What is CEDAW?
Often referred to as the ‘women’s bill of rights’, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is the UN’s human rights treaty devoted to women; it spells out in detail women’s human right to equality and non-discrimination, which states that have ratified it must then act to realise. CEDAW contains 30 articles, which include minimum standards for women’s rights in work, politics, marriage, education, the economy, and other areas.
The UK ratified CEDAW in 1986, which means it is bound observe and protect the rights in the convention under international law. CEDAW is not currently incorporated into either domestic English or Scots law, which means women cannot take a case to the UK or Scottish courts on the basis of a breach of their rights under CEDAW.
Because Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, the Scottish Government is not able to ratify treaties directly, and the ‘state party’ to CEDAW is the UK. However, the Scotland Act places a responsibility on the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament to fulfil all of the UK’s international obligations.
CEDAW in the UK
The UK's eighth examination began in 2017 and concluded in 2019. You can find out more about the process here.
What did CEDAW say about Scotland?
The CEDAW Committee’s concluding observations broadly relate to the whole of the UK, although the Committee also took pains to specifically highlight issues relating to Northern Ireland, which was without a devolved administration at the time of the examination. Several things within the Concluding Observations were relevant for Scotland, though, and you can see an annotated version of the Concluding Observations which highlight things which relate to Scotland here.
The CEDAW Concluding Observations recommended “that the State party continue to engage with the media to eliminate stereotypical imaging and the objectification of women in the media, and take further measures to eliminate negative gender stereotypes and to promote positive and diverse gender portrayals, including in schools and through public campaigns.” In June 2019, in their response to the first report of the First Minister’s National Advisory Group on Women and Girls, the Scottish Government committed to resourcing a ‘women in media body’, explicitly citing the recommendation in the Concluding Observations.
Equal pay is a key element of Article 11 of CEDAW, and the Concluding Observations welcomed the partial progress on encouraging large firms to publish their pay gaps through pay transparency measures introduced by UK Government. They also, however, highlighted their concerns that “women belonging to marginalized groups continue to face obstacles in gaining access to employment and are concentrated in low-paying job sectors”. In March 2019, on International Women’s Day, the Scottish Government launched Scotland’s first pay gap action plan ‘A Fairer Scotland For Women’, which is bold and well gendered. Signatories to Scotland’s Business Pledge are also required to go further than UK pay transparency measures in setting out, explaining, and acting to tackle their gender pay gaps.
Austerity was a key theme in both the Scottish and UK-wide shadow reports, and the CEDAW Committee recommended that the UK undertake a comprehensive assessment on the impact of austerity measures on the rights of women and adopt measures to mitigate and remedy the negative consequences without delay. While the UK Government has made no moves towards this, the conversation around social security in Scotland has a different tone, and the new social security agency has committed to intersectional data-collection that would enable this kind of analysis. It has also agreed to use its powers for administrative flexibility on social security to make individual payments of Universal Credit to members in a household, rather than a regressive ‘household payment’.
As well as being an explicit recommendation in the CEDAW Concluding Observations, the incorporation of CEDAW into Scots law has been a key ask of Engender for some decades. Engender published a our Holyrood Manifesto making a specific call for incorporation in 2016, and this was also a recommendation of the First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls in 2018. The First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership made a recommendation that a range of instruments, including CEDAW, be incorporated in 2018. The Scottish Government has made progress on this recommendation, announcing in June 2019 the creation of a National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership to oversee work for human rights legislation covering all areas of devolved responsibility. The Programme for Government 2019-20 included incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Scottish Government has committed to incorporation of rights belonging to women.
CEDAW sets out women’s rights to equality and non-discrimination. While this report has set out that Scotland is taking steps to recognize many of the rights included in CEDAW, while it exists only as an international treaty to which the Scottish Government is not directly accountable to, there is no legal obligation for them to act.
