The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is the international human rights treaty that focuses specifically on equality between women and men in all areas of life. It is often referred to as the ‘women’s bill of rights’. The UK ratified CEDAW in 1986.
By ratifying the treaty, the UK is committed to taking steps to end discrimination against women in all forms. CEDAW provides the basis for making equality between women and men a reality.
The CEDAW cycle and our role
CEDAW is one of seven UN human rights treaties that the UK has ratified. Each treaty operates on its own unique reporting timetable. The latest cycle of CEDAW activity ended in March 2019, during which stakeholders from across the UK assessed the government's compliance with the treaty.
Our CEDAW work
In 2018, we published our biggest ever review into women's rights, submitted to the UN to inform the UK's eighth periodic review under CEDAW:
In 2019, we published an update report, submitting further evidence to the CEDAW committee.
In March 2019, the CEDAW Committee published a set of recommendations on how the UK could better protect and promote women's rights.
The UK and devolved governments have until 2023 to implement these recommendations before they have to report back to the UN on progress made.
We have written to the UK government asking them to set out how they will take these recommendations forward. We urged them to consider setting up a consultative mechanism that oversees this work.
In the interim, the CEDAW Committee has asked the UK government to submit a short report on actions being taken on:
- incorporating the treaty into domestic law
- ensuring women's rights are protected during the process of withdrawing from the European Union
- setting up a a national oversight mechanism to coordinate implementing the treaty
The UK government has until March 2021 to provide this report. Other stakeholders are welcome to submit their own assessments.
CEDAW is monitored by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, a body made up of 23 experts on women's rights from around the world.
The Committee considers evidence from different sources. As one of the UK’s National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), we submit information to this process in what is known as a shadow report. Civil society organisations are also encouraged to submit shadow reports. Read our most recent CEDAW report (July 2018) and update report (February 2019).
Parliamentarians are increasingly involved in this process too. In 2018, the Women and Equalities Committee held an inquiry into CEDAW, at which we gave evidence. They then wrote to the CEDAW Committee sharing their support for a number of our recommendations.
Governments submit state reports to the Committee around every five years. These state reports explain the steps taken to implement the treaty. Read the UK government’s most recent CEDAW reports from November 2017 (PDF) and November 2018.
The CEDAW Committee publishes a report following its examination of the state report and any shadow reports, making recommendations for action. These are known as the ‘concluding observations’. Governments then have a follow-up period in which to implement the recommendations.
Our past work on the previous CEDAW cycle includes:
- our report on the impact of legal aid reforms on women in the UK (March 2016)
- our submission to CEDAW ahead of the UK's last review (June 2013)
- our report on the 2013 CEDAW Concluding Observations
- the CEDAW Committee sometimes issues general recommendations which explain the application of the treaty in particular situations or for specific groups such as disabled women (see these recommendations on the UN website)
- the Committee can also consider complaints from individual women or groups of women against states that have ratified the Optional Protocol (a human rights convention that the UK has ratified allowing people in the UK to take complaints of human rights violations to the CEDAW Committee)
- the Committee can investigate more widespread violations of women's rights
We have published guidance on using the CEDAW Optional Protocol.
Last updated: 16 Apr 2019