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Women's Rights

The attainment of women’s rights in which social mobility, equal opportunities and equal treatment are accorded to them without gender being prejudicial is not a recent quest. The process has taken many shapes, and tremendous progress is indeed visible. In the field of progress, there has been the emergence of international treaties seeking to harmonize the approach and set international standards. This is an attempt to create a benchmark and hold all countries accountable towards the advancement of women’s rights.  However, questions are coming up regarding the effectiveness of international human rights treaties and laws in addressing the real issues facing individuals of a unique country or setting. Of specific interest in the context of women’s rights, is the Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women .

CEDAW enjoys the status of a fundamental bill of rights to all women. It boasts of ingenious construction within the understanding that violation of women’s rights occurs within a range of contexts, it has therefore, adopted a patriarchal approach in promoting and protecting human rights. Notable in the CEDAW debate is that even it architects admit to its inherent shortcomings, which necessitate a rethink and to a wider extent abandoning it. This paper explores the failures of CEDAW in articulating international laws failure to address the realities of women’s rights.

In understanding the shortcomings of international law on women’s rights, it is imperative to point out that the rights of women intersect at political and intellectual levels of multiculturalism and gender equity. A system that fails to address the specific issues of women, within the context of their setting is bound to fail, since it imposes a uniform framework in incongruent areas. In pursuance of this topic, it is clear those international laws as CEDAW exemplifies fails to mediate equality of human rights and difference in approach necessary as per context. Consequently, the law remains devoid of an ability to create any jurisprudence on women’s human rights. Top in the reasons to abandon the CEDAW arises from the reality that the treaty has flaws from conception. The very knowledge that informs its quest is likely to be counterproductive. Its focus and synthesis of the women rights context and surrounding issue is misleading.

Women as Sole Beneficiaries

CEDAW adopts a binary approach of male and female and diagnoses the situation as a perpetrator-victim relationship. These categorizations also manifests in is the title which is an apparent indicator of a mistaken diagnosis.  This article does not denounce the truth in traditional knowledge informing that approach that men were outstanding violators of human rights, but within the current context, the approach is misleading. Given that it is an international convention, with ratification by over 150 countries, adopting this approach is retrogressive. This results from the distortions to the reality of women rights violations and sex identities. The international law fails to understand, that in the specific contexts of women rights violation, other parties are central in achieving results. For instance, the reality of women lives in considerable context have men as characters in the rights quest, but international law impose standardization yet the setting is not identical. CEDAW approach exemplifies this, by excluding albeit indirectly, men and other sexes in rectification of the apparent violations. Its anti-identitarian/categorization approach earns it abhorrence from quarters it portrays as perpetrators, creates faulty repute and drives away goodwill. Abandoning is remaining as the best option and coming up with a strategy basing its focus on identifying the central issue as the remedy.

The conventions continual narrow focus on women is self-defeating at a time where focus shifts to sexuality and gender. Receiving support and being part of a wider system will remain elusive since its approach demonstrates a fall-out with modern needs. With linkage to CEDAW, it is possible demonstrate the inability of International Human Rights Law’s (IHRL) ability to articulate the needs of women. Literatures on these failures abound, such as ‘The Boundaries of International Law’ by Chinkin Christine.  The books point out to the exclusion of women’s rights due to failure in coupling women’s rights with interstate relations. This links with CEDAW’s failure, which fails to utilize the principles and mechanism of a particular state to improve women’s rights. Halley also critics the IHRL due to its Feminism Governance approach; this approach attempts to govern a wide range of regulatory policies without identifying the main issue. CEDAW fits into this due to its centrality on women yet it fails to articulate the central issue of women in its stipulations.

In the book, ‘The Dark Side of virtue’ Kennedy critics IHRL for reasons akin to CEDAW’s failures. Prominent in his critic is all IHRL’s scrabble for signatories which water down it noble pursuits. CEDAW went the same path, currently boats of over 186 signatories but does not have a mechanism to mediate the different settings upon which women’s right violations occurs and its goals. International law is vital in advancing women’s right, but its approach makes it a blunt tool. CEDAW’s binary approach serves the approach that IHRL adopts, taking women as clients to themselves. This promotes the view that the society comprises of two different players-male and female, in which for one to attain a right another must be made less prominent.

Enforceability to signatories

Literature shows that over forty countries that are signatories to CEDAW maintain laws that are discriminatory against women. This indicates IHRL inability to articulate the needs of women. It is noteworthy that in cases of reproduction, running for office, ownership of property, among others CEDAW enforces straightforward rules. This outlines international laws’ shortcomings since it offers the first step but fails to deliver a workable solution. CEDAW and IHRL in general fail in translating international conceptions into cultural diversity of countries’ legal systems. Since aspects affecting women’s rights occur within a cultural setting, the sheer standards being set prove elusive since countries show divergence in implementing the same international norms.

