How the Treaty Helps Women Worldwide

The Treaty for the Rights of Women sets out “best practices” for ensuring basic human rights for women, but it does not impose any laws on governments. Domestic laws take precedence everywhere. But the Treaty has proven to be be a valuable tool for governments wanting to improve their own laws by broadening the basic rights of women.

The Treaty for the Rights of Women calls on governments to remove barriers to substantive equality. This requires countries to examine the actual conditions of life for women and girls and to report on structures and customs that discriminate against them and on actions taken to eliminate those barriers. As a result of the Treaty, hundreds of laws have been put in place that improve the basic human rights of women around the world.

U.S. ratification of the Treaty will not require changes in our law. Ratification only requires nations to submit regular reports to an implementation committee. It could be a useful tool, however, for women continuing to fight for equality in the United States. In recent years, a number of studies show that women lawyers, scientists, journalists, congressional staff and other professionals lag behind their male counterparts. A variety of groups, from the American Bar Association to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have even issued reports documenting a worsening of women’s status in selected fields. Click here to read the reports.

Stopping violence against women:

  • In Colombia, the courts ruled in 1992 that the absence of legal recourse then available to a female victim of domestic violence violated her human rights to life and personal security. The state now ensures protection for all such women.1
  • In Uganda, the state and cities have created programs and policies to campaign against domestic violence, using state funds for the purpose.1
  • In Costa Rica, the courts are authorized to order an abusive spouse to leave the home and to continue providing economic support. Training and programs to combat sex crimes are being established, and women officials must handle rape investigations and prosecutions.1

Promoting girls’ education:

  • Slovenia and Switzerland have changed their school admission policies to benefit girls.1
  • Pakistan introduced coeducation in primary schools in 1996-97 after treaty ratification, and saw sharp increases in female enrollment, especially in rural areas.1
  • India universalized its Integrated Child Development Services program in 1997, after treaty ratification, and girls now account for nearly half of all pre-schoolers.1

Improving health care:

  • Australia launched efforts to promote awareness and prevention of breast and cervical cancer, including postcards reminding 3 million women to get pap smears.2
  • Israel allocated funds to pay for mammograms for women ages 50 to 74.2
  • Argentina developed a program to prevent teen pregnancy and provide necessary care when it does occur, particularly for homeless girls.2
  • The Philippines set up a new nationwide maternal and newborn health care program.2
  • Argentina, Mexico, and Australia instituted programs to provide health care to indigenous and migrant women.2

Ensuring women’s legal rights:

  • Laws to advance women’s participation in decision-making have been adopted in 22 of the 177 countries that have ratified the Treaty.
  • In Tanzania, the Supreme Court invalidated a customary law that barred women from inheriting clan property, citing the Treaty for the Rights of Women and other rights treaties as “a standard below which any civilized nation will be ashamed to fall.”1
  • Zambia ratified the Treaty for the Rights of Women in 1985 and in 1991 extended its Bill of Rights to cover sex discrimination.1
  • Women proposing revisions for the Ugandan constitution in 1995, referred to the Treaty for the Rights of Women for guidance, and now many of its provisions reflect Treaty standards.2
  • Since 1989, legislation in China has highlighted equality between men and women. Women are now guaranteed joint ownership of marital property and equal inheritance.1
  • A Botswana appeals court cited the Treaty in overturning a law that gave citizenship to children of men married to foreigners but not to those of women married to foreigners.1

Improving women’s lives at work:

  • Germany, Guatemala, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom are among the countries that have improved maternity leave and child care for working women in accord with Treaty provisions.1
  • In Australia, the government cited its treaty obligations in passing national legislation against sexual harassment in the workplace.1

1. Landsberg-Lewis, Ilana, ed., “Bringing Equality Home,” United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), New York, NY, 1998.
2. Milani, Leila Rassekh, ed., “Human Rights for All,” Working Group on Ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Washington D.C., 2001.