The principle of non-discrimination is based on the understanding that discrimination is socially constructed rather than “natural”. This recognises the need and paves the way for concerted action against inequality and the institutional mechanisms which perpetuate it.
The definition of discrimination in Article 1 of CEDAW can be summarised as:
Any act of distinction, exclusion or distinction which has the intent/purpose or effect of nullifying, impairing or denying the enjoyment of rights by women.
This definition helps us identify the weaknesses of formal or so-called neutral laws and policies because they do not recognise that women continue to suffer from the effect of past or historic discrimination. A law or policy may not have the intention of denying a woman the enjoyment of rights but if it has the effect of doing so then it constitutes discrimination.
Correcting Continued Discrimination
Despite legal rights being granted to women in many countries, discrimination persists, and women’s access to legal rights are curtailed by denial of women’s rights to economic and social development. Therefore CEDAW bridges the traditional divisions between civil and political and socio-economic rights, mandating both legal and development policy measures to guarantee the rights of women.
The uniqueness of the CEDAW Convention rests on core principles which:
- demand that power relations between women and men at all levels, from family, to community, market and state;
- discard the distinction between the private and the public spheres, by recognising violations of women in the private sphere, as violations of women’s human rights;
- recognise the negative impact of social, customary and cultural practices which are based on the perceived inferiority or superiority of either sex or on stereotyped roles for women and men.
The Convention has wide applicability in identifying discrimination and measures for eliminating discrimination.