U.N. Convention Condemns Discrimination Against Women Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

With the adoption of a resolution to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, the United Nations formally promoted the principles of women’s rights and gender equality.

Summary of Event

In an attempt to confront patterns of gender inequality, the United Nations in 1979 drafted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. In addition to addressing female inequality in world affairs, the convention focused on by-products of gender inequality such as poverty, underdevelopment, and educational backwardness. The convention called on all U.N. member states to contribute to the cause of female rights by incorporating the principles of women’s rights and equality between the sexes into the provisions of international law. The convention also provided for follow-up means to measure the progress and results of the resolution, obliging member states to present reports to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women Commission on the Status of Women, U.N. every five years detailing the steps taken to establish major socioeconomic policies and programs for the elimination of discrimination against women. United Nations;women’s rights[womens rights] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, U.N. (1979) Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations Women;discrimination [kw]U.N. Convention Condemns Discrimination Against Women (Dec. 18, 1979) [kw]Convention Condemns Discrimination Against Women, U.N. (Dec. 18, 1979) [kw]Discrimination Against Women, U.N. Convention Condemns (Dec. 18, 1979) [kw]Women, U.N. Convention Condemns Discrimination Against (Dec. 18, 1979) United Nations;women’s rights[womens rights] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, U.N. (1979) Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations Women;discrimination [g]North America;Dec. 18, 1979: U.N. Convention Condemns Discrimination Against Women[03770] [g]United States;Dec. 18, 1979: U.N. Convention Condemns Discrimination Against Women[03770] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Dec. 18, 1979: U.N. Convention Condemns Discrimination Against Women[03770] [c]Women’s issues;Dec. 18, 1979: U.N. Convention Condemns Discrimination Against Women[03770] [c]United Nations;Dec. 18, 1979: U.N. Convention Condemns Discrimination Against Women[03770] Cuevas, Esmeralda Arboleda Dohnal, Johanna Jain, Devaki Kuusinen, Hertta Mair, Lucille Palmer, Ingrid Sipilä, Helvi

In other sections, the convention noted that women face discrimination not only in political and economic life, but also in their rights to nationality, education, employment, health, and reproductive freedom. The convention observed that although women’s childbearing and nurturing functions are respected in many countries, this very respect has often resulted in the removal of women from positions that would allow them to make economic contributions. The convention maintained that such discrimination is incompatible with human dignity and the welfare of all society and constitutes an obstacle to the achievement of women’s full potential.

The convention itself was the result of five years of political negotiations and maneuverings by various U.N. groups, including the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee. The resolution that was finally adopted reflected its origins in a broad-based coalition of previously single-issue-oriented groups addressing parochial agendas.

One such agenda was aimed at addressing the rights of rural women around the globe. Because of the successful formation of a politically unified coalition around the issue of inequality of rural women, the resolution confronted this issue specifically. The resolution’s preamble emphasized that, because of the interference in the domestic affairs of states by foreign occupation and domination of indigenous economies, rural women had been even more severely discriminated against than their urban counterparts. Directly addressing this concern, article 14 of the resolution called for member states to recognize this and ensure that rural women receive access to adequate health care facilities, counseling, and family-planning education. To secure the full enjoyment of the rights of all men and women, the article further stated, member states must ensure that women have equal access to agricultural loans and technology, equal sharing of land reforms, and equal opportunities for agricultural training and education.

Article 9 of the resolution placed particular emphasis on the idea that neither marriage to an alien nor change of nationality by a husband during marriage should automatically change the nationality of a wife. The adopted resolution stressed that such policies in essence render wives stateless by tying a woman’s nationality to that of her husband. Expanding on this topic, the resolution also declared that member states should grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children.

Calling on member states to ensure the prevention of discrimination against women, articles 10 and 11 of the resolution emphasized educational and employment measures. Women must be assured access to the same educational conditions (curricula, examinations, teaching staff, equipment, and methodology) that men enjoy. In the area of employment, the resolution called for equal employment opportunities, including application of the same criteria and employment standards to both genders, the right of free selection of career opportunities, the right to equal advancement and all other benefits, the awarding of equal training programs and remuneration, and the adoption of effective right-to-work initiatives. Furthermore, the resolution urged member states to take steps to prevent dismissals or the imposition of sanctions against pregnant workers and to initiate maternity leaves of absence without any loss of previous position and salary.

