Today, on International Women’s Day, it is more important than ever to see how far we have come and how far we still have to go. The Treaty for the Rights of Women(CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations more than 25 years ago. Turkey ratified the Treaty on 20 December 1985, and as of 2006, 184 other countries have also ratified it.
The Treaty is an important document protecting the universal human rights which women are also guaranteed as members of the human race. The document outlines”what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination” (http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/cedaw.htm). As such, it is a powerful guide for the world’s countries as we strive toward a more developed, healthy and peaceful world.
Turkey, along with all other signatories, is required to submit national reports on the steps they have taken to fully implement and incorporate the Treaty into their national agendas. It is the practice of theTreaty that is vital, not just the theory.
Summary of the Treaty
Article I of the Convention states:
For the purposes of the present Convention, the term “discrimination against women” shall mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying there cognition, 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 field.
Article II enjoins those parties to the Treaty to take steps to eliminate discrimination against women in legal, judicial, penal and social spheres.
Article III states that women shall achieve parity and equality with men in all areas and that it is the responsibility of the national governments to ensure this.
Article IV clarifies that special measures are allowed by governments in order to accelerate the achievement of equality between men and women but that a) the sespecial measures shall not be used to promote unequal and separate standard and b) shall be discontinued when equality is attained.
Article V adds the following goals: a) the erasure of the idea of “superior”/”inferior” between the sexes and b) the idea that child-rearing is the primary goal of both parents regardless of gender.
Article VI enjoins the signatories to eradicate the traffic of women and the exploitation of prostitution of women.
Articles VII and VIII address the situation of women in political and public life; the securing of their rights to vote, hold public office and represent the government abroad, help to form government policy, participate in any public or political organizations and associations, government or non-governmental, national or international.
Article IX talks about the right of women, married or single, to their individual nationality and equal rights as to the nationality of their children.
Articles X and XI urges governments to ensure the equal rights of women in the fields of education, employment and their right to work (even during marriage or maternity leave).
To ensure women’s equal access to appropriate health care, Article XII addresses such issues as family planning and pregnancy-related health care.
Articles XIII-XVI address the discrimination women face in economic and social spheres, rural areas, law, marriage, family relations, divorce, guardianship, property ownership, and child marriage.
Article XVII delineates the process by which experts in each ratifying country can be selected and organized.
Article XVIII lays out the process by which and when reports shall be made on the progress of the implementation of the Treaty.
Articles XIX-XX talk about how the Committee of experts may undertake their tasks and make their reports.
Article XXIII states that this Treaty will not negate any laws already in place in the legislation of the ratifying countries that are conducive to the equalization of men and women, while Article XXIV enjoins them to enact laws at the national level that will achieve the aims of the Treaty.
The last six articles deal with the business of ratification and enacting of the Treaty, in addition to ensuring access to the Treaty in multiple languages.
Despite concerns that the Treaty may “straightjacket” countries into following international law, “the Treaty for the Rights of Women sets out “best practices” for ensuring basic human rights for women, without imposing any laws on governments. Domestic laws take precedence everywhere. The Treaty has proven to be a valuable tool for governments wanting to improve their own laws by broadening the basic rights of women” (http://www.amnestyusa.org/women/cedaw/world.html/AmnestyUSA).
According to Human Rights Watch in a memorandum to the Turkish Government in June 2004, human rights violations specifically targeting women still occur. The memorandum was in response to the European Court of Human Rights ruling which upheld the Turkish government’s ban on the wearing of headscarves in institutes of higher education. This ban and the judicial ruling upholding it directly contravenes Article X of the Treaty for it denies women specifically from gaining equal access to education.
The headscarf ban targets specifically and only women, and forces them to choose between their personal beliefs, their personal choice of dress, and their desire for an education. The memorandum goes on to argue that secularism and respect for freedom of religion go hand in hand, and thus the ban is counter productive. Further, it fosters distrust in many women in Turkey for their government and their status in the eyes of the government.
Human Rights Watch’s memorandum concludes with recommendations to the Turkish Government regarding future actions:
. Conduct, prior to enacting the draft legislation on the Higher Education Council, a thorough consultation with relevant interest groups to ensure that legislation and regulations concerning dress in higher education are fully consonant with international law and standards concerning freedom of religion and freedom of expression;
• Ensure that the legislation, and other legislation concerning the future shape of learning in Turkey, addresses the recommendations concerning education contained in the CEDAW Committee Concluding Observations of 1997;
• Ensure that university authorities lift the ban on the wearing of the headscarf in universities for students and staff. Rectors of universities and other educational institutions should ensure that their entry and appointment procedures do not discriminate on grounds of gender or religion;
• Ensure that higher education bodies reinstate all students currently excluded because they choose to wear a headscarf for religious reasons, and reinstate all university or college staff discharged or suspended because they choose to wear a headscarf;
• Respect the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief and the United Nations and the Convention on the Elimination of All Form of Discrimination Against Women.
-Memorandum to the Turkish Government on Human Rights Watch’s Concerns with Regard to Academic Freedom in Higher Education, and Access to Higher Education for Women who Wear the Headscarf
-Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper
Read the full text of the Treaty in English at: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/text/econvention.htm.
Amnesty International USA, http://www.amnestyusa.org/women/cedaw/world.html
The Treaty for the Rights of Women,http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/text/econvention.htm
Reuters Report about Human Rights Watch, European Courts and the Turkish Government,
Memorandum from Human Rights Watch to the Turkish Government:http://hrw.org/backgrounder/eca/turkey/2004/