Essay: Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women – Why does gender inequality continue to exist when women comprise at least (and usually more than) 50% of the world’s population?

(Reading time: 6 mins)

By Greg Marat

A female activist carries a sign promoting gender equality as protesters march through downtown Rabat calling for greater democracy. Photo: Paul Schemm (2011)
A female activist carries a sign promoting gender equality as protesters march through downtown Rabat calling for greater democracy. Photo: Paul Schemm (2011)

Although approximately half of the world’s population are female, inequality of the sexes still exist.

This essay will establish that this is due to social and cultural norms and expectations of gender roles.

The essay will also coincide how the Convention on ‘Elimination of Discrimination against Women 1979’ has tried to tackle this form of discrimination.

The origins of discrimination of women, could be dated back to the time of the ‘stone ages’ where men were seen as hunter gathers and women were left behind to take care of the sick and the young.

These roles remain the same and they were later enforced by modern religious texts such as the Torah, Bible and the Qur’an where men were seen as superior to women.

Often it seems that religious texts see women as property and commodities of a father or husband, and often had to obey their father and their spouse.

This form of discrimination has been continuing for generations and been imbedded into human culture.

Expected gender roles or gender stereotypes are the subliminal problem of inequality that exist between the sexes.

Of course, Men and Women are different in certain attributes and have different strengths and weaknesses.

Studies show that women are better negotiators than men (Gates 2011), and men are better at the front line of an armed force. But it doesn’t mean that all women are better than all men nor does it say that all men are better than all women to serve in the front line.

It is more of a correlation than causation. But there is no reason why women and men should not receive equal pay for the same job they are doing.

In the United States, since the Equal Pay Act was established, the wage gap between the sexes has been closing.

In 1963, women who worked full-time earned $0.59 to a dollar that men earned.

In 2010, this was increased to $0.77 to the dollar (NCPE 2012). Even in a developed country like the United States, it took 47 years to move 18 cents closer to the dollar.

But is it enough?

At this rate it will take the United States another 60 years to obtain equal pay among the two sexes.

The most predominant cause of the wage gap is the education levels and qualifications. Since now men and women tend to be more equal in their credentials, shouldn’t they get paid equally as well?

Another cause of inequality is the steam from social structures that have invaded the notion of gender differences (e.g. where media advertisements that promote being a housewife and a mother).

Also gender discrimination could be another cause of inequality; men usually occupy positions of hierarchy in the economy and they are more likely to hire and promote other men for having similar characteristics and taste. This in turn creates further discrimination against women.

In 1981, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is an attempt to reduce global discrimination between the sexes.

The Convention states;

‘Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, 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, economy, social, cultural, civil or any other field.’

The positive submission that was achieved by the convention is that states must actively seek to eradicate prejudice and customs that reflect the idea of superiority and inferiority of a single sex.

Also states that ratify the convention are mandated to protect gender equality by adjusting their domestic law and remove all gender discriminatory provisions as well as enact new provisions to safeguard discrimination against women.

The convention also calls for the creation of domestic tribunals and public institutions to guarantee women protection against discrimination.

Also, article 10 encourages coeducation and equal opportunities in education for female students are required.

This is a fundamental item as higher the education level, the better earnings potential.

However the less progressive part of convention is article 6, it doesn’t include legislation to suppress trafficking of women and forced prostitution is not regarded as gender discrimination.

Also article 4, doesn’t give special protection for maternity as gender discrimination.

This is when it becomes ‘too’ equal; as there should be a distinction between women in maternity as the men and women have a different anatomy and should be treated in retrospect.

Since the convention was introduced in 1981, over fifty countries have verified the convention.

However, most countries have verified it as subject to reservation and objections within the convention.

Especially with article 29 on the convention, this is the domestic interpretation or the application of the convention.

Thirty eight countries of the fifty countries have rejected this. This should be addressed as even though not all states are equal, human rights should be equal across the board.

In conclusion, we have come a long way into achieving equality between the sexes. In recent study done by the committee of Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) in 121 countries (OECD 2012), 29 countries now have quotas to promote women’s political participation, early marriage rate has decreased to 17% (2012) from 21%(2009).

CEDAW is definitely a step in the right direction.

But a lot more needs to be achieved if we were to create equal rights in women.

Education and attitudes toward women should be the key issues, the SIGI report continued to say that 86 countries of the 121 have discriminatory practices against women.

One in five women have no access to family planning and women only hold 15% of land titles.

Also women in half of the 121 countries, believe that domestic violence against them is justifiable, therefore attitude from women should also become more progressive and transition out of negative cultural constructs.


White M. 2012, ‘Secondary Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century’, retrieved 5 June 2013, <;.

Gates L. 2011,’Why Women are Better Negotiators than Men’, retrieved 5June 2013, <;.

NCPE 2012, ‘The Wage Gap over Time: In Real Dollars, Women See a Continuing Gap’, retrieved 6 June 2013, <;.

UN 2012, ‘Overview of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of discrimination against Women’, retrieved 6 June 2013, <;.

OECD 2012, ‘2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index: Understand the drivers of Gender Inequality’, retrieved 6 June 2013, <;.

Essay: Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women – Why does gender inequality continue to exist when women comprise at least (and usually more than) 50% of the world’s population?

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