Woman of the World -
Know Your International Human Rights
- What are human rights?
- What is the United Nations?
- The UN: Protecting the rights of woman
- What is CEDAW
- Australia's signing of CEDAW
- A guide to the rights in CEDAW
- CEDAW and the Sex Discimination Act
- The Optional Protocol to CEDAW
- What about Beijing?
- What can you do: The public sphere
- What can you do: Private actions
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
about the CEDAW Optional Protocol is available at the UN website: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/index.html