Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

CEDAW and Afghanistan

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

CEDAW and Afghanistan

Article excerpt


This paper considers the relevance and applicability of CEDAW in Afghanistan and uses personal interviews with key Afghan and international actors to reflect on the context and framework for understanding the challenges and opportunities that exist for the implementation of CEDAW in contemporary Afghanistan. Starting with an introduction to CEDAW, it traces the Convention's history in Afghanistan leading to its ratification without reservations in 2003 in order to argue that the application of CEDAW in Afghanistan is threatened by conservative forces who perceive it as an element of international efforts to 'westernize' Afghanistan and undermine its unique cultural and religious heritage, particularly vis-a-vis traditional gender roles and sensitive issues around women's honour and chastity. The paper asserts that closer collaboration with Afghan activists and supporting grassroots efforts to promote women's rights within a more culturally and religiously sensitive manner is key to succeeding in advancing women's rights in general and encouraging compliance with CEDAW in particular.

Key words: Women's Human Rights, Afghanistan, CEDAW

International Human Rights

The international human rights regime was born in the 1940's as a response to the horrific violations of human rights prior and during the Second World War. The tragedies of the 1930's and 1940's served as an impetus for the founding and institutionalization of a global human rights regime dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights upon which the UN as an organization immediately embarked on. The Charter of the United Nations (1945) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) (UDHR) have served as the foundations of the human rights regime and have inspired a large number of treaties, conventions, and customary laws addressing a wide range of human rights issues and topics. One of the most important and well-known instruments is the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Throughout much of its history, the United Nations as an institution has promoted gender equality and women's human rights. By the end of the International Decade on Women in 1985, over twenty international legal instruments pertaining to the treatment of women had been adopted by the world organization, each reflecting "international agreement on particular problems related to the status of women and, as such, providing a unique insight into the state of the international consensus on the role of women in society" (Kaufman Hevener, 1986, p. 2). And as the human rights regime matures, "women's rights increasingly constitute a central feature of the world human rights regime. At the international level, the United Nations system is replete with programs, specialized agencies, regional commissions, and international instruments aimed at addressing a plethora of women's issues" (Min Wotipka & Ramirez, 2003, p. 3). The UN Charter and the UDHR both include references to women, but the language and intent do not go far enough to promote and protect women's rights and to ensure their presence and full participation nationally and internationally, and make the link between gender equality and sustainable peace and development. (2) As a result, dominant definitions of human rights and the mechanisms to enforce them have largely excluded women's experiences and their under-representation (Bunch, 1995, p. 13). Even in the early days of the UN, there was recognition that women's issues needed special attention and discussion, resulting in the establishment of the Commission on the Status of Women in 1946. (3) It was the important work of this UN body that eventually led to the drafting and adoption of CEDAW.

An Introduction to the Women's Convention

Efforts to develop an international convention focused specifically on women's rights began in 1963 when the CSW was mandated to prepare a draft declaration that would "combine in a single instrument, international standards articulating the equal rights of men and women and a committee from the CSW was appointed to begin this important work in 1965. …

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