Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly, is an international treaty that aims to achieve equality b/w men & women and to end discrimination that women face in all areas of their lives. It defines what constitutes discrimination against women and what governments should do to end such discrimination. Since it took effect in September 1981, it has been ratified by 189 states, including Singapore in 1995.
As a signatory to CEDAW, S’pore is legally obliged to align with CEDAW standards. As such, CEDAW was a driver behind introduction of several laws including Protection of Harassment Act, Prevention of Human Trafficking Act, removal of marital immunity for rape, changes in Evidence Act to protect victims of sexual violence, changes in law to provide better protection for unfair dismissal in employment. Understanding CEDAW and its processes will therefore be useful and instructive to legal practitioners who wish to anticipate and understand future trends.
Although CEDAW has yet to be “domesticated” into our local laws, lawyers are encouraged to use the articles in CEDAW to support their arguments in court. If faced with a discriminatory law or policy, lawyers can quote the relevant CEDAW article to argue that the law or policy is not in keeping with the international obligations Singapore had ratified and hopefully it may persuade the judge to uphold one’s argument.
Although Singapore is committed to continue eliminating barriers for women and to strengthen efforts to empower vulnerable groups of women, Asian values, gendered division of labour and the concept of women as nurturers and caregivers continue to work against women in Singapore.
The 3 speakers will explain that the structure of the relationship b/w men & women & boys & girls is hierarchical, top down & segmented by gender roles. And the unequal status within the home upholds inequalities outside of it. They will also shed more light and insights into CEDAW and its processes.
Dr Ann Tan will discuss the basic structure of CEDAW – the core principles and provisions of CEDAW namely (a) the broad definition of non discrimination i.e. substantive equality, (b) obligations of governments who had ratified CEDAW and (c) implementation process – reporting process of states who had ratified CEDAW, inputs from NGOs through shadow or alternative reports and Committee’s Concluding Comments and what should States and NGOs as well as civil society do with these Concluding Comments.
Although countries had ratified CEDAW, they may enter “reservations” or make declarations that they will not be bound to specific article or provision. Halijah Mohamad will discuss issues on “reservations” to CEDAW. Singapore has made reservations to articles 2 (on policy measures) and 16 (on marriage and family life). She will also address specific issues related to the area of marriage and family life (Article 16) including issues b/w CEDAW & Muslim family law. E.g. to promote strong marriages and parenthood within marriage, our policies and legislation differentiate children born within and out of wedlock and why this does not conform with CEDAW standards.
Jolene Tan will discuss some of the key issues focused on by United Nations CEDAW Committee during Singapore’s review session in 2017 namely (a) violence against women including sexual violence and the need for training in the criminal justice system, which was flagged as a priority issue by the Committee during the Concluding Observations, (b) sex stereotyping and prejudice (Article 5), (c) women in public and political life (Article 7) including temporary special measures and (d) rights of migrant women, including domestic workers and women in transnational marriages.