The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: A Commentary

By Ernst, Julia L. | Melbourne Journal of International Law, November 2012 | Go to article overview

The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: A Commentary


Ernst, Julia L., Melbourne Journal of International Law


THE UN CONVENTION ON THE ELIMINATION OF ALL FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN: A COMMENTARY EDITED BY MARSHA A FREEMAN, CHRISTINE CHINKIN AND BEATE RUDOLF (OXFORD, UK: OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2012) 808 PAGES. PRICE AU$239.95 (HARDCOVER) ISBN 9780199565061.

CONTENTS

I   Introduction
II  Structure of the Commentary
III Critiques of CEDA W, the Committee's Interpretations and the
    Commentary
      A The Committee's Interpretive Methodology
      B Other Controversial Issues Raised in the Commentary
          1 Non-Discrimination against Women Based upon Sexual
            Orientation
          2 Tensions between Women's Rights and Religious Rights
          3 Abandoning the Traditional Male Yardstick and Adopting
            Temporary Special Measures for Non-Traditional Men
IV  Conclusion: A Call to Action

I INTRODUCTION

The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women ('CEDAW' or 'Convention') (1) has had a profound global influence on the advancement of women over the last three decades. As its name suggests, this international convention attempts to eradicate discrimination against women, promote women's equality with men, and improve the wellbeing of women and girls throughout the world. By the end of 2010, 186 countries had joined the Convention, and 100 had also ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women ('Optional Protocol'), (2) providing for additional enforcement mechanisms. (3) In their periodic reports to the Committee that oversees implementation of the Convention ('Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women' or 'Committee'), (4) states parties to the Convention have recounted numerous improvements in the status of women. (5) Although some of these changes may well have occurred in the absence of an international convention, both the existence of the Convention and the oversight mechanisms through the Committee have certainly contributed to the momentum impelling governments forward in taking concrete actions to provide greater equality for women.

CEDAW's impact, particularly through the work of the Committee, is thoughtfully examined in an important new volume entitled The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: A Commentary ('Commentary'), edited by Marsha A Freeman, Christine Chinkin and Beate Rudolf. (6) The editors incisively state the aim of the work in its preface, noting:

   The Commentary is designed as an in-depth account of the Convention
   norms, and their meaning and application, as developed by the CEDAW
   Committee ... [The Committee's] primary purpose is to develop the
   legal standards against which States parties' actions are measured,
   and to engage them in a dialogue under both the review process and
   the Optional Protocol, that explains to them where they have met
   the standards, where they fall short, and how to move forward. The
   Commentary documents the achievement of that purpose. (7)

The Commentary superbly accomplishes this mission. Article by article, it provides a comprehensive account of the Committee's interpretation and states parties' application of the Convention. The book also offers a detailed description of the Optional Protocol, which allows for individual petitions concerning violations of CEDAW by states parties, as well as inquiries into grave or systematic violations of the Convention. Each chapter has been carefully edited and thoughtfully integrated into the overall framework of the book, creating a meticulously unified whole. Moreover, although apparently not an explicit goal of the work, woven throughout its chapters are a series of threads interlacing into several overarching themes--some of which are quite controversial--the patterns of which will likely emerge more distinctively throughout the continuing evolution of the Convention's interpretation. …

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