Governments change,
    as do systems of power and cultural attitudes. Even though one nation's
    government may seem supportive of women's rights now, it may not be
    so in the future. The Optional Protocol provides a mechanism for the
    ongoing protection of women's rights.
  • It is important
    for nations with good domestic protection for women to become a party
    to the Optional Protocol to demonstrate leadership for other women from
    nations with less effective mechanisms.

On 9 February 2001,
the CEDAW Optional Protocol had 64 signatories and 15 parties (a party
is a country that has ratified, as well as signed, the Optional Protocol).
In 2000 Australia's Howard Coalition government announced that it did
not intend to sign the Optional Protocol at this stage.

Further information
about the CEDAW Optional Protocol is available at the UN website: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/index.html