These goals will only be achieved if women are able to participate as equal partners, decision makers, and beneficiaries of the sustainable development of their societies. This is explicitly recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The UDHR was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, of which Canada is a member, in 1948. Canada ratified the CEDAW Convention in 1981.
The adoption of CEDAW set new benchmarks for governmental accountability and international action. This firm legal foundation, complemented by increasing emphasis by the UN on the promotion and protection of human rights, has enabled significant advances in gender equality and women’s human rights internationally. However, the struggle is far from over.
The UN World Conferences on Women have been important catalysts in moving the agenda forward on gender equality and women’s human rights. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing) resulting from the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, and the reviews held every five years since then, are far-reaching in their goals for the achievement of gender equality and for the advancement and empowerment of women.
The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meets every year to evaluate progress on gender equality and identify areas where challenges remain. Following the adoption of Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, every five years the CSW annual meeting has reviewed Beijing and reaffirmed the international community’s commitment to its full and accelerated implementation.
Women’s Human Rights
Protection and advancement of women’s human rights remains a central foreign policy priority for Canada, both in bilateral discussions and in multilateral fora. At the United Nations (UN), Canada has worked to make women’s human rights a strong focus of the Commission on the Status of Women and the Human Rights Council. Canada actively promotes the integration of women’s human rights throughout the UN system.
Canada was one of the first countries to sign and ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which set international standards for eliminating gender discrimination. In 2002, Canada ratified the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW, which was adopted by the UN General Assemply in December 2000. The Protocol provides an international remedy for violations of women’s human rights through a communications and an inquiry procedure. The communications procedure allows individual women or groups of women to submit complaints to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women after having exhausted all national remedies. The inquiry procedure entitles the Committee to conduct investigations and inquiries into grave or systemic violations of the Convention.
Canada participated in the development of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action in 1993, which affirmed that “women’s rights are human rights” and called for action to integrate the equal status and human rights of women in the mainstream of UN system-wide activity. Canada also played a key role at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, which identified 12 critical areas of concern and set out a course of action to ensure comprehensive protection and advancement of women’s rights around the world.
Women in Decision Making
One of the most effective ways of improving the status and well-being of women is by ensuring their full, equal and effective