Vienna, 24 November 2009 Press release

Plassnik: "CEDAW – the magna carta of equal rights for women"

Vienna, 24 November 2009 - "Five letters representing a manual to a more fair and peaceful world:CEDAW.30 years ago, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).Considering the hitherto male-dominated history of mankind, CEDAW was undoubtedly a milestone.What was formally laid down in the convention, however, were self-evident truths.Today, CEDAW, shines like a powerful spotlight on the many areas of blatant discrimination against girls and women", said Ursula Plassnik, the Special Envoy for International Women’s Issues at the Foreign Ministry.

"So far, 186 states – almost all UN member states – have ratified the convention.The fact that today hardly an international debate can take place without considering the human rights of women is, without any doubt, attributable to the CEDAW.A negative aspect, however, is that many countries have ratified the convention only under serious reservations – especially in the area of matrimonial and family law.As a result, they continue to deny essential rights to women.Unfortunately, it is also a fact that the obligations undertaken by the governments and the legislators are often only implemented with extreme reluctance.The true touchstone for the success of CEDAW, however, is the determination of national and local authorities to actually apply the laws protecting the rights of women and to punish any violations thereof.

Making gender equality a way of life even in the most remote corner of our global village is an important duty for all of us – be it as committed members of the civil society or as political decision makers.CEDAW constitutes a legal basis for appeal and provides a leverage for long-due political, social, cultural and economic change.

Let’s take just one example:Afghanistan is party to the CEDAW.Article 22 of the country’s constitution grants equal rights and responsibilities to women and men.The clear wording and the obligations assumed in writing and in official form stand in stark contrast to the actual circumstances - the mental and physical suffering of girls and women in the country at the Hindukush.Their top priority in life is to survive on a day-to-day basis.There can only be progress if women, with their experiences and skills, are given a say in all areas of life.Women must be represented in the decision-making bodies and become full and respected participants in political, economic, and social life.

Tomorrow, the world celebrates the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.Discrimination against women and girls still covers a horrifyingly wide spectrum of conditions.Even in the third millennium, it can begin even before birth, with the intentional abortion of female embryos.Other forms of discrimination include exclusion from or obstacles to education, genital mutilation, forced marriage, the burning of widows – just to name the worst of them.

We must persistently and uncompromisingly highlight and eliminate this injustice committed against women.We may neither play down, nor dismiss, or even hush up these facts.Culture, tradition, or religion must not be abused to discriminate women or to brush aside such discrimination with an equally forgiving silence.

The obligatory CEDAW country reports must not remain an eternal perpetuation of omissions.Just as in those dark times we thought to have disappeared long ago, today the adversaries of women and women’s rights are still predominant in many countries – as husbands, male relatives, or representatives of local authorities.

Even in Europe, by the way, discrimination against women is still not a thing of the past.Violence against women still remains a widespread phenomenon.Declarations of intent issued as part of election tactics often amount to a renewed contempt or even subliminal insult of women.Another bitter chapter is solidarity among women.It often ends with non-binding, general declarations of intent for the future.When it comes to supporting other women in daily political life, party intrigues and „colour blindness“ are too often the dominant pattern even with women in top positions.

The international foundation was laid 30 years ago.What is needed now is persistent work on a wider scale toward bringing about a change in awareness.What we experience as positive beginnings in many countries must become a global movement:An active civil society that acknowledges the great opportunities of gender equality for everyone and acts accordingly.

CEDAW has given new hope to women on all continents.An international public opinion in solidarity with women is emerging.Unperturbed by the hostility they faced, courageous women and men showed great commitment and achieved progress on a local level.In so many different and impressive ways, they have become forces of change, engines of transformation.

Let us encourage and support them!

Let us demand answers from the powerful!

Today, men still take decisions and women have to bear the consequences.This course leads to a dead end for mankind.

CEDAW, the magna carta of women’s rights, is a concrete set of instructions aiming at a better future for all of us“, said Ursula Plassnik.


Federal Ministry for
European and international Affairs
Press Department
Tel.: ++43 (0) 50 1150-3262, 4549, 4550
Fax: ++43 (0) 50 1159-213