Article 12 of the resolution called on member states to effect for women the same rights enjoyed by men in the areas of family benefits, bank loans and other forms of financial credit, and participation in sports and other recreational activities. Family concerns were pursued further in article 16, which encouraged all member states to provide legal guarantees for egalitarian measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination in matters of marriage and family relations.

Under article 17, the convention set up a committee to evaluate the progress made toward the goals laid out in the other articles. The eighteen-member Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women was given the responsibility of overseeing the resolution’s implementation and measuring member states’ progress.

The resolution was passed by a vote of 130 in favor to none against, with 10 abstentions. Explanations for how the member states voted varied. Many of those that abstained claimed that the traditional laws of their nations were at odds with certain provisions of the resolution. Among the member states that voted in favor of the resolution, some voiced minor concerns; the United Kingdom, for example, noted that its immigration laws might be at odds with articles 15 and 16.

Significance

The U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women rekindled an interest in women’s rights, accomplishments, and identity. Traditional views of feminine and masculine roles in society were called into question as various states initiated measures to eliminate discrimination against women. Principal topics emerging from the convention included women’s development of independent identities, women’s interdependence with other women, and women as participants in society.

Acting on the convention’s recommendations, the United Nations invited the world to recognize that women must have a more active role in the policy-making decisions of their governments. To ensure international participation in this regard, the United Nations called for a resolution establishing a formal decade for women. On December 18, 1979, acting on the recommendation of the Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee, the U.N. General Assembly adopted eight resolutions relating to a U.N.-supported initiative to describe the varying principles establishing women’s place in the world community, understanding their links to social problems, and exploring these problems and their consequences. The United Nations also formally adopted the Decade for Women, which called on member states to ensure women’s access to the world’s economic and political decision-making processes and to establish formal equality between men and women.

Programs were formally established to improve the status, nutrition, health, and education of women. The goal of the Decade for Women was to encourage nations and societies to view women as equals in the developmental process, a goal that included recognizing women for their contributions to their families, to themselves, to their work, to their institutional constraints, and to their own liberation movement.

Although the means at the disposal of the United Nations to enforce the implementation of such a program remained limited, the process of establishing the program was nevertheless potentially beneficial to the understanding of women’s significance. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women played a key role in the process. Thanks to the convention, international pressure could be put on governments to rectify gender injustices and inequalities. The convention encouraged national governments to involve women in their political and economic decision-making processes, to provide periodic reviews of policies on gender inequality, and to integrate women into strategies for national development. United Nations;women’s rights[womens rights] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, U.N. (1979) Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations Women;discrimination

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bergom-Larsson, Maria. Women and Technology in the Industrialized Countries. New York: UNITAR, 1979. Analyzes the problems created for women through technological development in the industrialized countries. Specifically addresses the issue of the consequences of technological development coming into the hands of men.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kemp, Tom. Industrialization in the Non-Western World. London: Longman, 1990. Focuses on industrial growth in Japan, the Soviet Union, India, China, Brazil, and Nigeria, examining the range of political experience and the ideological outlook of each country as well as the role of women in each society. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lynn, Naomi B., ed. United Nations Decade for Women World Conference. New York: Haworth Press, 1984. Compilation of articles reflects the diversity of thought that results from the different levels of socioeconomic and political development of nations and how that diversity influences the roles of women around the world. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pietila, Hilkka, and Jeanne Vickers. Making Women Matter: The Role of the United Nations. 3d rev. ed. London: Zed Books, 1996. Highlights the achievements of the U.N. system with regard to the advancement of women’s issues. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rodda, Annabel. Women and the Environment. London: Zed Books, 1991. Shows how women are affected by environmental health problems caused by industrial development, by migration from rural to urban areas, and by other problems that arise from deterioration in the social, economic, and natural environment. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Symonides, Janusz, and Vladimir Volodin, eds. Human Rights of Women: A Collection of International and Regional Normative Instruments—Twentieth Anniversary of the Adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women 1979-1999. Paris: UNESCO, 1999. Volume dedicated to the 1979 U.N. resolution reproduces the texts of important documents related to women’s rights.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">United Nations. Report of the World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development, and Peace. New York: United Nations Press, 1980. Reviews the U.N. mandates for programs designed for the enhancement of the recognition of women’s rights in the world.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Winslow, Anne, ed. Women, Politics, and the United Nations. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. Collection of essays addressing the role of the United Nations in eliminating all forms of discrimination against women. Includes bibliography and index.

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