1. General description

By virtue of article 17 of the Convention, a Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) was set up in 1982 to assess the progress made by States regarding the fulfilment of their obligations. The Committee's composition differs in many ways from other United Nations treaty bodies. The Committee is formed of 23 members, experts in the field of women's rights, and elected by the countries that have ratified the Convention. These experts are almost all women and are drawn from various professional backgrounds. The members of the Committee do not represent their country, Government or any other organization to which they may belong; they serve in their own capacity. These individuals "of high moral standing and competence in the field covered by the Convention" are elected for a period of four years and may be re-elected.

The CEDAW Committee's main task, as described in article 18 of the Convention, is to act as a monitoring system to oversee the implementation of the Convention by those States that have ratified or acceded to it. This implies examining reports submitted by Governments concerning "legislative, judicial, administrative or other measures, which they have adopted", to comply with the Convention, preparing concluding observations, and formulating suggestions and general recommendations based on the examination of States Parties reports.

The Convention does not specifically accord the Committee authority to interpret and analyse the scope and meaning of the articles of the Convention. However, in 1991, the Committee started to interpret the articles of the Convention even in the absence of an express authority to do so. It should also be noted that since the end of 1999, the Committee is empowered to examine individual complaints concerning violations of women's rights. Indeed, an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted by the General Assembly on october 6th 1999 and signed by 23 countries on December 10th 1999. By ratifying the Optional Protocol, a State would recognize the competence of the Committee to receive and consider complaints from individuals or groups within its jurisdiction. However, the Committee would only consider complaints related to incidents in States Parties to the Protocol, and only when the complainant has demonstrated to have exhausted available domestic remedies, "unless the application of such remedies is unreasonably prolonged or unlikely to bring effective relief".

2. Procedures regarding the discussion of States Parties reports

With regards to the reporting process,the Committee prefers to adopt an approach that emphasizes the importance of constructive dialogue between the members of the Committee and States parties. The overall atmosphere of the Committee's sessions aims at being a free exchange of ideas, information and suggestions. Individual States parties first submit a written initial report to the Committee. The initial report is then considered by the Committee in the presence of a representative of the reporting country. Individual members are free to ask for clarification or elaboration of any issue related to the report, the presentation, or to CEDAW's goals. The State party presenting its report may decide to answer some of these questions immediately, and usually will provide other answers a day or two later. The Committee will then prepare concluding observations on the reports of individual States parties so that these can be reflected in the report of the Committee.
Since 1990, second and subsequent reports have been reviewed by a pre-session working group of five Committee members. The working group draws up questions to guide the full Committee's examination of the report. These questions are submitted to the country's representative in advance. The representative then meets with the Committee to respond to these questions and any others that members may wish to ask.