Inclusive, Enabling Communities

Inclusive, Enabling Communities
Learning Brief

Masimanyane Women's Support Centre

Using CEDAW to advocate against the abuse of women and children in South Africa

Category: Inclusive, Enabling Communities | Women and children affected by abuse/violence | 16 February, 2013 - 09:13



Masimanyane developed an alternative report (as opposed to the official report from the South African government) to the United Nations committee on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW). This report was presented in Geneva in January 2011 when South Africa reported to the committee under its international obligations. 

We had the privilege of having a meeting with the CEDAW committee in Geneva where they engaged with us about the situation of women in South Africa. All the alternative reports from South Africa spoke about the high levels of violence against women and girls and pointed out that violence against women is an expression of discrimination against women and results in their oppression thus perpetuating the inequality in our society.  One of the CEDAW committee members suggested that we consider using the Optional Protocol Inquiry procedure to the state to account for its failure in ending discrimination and failing to reduce the levels of violence against women. 

Follow up processes

After extensive deliberation and dialogue in Geneva our delegation agreed that none of us were familiar with the OP Inquiry process but we did know that it had been used in Mexico to great success. We were challenged to investigate this instrument and to see whether it held any worthwhile opportunity for us to shift the current impasse in respect of violence against women.  We agreed that it would be good to explore using the OP Inquiry process and we talked through a possible process for doing this. We knew that it was a daunting task as the instrument is unknown in South Africa and for that matter, Africa. Few activists in our country make full use of international law and instruments to advance the women’s rights agenda. However, where CEDAW had been cited in litigation processes, there has been a measure of success. Knowing this, we felt that it would give us new strategies and renewed energy to learn how to apply the OP CEDAW and we believed that it could be exciting to teach this to women’s groups in the country. We also realised along the way that developing this inquiry held huge opportunity for addressing other forms of discrimination against women. 

Benefits of what we learned

The process of developing the request  for the OP CEDAW Inquiry, assisted Masimanyane and its alliance partners to develop conceptual clarity with regard to gender disparities, discrimination and the role of the state in ensuring the full spectrum of women’s rights. We learned how to build alliances and solidarity with women’s groups. Most importantly, we learned what the full domestication of the convention entailed and how it could improve the quality of life and status of women.  More importantly, using the OP CEDAW made us active participants in our own liberation from gender oppression. It was refreshing to learn how women can interrogate the quality of state interventions as it should apply to all levels and organs of the state. 

We were breaking new ground as we developed this Inquiry. There were no real guidelines or templates provided. We learned to build alliances, partnerships, coalitions and networks with other groups. We learned to work collaboratively with all participating members and wrestled with them to learn how to frame our context and the problem we wanted to address. 

How can this help others?

Learning how to work with an international convention can result in the improvement in the quality of life and status of all women in our country. Using the enforcement mechanism of the CEDAW convention can assist women to have the state improve and increase its responses to violence against women thus reducing the phenomenon. Women could ultimately be safe and secure in our society. Moreover, if we are successful in securing an Inquiry, other aspects of women’s oppression can be brought before the CEDAW committee shining the headlights onto issues such as maternal deaths. 

Current status

The request for an Inquiry into domestic violence was submitted in September 2012. Our report has been returned to us with a request to re-frame some aspects and a request for additional information. We will resubmit by 31 January 2013. The time lines are lengthy as we have seen in other international cases, it can take up to a year after the inquiry request has been submitted for the inquiry to take place (if it is approved) and up to another half year or longer to receive the final report.


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In Short


In this short brief Masimanyane tells us how it came about that they submitted a request for a state inquiry to the United Nations committee on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW). They also describe briefly how they went about preparing the request and what they have learned through the process.  We thought this information was so important that we asked them to develop a learning brief around this for our Hands-on learning publication which you can read here.  You can also download other key documents such as the actual inquiry request and CEDAW’s comments on our country report at this link. 

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