KASAMA Vol. 22 No. 4 / October-November-December 2008 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Australia signs up to the CEDAW Optional Protocol — At Last!

On 24 November 2008, the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Australian Commonwealth Minister for Women announced that Australia will sign up to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Filipina OFW graphic

CEDAW is the key international human rights document that seeks to ensure the enforcement of the human rights of women on an equal basis with men. CEDAW deals with rights including the right to vote and stand for election, equal rights to education, protection from discrimination in the workplace and equality before the law.

The Convention was adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly and entered into force in September 1981. Australia has been a party to CEDAW since 17 August 1983. As of November 2008, 185 countries, over ninety percent of the members of the United Nations, are parties to CEDAW.

The Convention has often been described as an ‘international bill of rights’ for women. The rights enshrined in CEDAW broadly cover many aspects of women’s lives. Rights include political participation, health, education, employment, marriage, family relations and equality before the law. Countries that have become party to CEDAW must submit reports to the CEDAW Committee at least every four years. These reports detail the measures the government has taken to comply with its obligations under the Convention.

On 6 October 1999 the Optional Protocol to CEDAW was accepted by the UN General Assembly and opened for signature and ratification by countries that are parties to CEDAW.

Under the Optional Protocol, Australian women can make a complaint to the CEDAW Committee about alleged violation of Australia’s obligations under CEDAW, if domestic legal options have been exhausted.

Governments are required to respond to the findings of the CEDAW Committee about the complaint within six months, including information about action taken in light of the views and recommendations of the Committee. The Optional Protocol also enables the CEDAW Committee to investigate claims of serious violations of CEDAW in Australia through an inquiry.

By November 2008, around 94 countries had become party to the Optional Protocol (including the Philippines signed in 2000, ratified 2003). Australia acceded to the Optional Protocol in December 2008. The Optional Protocol will enter into force three months after lodgment of the instrument of accession. This will occur in March 2009.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and the Australian Government Office for Women has released Women’s Human Rights, an educational kit of fact sheets about CEDAW.

The background information above is taken from the kit. You can download it at the AHRC website On 1 January 2008, responsibility for servicing the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has been transferred to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHR) in Geneva. For more information go to the OHCHR–CEDAW web page

Feminists and human rights groups are still on the long journey to advance the rights of women globally, and we have still so far to go. The poverty levels and health statistics of Indigenous women world–wide are shameful. Women and children are the majority victims of domestic violence and intimate partner homicide. We also note that Australia is not a party to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families nor to another principle human rights treaty — the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

— Dee Dicen Hunt