What is CEDAW?

CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, is an international human rights treaty setting forth the internationally-recognized rights of women. The CEDAW Committee is a body of independent experts that monitors the implementation of CEDAW and the compliance of signatory States with the treaty’s provisions. CEDAW compels States to ensure appropriate health services in connection with pregnancy and to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care, including reproductive health. It obligates States to respect, protect, and fulfill women’s rights to autonomy, privacy, confidentiality, informed consent and choice. These obligations derive from the treaty text and from the CEDAW Committee’s official recommendations that illuminate and expound on States’ duties.

Read the full text of CEDAW.

Read General Recommendation No. 24 on Women and Health.

How can individuals and organizations utilize CEDAW in their advocacy?

Every four years, States that are parties to CEDAW must report on their own compliance with treaty obligations, including the legislative, judicial, administrative or other measures they have adopted to implement the Convention. The CEDAW Committee reviews the reports, meets with State representatives, and develops comments and recommendations addressing the State’s progress as well as subjects of concern and barriers to implementation. Recognizing that governments’ self-reporting may be incomplete, the CEDAW Committee allows NGOs to submit alternative or “shadow” reports to bring country-specific women’s rights issues to the Committee’s attention during the period when the Committee is reviewing the report of that State. Shadow reports should relate to the specific articles of the Convention and should be prepared using established procedures.

In addition, CEDAW’s Optional Protocol allows individuals and groups to submit complaints to the Committee and to request special inquiries into States’ violations of CEDAW. The complainant must exhaust domestic remedies before the CEDAW Committee will consider a complaint.

Read the Optional Protocol to CEDAW.

What is the communications procedure for individual complainants?

The communications procedure is complex and has a number of country-specific elements such as the exhaustion requirement, which will differ depending on the domestic judicial system and the existence of domestic human rights commissions or other rights-monitoring bodies. The following resources provide general guidance for complainants and lawyers seeking to assist with the filing of a complaint:

What is the shadow reporting process?

International Women’s Rights Action Watch has developed a number of guides outlining the reporting process. If your organization is interested in submitting a report to CEDAW about women’s rights in childbirth or other women’s rights issues, these guides are a good starting place to learn about the process, including how to develop and organize your report and how and when to submit it to the CEDAW Committee:

What does a shadow report look like?

Below are links to a number of shadow reports submitted to the CEDAW committee that comment on women’s rights in childbirth. HRiC does not endorse every recommendation in each report, but provides these as examples to inspire community groups to develop their own reports. For several of these States, the CEDAW Committee included recommendations on the issues raised by the shadow reports in its concluding observations following the State review session. Those recommendations lay the foundation for further advocacy, as NGOs can use them to urge domestic decision-makers to effect systemic changes in compliance with international law.

Hungary, 2013: Report by the Hungarian Women’s Lobby and the European Roma Rights Centre

  • See Article 12: Healthcare and Family Planning
  • Comments on high rates of intervention and the lack of recognition of independent midwives due to restrictive laws and lack of state funding. Comments on imprisonment of midwife Agnes Gereb.
  • Comments on continued coerced sterilization of Romani women.

Committee’s Recommendations to the Hungarian State

31 (e) “Ensure women’s choice to give birth at home or in a hospital by recognizing trained midwives as independent professionals and by elaborating a legal framework and guidelines on security of home deliveries, and providing training of obstetricians.”

United Kingdom, 2013: Report by the UK CEDAW Working Group / Women’s Resource Centre

  • See Section 12.53 et. seq.: Maternity Services
  • Comments on certain populations’ lack of eligibility for free NHS maternity care, including refused asylum seekers, trafficked women, women whose immigration status is dependent on their husband, and undocumented migrants.
  • Comments on significant differentials in maternal health outcomes for different ethnic groups and economic areas.
  • Criticizes government’s failure to extend maternity choices through the development of new provider networks as claimed in the official 7th Periodic Report.

Bulgaria, 2012: Report by the Gender Alternatives Foundation

  • See Section 5.3: Reports on Verbal and Physical Abuse of Women During Delivery or Abortion (and separate Recommendations section).
  • Comments on verbal and physical abuse of women by hospital staff during childbirth and abortion, and the common use of intrusive, painful, and/or humiliating procedures.
  • Criticizes the government for failing to address these issues raised by the CEDAW Committee’s List of Issues and Questions.

Committee’s Recommendation to the Bulgarian State

The Committee urges the State party to ensure that health-care providers are fully aware of the particular health-care needs of women, to adopt the patients’ bill of rights and responsibilities and to establish effective complaints mechanisms to enable women to seek redress in cases of health-care related discrimination and abuse.

Italy, 2011: Report by the Italian platform “30 Years CEDAW: Work in Progress”

  • See Section 12.7: Insufficient Protection of Women’s Health During Pregnancy and Postpartum.
  • Criticizes government’s disregard of Recommendation 33/2005 concerning the development and monitoring of actions to reduce the number of Cesarean sections.
  • Comments on the need for increased access to pain control as an alternative to Cesarean section.

Czech Republic, 2010: Report by Czech Women’s Lobby

  • See Section 8.1: Reproduction Health Choices
  • Comments on high rate of interventions unsupported by evidence.
  • Comments on disregard by providers of women’s wishes and needs.
  • Comments on separation of newborns and mothers.
  • Comments on common breaches of informed consent.
  • Comments on statutory restrictions to midwifery, lack of public health insurance coverage for midwifery, and lack of options for out-of-hospital birth.
  • Makes recommendations including establishment of government working groups on these issues and recommendation to draft a Protocol of Normal Birth Care.

Russia, 2010: Report by Civil Society Organizations from the Russian Federation

  • See Article 4: Temporary special measures aimed at protecting maternity
  • Comments on the exclusion from health and social care for vulnerable populations during pregnancy and childbirth, including drug users and sex workers.
  • Comments on stigmatization and discrimination by health care providers and the lack of opportunities for effective drug treatment during pregnancy.

Israel, 2010: Report by Kav LaOved

  • See Section 4B: Discrimination in Respect of Pregnancy and Birth
  • Comments on the government’s policy of revoking female migrant workers’ residency permits immediately upon giving birth, forcing women to leave the country or send their infants abroad in order to retain documented status.

Malawi, 2009: Report by Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Educational Trust / Malawi NGO Gender Coordinating Network

  • See Critical Issue 8: Maternal Mortality
  • Comments on high rates of maternal mortality from sepsis, unsafe abortion, and obstructed labor, eclampsia, complications from cesarean sections, and indirect causes such anemia, AIDS, and meningitis.
  • Comments on unmet family planning needs.
  • Comments on cultural beliefs and practices about pregnancy and childbirth leading to delays in care.
  • Comments on financial and travel barriers leading to delays in care.

When is my State’s review session?

A schedule of future sessions is set a year in advance and is available through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. NGOs can become involved in the process far in advance of the review session, and should look for pre-session meetings involving their State when they can influence the Committee to include their advocacy issues in the Committee’s List of Issues and Questions it will use to engage with the State in the review process.