Reservations to the treaty

CEDAW allows optional role of the national states; it is in this line that reservations receive a leeway. However, certain aspects in its construction already attract reservation in the Asian and Middle East countries. Their main concern pertains to the individualistic approach; they believe that this questions the collectivity of human existence, which is the premise of their culture. Regarding reservation, a clause in the treaty prohibits reservations on grounds contrary to pursuits of women’s rights; however, of the 175 states 15 have reservations pertaining to the mechanism of resolving treaty disputes. Thirty-nine have substantive reservation, which imply modification of a country’s obligations under the treaty. The reservations point to the same faults within the treaty citing ignorance to religious concerns, domestic laws, among others. Its face off with Sharia law is conspicuously problematic; Muslim countries stipulate that any of its inconsistency with Sharia law is a reservation and thus null. Countries such as Mauritius limit their compliance to consistency with domestic laws; where as India, Mexico, and Niger among others site reservation due to social-cultural inconsistencies. They are as such troubling on qualitative and quantitative grounds; this asserts a need to abandon CEDAW since the faults overwhelm its gigantic task.

Further Limitations to the Rights under CEDAW

The treaty has issues regarding enjoyment of the rights it seeks to further. For instance, the concept of discrimination has limitation to those whose effect nullify or impair enjoyment, recognition or exercise by women; aspects of positive discrimination have no address within the treaty and consequently fall outside its scope. Another aspect impeding its validity in conferring rights of women results from the usage of language. It states in Article 2 that parties should undertake to pursue its policy by all appropriate means and without signs of delay. This leaves an open field of interpretation and potential dodging since establishing that a nation has taken all means appropriate is a matter of interpretation. Yet the committee shows little mechanism of linking with regional and national governments as this would be the only trustworthy assessment of compliance. The UK case of immigrants and asylum seekers explicitly establishes the absence of derogations during emergencies.

Without denouncing the interests’ specific to a country, America’s reluctance to ratify CEDAW offers insight on some limitations that necessitate its abandonment. The contents of its statements feature as a key reason for noon-ratification. It is indeed true that CEDAW, which is a UN committee, is against UN charter that prohibits its intrusion on domestic matters.  The treaty mainly addresses domestic issues and audaciously demands restructuring of traditional roles as well as, which may have vast social ramifications. This character has made it and the international law in totality incapable of understanding the needs of a woman. They laws seek to place a woman against the entire community, label her with apathy and results in counter-productivity. Gender equality is achievable within a conscious endeavor, involving all players and results in celebration by all. However, international law divides, labels, tags and obtrudes. It tramples on some important ingredients of a society, turning women against rearing a family instead of caring about the portrayal of women as sexual objects or inferior in intelligence.

Failures in the UK

CEDAW centrality on women elicited demand of including men and sex as a focus. United Kingdom made a proposal offering a solution to inclusion of sex and men while retaining the women focus. However, this seems to further the non-effectiveness of the CEDAW law in the UK since the proposal resembles the origin in almost all aspects. UK’s later attempt to replace ‘against women’ with ‘based on sex’ still failed.  The usage of the term women in CEDAW and failure to define it may have been due to ignorance that the term is contestable. However, Halley critics it and IHRL because of portraying women as a distinct universe deserving international laws with conformity to their needs, instead of a unique group of humanity. Unless a new system, which deconstructs the biological usage of women, replaces CEDAW, subjectivity of women will continue to confer marginalization. Otto argues that using international human rights law tag the “otherness” of women, which defeats achievement of equal treatment.

CEDAW continues to be ineffective in the UK due to its persistent failure to respond to various concerns. UK raised the alarm on the centrality of women on CEDAW early enough, due to this treaty lacks wisdom that helps in raising the levels of women rights. Violence against women now assumes a criminal approach instead of gender equality approach. The distortion is vast, and it continues to elicit differences from various quarters. For instance, local authorities vehemently oppose women-only services and assume that what is offered to women must be offered to men, as well. While this is not the issue per se, CEDAW and IHRL in totality fail in directing a country’s focus to a gender issue. The approach of victim-perpetrator enunciates the difference’ there is little evidence of understanding the women’s rights aspects specific to the UK woman. Few procedural rights exist regarding violation of human rights; there is judicial discretion, which in turn creates differential results, and cases are won through application. It clear that CEDAW’s has not shown any influence on the UK system. Lack of a national strategy on violence, absence of harmony between pursuits and social issues and lack of timelines of policy implementation continue to haunt CEDAW as failures. A conspicuous example of CEDAW’s ignorance of women’s realities in the UK is its lack of understanding regarding asylum seekers and the predisposition to violence. International law and CEDAW as well, fail to realize that such violation of right is not within a specific country’s context. Deportation processes continue to be done in haste in the UK, leaving women vulnerable, an aspect CEDAW would address through requiring usage of legal apparatus applicable to foreigners or refugees in a just manner.

