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Protect women against discrimination

Human Rights Part V

THE Treaty on the Rights of Women, formally named the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), is the most comprehensive international agreement on the rights of women.

It was adopted on December 18, 1979, by the United Nations General Assembly and came into force on September 3, 1981.

It consists of a preamble and 30 articles which define what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.


The term “discrimination against women” is defined in Article 1 of the Convention as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

The treaty has been ratified by more than 184 countries. Trinidad and Tobago signed the treaty on June 27, 1985, making the State a party to the convention.


CEDAW provides an international standard for protecting the human rights of women. By accepting the convention, states commit themselves to undertake a series of minimum standards to end discrimination against women worldwide.

Such measures include the establishment of the principle of equality between men and women within the states’ legal system, the repeal of all laws which discriminate against women, and the adoption of laws which prohibits discrimination against women.

States are encouraged to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination and to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organisations or enterprises.

The convention is the foundation on which states can enshrine such ideals as women’s equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life which include the right to vote and to stand for election.

State parties must also establish equality for women in fundamental areas like education, health and employment.

In taking these vital steps, state parties to the convention can ensure that women are able to enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms. State parties must report on structures and customs that discriminate against girls and women and on actions taken to eliminate those barriers.

The T&T Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and promotes as a fundamental right, equality and equal protection under the law.


There still exist many opponents and concerns about the treaty despite its success in the promotion of equality for women worldwide.

One major concern suggested is that the treaty will destroy traditional families by redefining “family” and the roles of women and men. The treaty does not seek to regulate family life but instead focuses on establishing social equality between the two sexes.

For example, in the area of child-rearing, the treaty calls for the recognition of the common roles of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children and seeking the best interests of the child. Another concern is that the treaty will call for the decriminalisation of prostitution.

Indeed, the CEDAW committee has called for the decriminalisation of prostitution in specific countries such as China where prostitution and trafficking in women and children are rampant, but not for all countries in general.

Regulation would allow victimised women to come forward without fear of repercussions for treatment to prevent HIV/Aids and other sexually-transmitted disease, to obtain healthcare and education, and to halt trafficking and sex slavery practices.

This treaty for the rights of women sets out “best practices” for ensuring basic human rights for women, without imposing any laws on governments. Domestic laws take precedence.

The treaty has proven to be a valuable tool for governments wanting to improve their own laws by broadening the basic rights of women. As a result of the treaty, many laws have been put in place improving the status of women worldwide.

—Kerianne Byer and Ronnie Boodoosingh

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