When a country becomes a State party to CEDAW, it voluntarily accepts a range of legally binding obligations to eliminate discrimination against women and bring about equality between women and men.
The Responsibility of the State
A State party to CEDAW essentially enters into a contract with all other States parties that:
- It will abide by norms and standards collectively agreed upon by the States parties
- It is offering itself to a scrutiny by an international expert committee on the basis of these norms and standards.
Every State party is obliged to present an initial report to the United Nations one year after accession on the obstacles to the equality status of women and the actions it intends to take to remove such obstacles. Thereafter, the States party is required to submit a periodic report on the progress made every four years. Under the CEDAW treaty, the State has responsibilities to women from which it cannot withdraw, and to which it will be held accountable at the national and international levels.
Some basic principles of State obligation are:
- An obligation of means through the law, or the formal guarantee of the provision of rights.
- An obligation of results, or ensuring the practical realisation of rights.
Articles 2-4 of CEDAW spell out the broad State obligation:
i) Article 2 obligates the State to enact a policy of non-discrimination through legislation, institutional mechanisms and regulatory policies.
ii) Article 3 obligates the State to promote equality through all appropriate means. This includes proactive measures and enabling conditions to ensure the full development and advancement of women.
iii) Article 4 obligates the State to put in place affirmative action to accelerate de facto equality.
Articles 5-16 provide substance and context in which the principles of State obligation have to be applied. These substantive articles may not show all the context of women’s lives, but the very fact that the CEDAW Convention obligates States to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women means that every context is included. Article 1 which defines discrimination helps us to include all contexts.