What is the CEDAW?

Known as the International Bill of Rights of Women, Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations in 1979 and took effect on 3 September 1981. The Philippines signed the CEDAW on 15 July 1980 and ratified it on 5 August 1981, the first ASEAN country to do so. As of May 2015, the Convention has been ratified by .

The Philippines also ratified the to the CEDAW on November 12, 2003, which established two mechanisms that enable women to seek redress for violations of CEDAW through the communication procedure and the inquiry procedure.

The CEDAW 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.

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 fields.”

The CEDAW Convention is built on three foundational principles: non-discrimination, state obligation and substantive equality. 

  • Non-discrimination is integral to the concept of equality. The Convention seeks to eliminate discrimination against women in all fields and spheres, and holds both state and non-state actors in the case of violation of rights.
  • State obligation embodies the elements, that is, respect, protection, promotion, and fulfillment of human rights.  It also upholds the concept of due diligence which demands ensuring the prevention, investigation, and sanctioning of private acts of discrimination.  The legislature, executive and judiciary organs of government are responsible for the fulfillment of all state obligations.
  • Substantive equality acknowledges as products of negative female stereotypes, and consequently seeks to eliminate discrimination at the individual, institutional, and systemic levels through corrective and positive measures including enabling conditions and affirmative actions.  It seeks to correct imbalance and focuses on achieving “equality of outcomes” by ensuring equal opportunities, access and benefits for women.1

Aside from ratifying the CEDAW, the Philippines can be credited for creating its first working draft through Dr. Leticia Ramos-Shahani, who was working as a diplomat at the Department of Foreign Affairs at the time and would eventually become the Secretary-General of the World Conference on the UN Decade of Women in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985 and the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Social and Humanitarian Affairs.  Dr. Ramos-Shahani sought the support of Russian delegate Tatiana Nikolaeva for the CEDAW draft, famously earning the ire of then Foreign Affairs Secretary Carlos P. Romulo. The CEDAW draft was successfully adopted as the basic working paper.


1 CEDAW South Asia Core Concepts. (N.d). Retrieved on April 2020.