Successive UK governments have failed to act despite repeated recommendations for CEDAW’s full incorporation into UK law by the CEDAW Committee. The incorporation of the rights enshrined in CEDAW into Scots Law would show both political commitment to women’s equality, and empower women to use the Scottish Courts to uphold their rights. Engender has produced a paper exploring incorporation of CEDAW here.
The Scottish Government has announced its intention to incorporate CEDAW into Scots Law as part of planned legislation, alongside a number of recommendations from the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership. The rights set out in CEDAW – including education, employment, health, public and political life – are under significant threat as a result of Brexit and over a decade of austerity, and incorporation will mean that women can claim our rights in our local court. Critically, public bodies – including Scottish Government - will need to make women’s substantive equality a reality.
4 nations shadow report: CEDAW 4 nations of the UK shadow report to the Eighth periodic report of the government of the United Kingdom on measures taken to give effect to CEDAW, the UN Convention on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women Publication date: January 2019
CEDAW UK Examination: annotated concluding observations On March 8th 2019 the UN CEDAW Committee released their concluding observations following the UK examination in Geneva.
CEDAW: a superhero for women in Scotland Often referred to as the ‘women’s bill of rights’, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) is the UN’s human rights treaty devoted to women; it spells out in detail women’s human right to equality and non-discrimination, which states that have ratified it must then act to realise.
CEDAW: How can women's rights be better realised in Scotland? The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) is a UN Convention which was signed by the United Kingdom in 1981, and ratified in 1986.
Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women Concluding Observations 2013 The concluding observations (recommendations) of the CEDAW Committee, following its examination of the UK in 2013.
Eighth periodic report of the government of the United Kingdom on measures taken to give effect to CEDAW - four nations report Eighth periodic report of the government of the United Kingdom on measures taken to give effect to CEDAW.
Eighth periodic report of the government of the United Kingdom on measures taken to give effect to CEDAW - Scotland report In 2018 Engender has worked to produce a shadow report on CEDAW, to highlight key issues for women's rights in Scotland.
Engender CEDAW Pre-hearing Statement Engender's statement to the pre-session working group, which took place in November 2012.
Engender Parliamentary Briefing: Human Rights Day 2021 Engender warmly welcome this opportunity to mark Human Rights Day 2021 in the Scottish Parliament.
Engender Parliamentary Briefing: Charities, Scotland and Holyrood This is a briefing ahead of the Scottish Parliament Member's Business Debate on Charities, Scotland and Holyrood on 30th October 2019.
Engender Questions for CEDAW Examination of the UK NGOs can submit questions to the CEDAW Committee in advance of the examination of their governments.
Engender Refreshed Shadow ICESCR Report Engender's refreshed shadow report to the 6th periodic report of the UK Government to the UN's Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Engender Response to the European Commission: Public consultation on Gender equality in the EU – current situation and priorities for future This is an Engender response to the European Commission's public consultation to gather opinions of different actors of the current situation of gender equality in the EU and priorities for the next five years.
Engender response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on incorporation of the UN Charter of Children’s Rights Engender welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Scottish Government’s proposals relating to incorporation of the UN Charter of Children’s Rights (UNCRC).
Engender response to the Scottish Human Rights Commission consultation on Informing the work of your National Human Rights Institution The Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) is consulting on its draft Strategic Priorities for 2020 – 2024.
Engender Shadow CEDAW Report Engender's shadow report to the 7th periodic report of the UK Government to the UN's CEDAW Committee.
Engender Shadow ICESCR Report Engender's shadow report to the 6th periodic report of the UK Government to the UN's Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Engender Statement on UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Engender's statement to the UN's Universal Periodic Review process.
European Women’s Lobby General Assembly 2012 - Notes Engender's notes of proceedings from the European Women's Lobby General Assembly in 2012.
Gender Edit of Scotland's Programme For Government 2020-2021 This gender edit of The Scottish Government’s Programme for Government compiles all references to women, gender and issues with implications for gender equality which appear in the document.
Scottish NGO Commission on the Status of Women 57 Statement This is a joint submission to the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 57th meeting in 2012.
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