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International agreements critical to women

28 February 2005

International agreements critical to women’s rights

New Zealand will seek to ensure women’s rights remain a priority at the 49th Session of United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) starting in New York tonight (NZ time).

The meeting marks the 10th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration which adopted a Programme for Action for the global advancement of women. New Zealand’s delegation is being led by Women’s Affairs Minister Ruth Dyson.

“New Zealand strongly supports that programme and the international commitment to women’s rights. That may sound a bit obscure, but the Declaration, and the obligations and scrutiny that go with it, do influence the way policies for women are developed around the globe.

“International obligations under the Beijing Declaration and the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) have helped guide New Zealand’s progress in areas such as pay and employment equity. They also provide critical protection for the basic human rights of women.

“Reaffirmation of the Beijing Declaration this week will help keep gender equality central to the wider United Nations agenda and, ensure appropriate attention when the UN celebrates its 60th anniversary later this year and reviews the Millennium Declaration and Millennium Development Goals, which deal more broadly with human rights.

The New Zealand delegation includes unusually both public servants and representatives of civil society.

“We believe that the advancement of women can only occur when governments work closely with non-government organisations. We are one of only a few countries that regularly includes women from the wider community in our delegations.

“These representatives bring invaluable perspective, reminding us that while we are negotiating international agreements, they need to have meaning for ordinary women.”

While in New York Ruth Dyson also took part in the Commonwealth ‘Beijing+10’ Ministers’ meeting, on Sunday 27 February, and will have a number of bilateral meetings with other delegations attending CSW.

Background information

New Zealand delegation to the 49th Session of CSW, New York February 2005

Hon Ruth Dyson, Minister of Women’s Affairs Officials Cherie Engelbrecht, Ministry of Women’s Affairs Carolyn Risk, Ministry of Women’s Affairs Joy Liddicoat, Advisor Civil Society representatives Eileen Kelly, Family Planning Association Margaret Mayman, Association of Presbyterian Women Jane Prichard, Association of Presbyterian Women Janet Hesketh, Association of Anglican Women Jenny Te Paa, Association of Anglican Women

The 49th Session of CEDAW begins on Monday 28 February in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations and concludes on Friday 11 March.

Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was established in June 1946 to prepare recommendations and reports to the UN’s Economic and Social Council on promoting women's rights in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields. The Commission also makes recommendations to the Council on urgent problems requiring immediate attention in the field of women's rights. The object of the Commission is to promote implementation of the principle that men and women shall have equal rights.

The Commission's mandate was expanded in 1987 and following the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, the General Assembly mandated the Commission to integrate into its programme a follow-up process to the Conference, regularly reviewing the critical areas of concern in the Platform for Action and to develop its role in mainstreaming a gender perspective in United Nations activities. This is referred to as the Beijing Declaration.

In 2000, a comprehensive review and appraisal of progress made in the implementation of the Platform for Action was undertaken by the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly (Beijing +5) entitled "Women2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century". The Assembly adopted a Political Declaration and Further Actions and Initiatives to Implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (the Outcome Document). The Commission's current and future work, as determined by its multi-year programme of work 2002-2006 is closely related to both the Platform for Action and the Outcome Document.

The Commission, which began with 15 members, now consists of 45 members elected by the Economic and Social Council for a period of four years. Members, who are appointed by Governments, are elected on the following basis: 13 from African states; 11 from Asian states; four from Eastern European states; nine from Latin American and Caribbean states; and eight from Western European and other states. The Commission meets annually for a period of ten working days.

The Bureau of the Commission on the Status of Women (forty-ninth session, 2005) comprises the following members: Ms. Kyung-wha Kang (Republic of Korea), Chairperson
Ms. Marine Davtyan (Republic of Armenia), Vice Chairperson
Ms. Tebatso Future Baleseng (Botswana), Vice Chairperson
Ms. Beatrice Maille (Canada), Vice Chairperson
Ms. Carmen-Rosa Arias (Peru), Vice Chairperson


The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.

The Convention defines discrimination against women 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."

By accepting the Convention, States commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including: to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women; 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 provides the basis for realising equality between women and men through ensuring women's equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life -- including the right to vote and to stand for election -- as well as education, health and employment.

States parties agree to take all appropriate measures, including legislation and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Convention is the only human rights treaty which affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relations.

It affirms women's rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality and the nationality of their children. States parties also agree to take appropriate measures against all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of women. Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. They are also committed to submit national reports, at least every four years, on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations.


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