CEDAW and the Security Council: Enhancing Women’s Rights in Conflict Guest Post by Dr Catherine O’Rourke and Dr Aisling Swaine

Recent years have seen a rapid increase of legal and policy developments under international law to advance the rights of women in conflict-affected settings. These developments are accompanied, however, by acute concerns about their efficacy and enforcement. One significant development towards improving overall implementation, enforcement and state compliance with women’s rights in conflict is the increasing engagement by the CEDAW Committee with the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda of the United Nations Security Council. The pursuit of synergies have been advanced in important ways with the CEDAW Committee’s adoption of its General Recommendation Number 30 (GR30) on the rights of women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations in 2013. In our new research article, ‘CEDAW and the Security Council: Enhancing Women’s Rights in Conflict’, we consider practice to date, and future potential, towards productive synergies between CEDAW and the Security Council. We argue that such synergies offer unique potential because they combine the CEDAW Committee’s women’s rights commitment and focus on state accountability with the unique international enforcement activities of the Security Council.

Our research finds that there are several immediate practical ways in which the CEDAW Committee and Security Council might support the mutual implementation of both the CEDAW and WPS commitments to enhance women’s rights in conflict. Firstly, there are considerable opportunities for enhanced data-sharing, such as the data gathered by the CEDAW Committee through state party monitoring could be of use to the Security Council as it makes decisions on country situations on its agenda. (This is a particular opportunity for civil society, a constituency with considerably fewer opportunities for formal engagement with the Security Council than the CEDAW Committee, to have their insights and outputs considered.) Secondly, through its monitoring activities, the CEDAW Committee can make recommendations that drive state-level implementation of WPS resolutions towards substantive equality and human rights for women, in conflict-affected and donor countries. Likewise, the Security Council can — through the Secretary-General’s annual reporting on WPS — play a role in enhancing the state-level accountability of UN member States that are not party to CEDAW, or rely on reservations to CEDAW. Thirdly, the Security Council can more comprehensively integrate CEDAW-led interpretations of women’s rights in the implementation of its mandate, such as utilizing the Security Council’s sanctions regime to more effectively enforce women’s rights in conflict.

The pursuit of effective synergies between CEDAW and the Security Council on women’s rights in conflict is arguably of particular relevance to Northern Ireland. The UK has to date resisted the application of the Security Council’s WPS commitments to Northern Ireland, and has therefore managed to evade the Security Council’s assorted implementation and reporting mechanisms attached to the WPS agenda. As a party to CEDAW, the UK government cannot contest the Convention’s application to Northern Ireland. Moreover, with GR30, the CEDAW Committee has advanced a broad definition of ‘conflict’ (and thus ‘postconflict’), which includes protracted and low-intensity civil strife, ethnic and communal violence and states of emergency. In light of the upcoming periodic review of the UK by the CEDAW Committee, we propose the following areas in which synergies between the UNSC WPS agenda and CEDAW might most effectively be exploited:

  1. Addressing continuities between pre-, during and post-conflict violence against women (VAW). The CEDAW Committee has advanced an understanding of VAW as a form of gender discrimination. On this basis, GR30 clearly articulates the need to address the relationship between VAW occurring within and outside conflict. In doing so, it goes beyond the Security Council’s approach, which narrowly defines VAW according to its own mandate to maintain international peace and security. As the CEDAW Committee situates VAW within the broader exacerbating effects of conflict on gender inequality and women’s vulnerabilities to all forms of violence, the next periodic review could provide an opportunity to prompt attention to the link between public and private sphere violence in a context such as Northern Ireland.
  2. Including women and integrating gender into dealing with the past. The inclusion of women and accountability for women’s rights violations has been a priority to date of the CEDAW Committee in its state party monitoring, in particular since its adoption of GR30 (for example, in Iraq and Syria). Proposals for investigation, truth-telling, potential prosecution and reparation for conflict-related killings and human rights violations in Northern Ireland could be usefully scrutinized by the Committee. (The Gender Principles on Dealing with the Legacy of the Past, developed by a civil society-academic alliance in response to the Stormont House Agreement, would likely be of considerable interest to the Committee.)
  3. The obligation to include women and women’s civil society in all post-conflict peacebuilding activities. While it is a stated priority of the Security Council’s WPS agenda, it is the CEDAW Committee that has actually brought useful scrutiny to the exclusion of women from peace processes in, for example, Georgia and the Central African Republic.
  4. Reporting and monitoring. Through its state party monitoring, the CEDAW Committee has encouraged the development of WPS National Action Plans, and challenged their deficiencies and exclusions where relevant. In GR30, in particular, the Committee calls on state parties to report on their implementation of their WPS commitments as constitutive of their overall obligations under CEDAW. The recently launched UK NAP (2018-2020) commits the UK to ‘tackling the obstacles to women’s leadership and meaningful political participation such as the lack of public/social support and political party support; entrenched patriarchal views; gender, age and ethnic discrimination; violence and intimidation; lack of an enabling environment for women’s rights organisations and women human rights defenders to mobilise freely’ (p. 8). We see here considerable potential to utilize CEDAW state party monitoring to foster new and improved engagement by the UK on its post-conflict peacebuilding activities for women’s rights in Northern Ireland, concurrently fulfilling its commitments under its NAP and under CEDAW.


Dr Catherine O’Rourke is Senior Lecturer in Human Rights and International Law at the Transitional Justice Institute, Ulster University, cf.orourke@ulster.ac.uk. Dr Aisling Swaine is Assistant Professor in Gender and Security, Department of Gender Studies, London School of Economics and Political Science, a.swaine@lse.ac.uk. The full article ‘CEDAW and the Security Council: Enhancing Women’s Rights in Conflict’ is published in the International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Volume 67, January 2018 pp 167–199. It accompanies the authors’ Guidebook on CEDAW General Recommendation No. 30 and the UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security (UN Women, 2015).


Original Article can be found HERE

The UN Women Guidebook (free access) HERE