International law proves blunter in the case of UK’s women immigrants and asylum seekers. They have no legal recognition of asylum on grounds of gender-based violence; they also face vast discrimination some of which is in the UK’s law. For instance, their entitlement to state welfare is at 70% yet, they are the most vulnerable. CEDAW and IHRL fail to understand the situations that these women face in life and choose to limit their issues on the obvious non-job discrimination, equal opportunities, among others. It fails in its conception to understand that situations such as immigration and asylum seeking are inevitable, and the country of refuge owes the asylums some rights as human beings.

The ignorance of social context also arises within the UK system where the IHRL and CEDAW fail to decipher the implications of some laws regarding marriage between individuals of different nationalities. UK laws stipulate, that one married to a UK citizen must remain in that marriage for two years, since it ties assurance of residence and access to state support on the marriage. This implies that to extent an individual married to a UK citizen experiences undue influence to remain in it even if it were abusive since the ramifications of leaving are heavy. Trafficking of women and sexual exploitation such as prostitution is rife and in vast numbers per year. UK, on the other hand, responds by st5ating that the trafficked women are illegal migrants who deserve deportation. The result is a system that furthers violation of women’s rights through victimization of those who deserve rescue. However, the state remains secure from criticism since the sham of compliance to CEDAW is what IHRL care about. This allowance of discrimination because of immigration status or interstate marriages happens in the watch of the IHRL and CEDAW, which casts aspersions on their ability to deliver.

The blanket approach of CEDAW, and the apparent IHRL failure in adequately attending to specific women’s needs once again comes to the fore, through the religious dominance in England. If these international bodies have any insight of realities of women’s life, they would appreciate that straightforward policies are not workable solutions. A social agenda is the only vehicle to drive the change. They would realize the role of the church in advancing human rights, but its ramifications as well to those who do not identify with particular religions. The UK seems to skew its response to women’s right as per the religious definitions and understanding. The ethnic minorities rights are therefore, understood as cast by the religious groups; what about the minority women and the ethnic blacks who the church will not shape their plight? They risk alienation since nobody tells their story and are set apart from the rest. The international law neither seems to understand the social perception impacts on women’s rights nor the role of support structures such as education. In the UK, there is a degree of tolerance to violation of women’s rights; e.g. 45% believe that some circumstances may merit a boy friend’s assault to the girl friend. There is also no curriculum insistence on gender violence, which, if CEDAW understood these would help implement its agenda through the available national mechanisms.

It is clear, that women’s human rights are specific to a regions problem, as well as the specific government’s capacity and commitment. The failure of IHRL and CEDAW, in particular, to address issues specific top women’s lives can be understood from the role that regional and national approach to international laws can achieve. It is possible to measure departure from IHRL standards through sharing power between regional and international human rights systems. With this interplay, it is easier to interpret the evidence of UK and over forty other countries maintenance of laws prejudicial to women’s rights. CEDAW can understand whether non-compliance is because of genuine national constraints or national reluctance. The failure to acknowledge the resourcefulness of the national and regional systems merits abandoning CEDAW. Its replacement should be with a system that sets regional gender commissions; this is because regional and national systems enjoy proximity to the immediate setting social, legal or otherwise they are, therefore, capable of formulating gender and women’s rights standards that are more accurate, credible on moral grounds and practically attainable. The new system through grounding its knowledge on practical national contexts can, therefore, beat the until now CEDAW’s incapacity to build a regional jurisprudence.


This article argues that IHRL does not sufficiently address the realities of women’s lives mainly because of misapplying the norms of freedom. It calls for abandonment of CEDAW to allow for usage of a vehicle that acknowledges women’s contextual realities. This stems from the reality that utility inherent in international conventions remains intact but begs a better vehicle and mechanism. A healthy society results from strong families as the foundation, uniformity of purposes and belief in self worth. Obtrusion and turning men against women is the worst disguise of advancing women’s right. It is indeed necessary to correct traditional views, but CEDAW is not the path to follow. It will lead to a chaotic society build on gender competition and ‘proving a point’. All societies need harmony and goodwill across the genders, social players and religious leaders, as well. Abandoning CEDAW is the only path to prevent retrogression on the already made advancement. Advancing gender rights without tagging one gender as perpetrators and inviting all to share in progress will build a society that celebrates every step made towards gender parity and equality. International human rights, on the other hand, continue to fail in articulating the needs of women in their specific context. The recommendations of allowing interplay between national and regional governments remain the only tenable solution. The body that should replace CEDAW should be built on this knowledge for sustainable progress to occur.

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