“There cannot be either development or democracy without women,” said Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Ransford Smith.
13 March 2009
Kamalesh Sharma urges governments to strengthen commitments to eliminate gender-based discrimination
Necessary arrangements, including laws and policies, must be put in place to allow women to experience equality in their lives as required under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), said Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma.
Addressing a High-Level Seminar at the Commonwealth Secretariat on 13 March 2009 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of CEDAW, the Secretary-General noted that the existence of laws guaranteeing equality does not automatically translate into substantive equality.
“CEDAW commits states to address custom, prejudice and stereotypes in order to end discrimination based on gender,” said the Secretary-General. “Traditional or cultural practices that prevent women from enjoying their rights must be tackled. Recent research suggests that ratification and implementation of CEDAW are associated with relatively higher levels of female life expectancy, literacy, levels of employment and percentages of women in Parliament, land ownership, equity in family law, as well as the physical security of women.”
Mr Sharma stated that all but two Commonwealth countries have ratified CEDAW, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979. He said this is a clear signal that the Commonwealth is committed to achieving equality between women and men in all fields – civil, political, economic, social and cultural. Despite the high ratification rate across the Commonwealth, the Secretary-General pointed out that 15 member countries hold reservations against it – the highest number for any human rights treaty in the Commonwealth.
“A number of reservations are far-reaching, limiting the scope that CEDAW can have in addressing the discrimination women face in Commonwealth countries,” said Mr Sharma. “Since CEDAW came into being, 12 Commonwealth countries, including Bangladesh, Cyprus, Jamaica and the United Kingdom have chosen to either remove or modify reservations. These removals represented significant steps towards gender equality.”
Sharing this view was Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Ransford Smith, who stressed that millions of women and girls do not benefit equally from development programmes, and that the Millennium Development Goals and other globally agreed gender equality targets are seriously off track. This, he said, has been exacerbated by the global economic crisis.
“There cannot be either development or democracy without women,” stated Mr Smith. “Therefore the achievement of gender equality, a recognised marker for progress in societies, forms the basis of our work. The achievement of gender equality and the promotion and protection of human rights, and the fundamental freedoms for all are essential to advance development, democracy, peace and security.”