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A Look at Women's Rights in India through CEDAW

25 July 2014

At the beginning of July, the government of India was reviewed by the  Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to examine the national situation of women’s rights. WILPF India and the Human Rights Programme actively took part in the session to make sure our concerns on Women, Peace and Security were included in the talks!

What is CEDAW and Why is it Relevant?
Cover of WILPF's Shadow Report to CEDAW
WILPF’s Shadow Report to CEDAW

The CEDAW Committee is a UN body composed by independent experts in charge of reviewing a country’s implementation of the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, an international human rights treaty containing state’s responsibilities towards women’s human rights. It is important for national advocacy because once a State signs and ratifies it it becomes national law. During the session, NGOs meet with CEDAW Committee members to provide information and advocate for women’s rights in their area of expertise.

On 2nd July, the government of India was faced with the reality of countless women’s rights violations in all aspects of life, rooted in the gender inequality that poisons Indian society.

As a result of our advocacy efforts, the CEDAW Committee issued recommendations in the following areas:

Violence by Security Forces in the Northeast of the Country

Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) the governor of a state can declare an area as disturbed, giving the armed forces extraordinary powers, such as firing a weapon against any person, even causing death, if the officer in question believes they have committed a cognisable offence. This results in army personnel committing grave human rights violations since they are given the opportunity to do so. Extrajudicial killings, mass rapes, sexual assault and other forms of harassment, enforced disappearances and torture are but just a few. According to the government, India has strong security issues which make it necessary to have the presence of armed forces in certain areas. As the President of WILPF India, Manda Parikh, pointed out repeatedly during our advocacy meetings, security must not be understood as more army.

In light of this impunity, the CEDAW Committee recommended the state to repeal or at least amend the AFSPA in order to bring crimes against women under normal criminal law (not military law) and enable the speedy prosecution of these crimes with a view to implementing a strict code of conduct respectful of women’s rights for every military operation.

Weapons and Militarisation

As mentioned, more army does not equate to more security, rather it brings forth a militaristic culture of violence which permeates through society and exacerbates gender inequality and patriarchal attitudes. We have constantly pointed out how civilian possession and use of firearms not only directly causes gender-based violence, but it also affects all other women’s rights by creating an atmosphere of insecurity which prevents them from engaging in society.

As such, CEDAW Committee members expressed deep concern over the limited regulation of arms trade and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and their impact on the security of women.

Women’s participation and UNSCR 1325

As we all know, a gender approach to conflict does not only mean ensuring safety for women, but it is also a question of guaranteeing they actively take part in peace negotiations. This is essential in order for women to be strong leaders in post-conflict, that is why the CEDAW Committee urged the government to ensure women’s participation in conflict resolution through the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and General Recommendation 30.

The government declared that wherever possible, women were consulted in peace negotiations. We do not see how some situations are more possible than others, as women constitute half of the population and therefore thy should ALWAYS be included in discussions.

Status of Women in Gujarat

Gujarat was an ever-present issue during the session. The people of Gujarat are still suffering the consequences of the communal riots of 2002, where women were subjected to rape and other forms of abuse. Nowadays, both Hindu and Muslim women are still not granted access to justice to claim accountability for crimes against them, with many being afraid of negative consequences if they speak out. Recommendations went in the sense of strengthening the gender approach in police and judiciary.

As a justification for the lack of legal action against perpetrators, the government of India expressed the necessity to take measures against women who file false complaints in order to discourage women from giving false testimonies. But when has there been proof of false testimonies? And how can all women’s chances of achieving justice be denied for the possibility of a minimum part of false complaints?


WILPF India and the Human Rights Programme managed to successfully advocate for the inclusion of widespread impunity, militarisation and for a gendered approach to conflict in the final CEDAW report.

When faced with the question of why the agreed budget for women has not been allocated, India replied that they did not require that extent of funds. In light of the discussions of the day though it is clear that there need to be more than funds for Indian women to be finally respected.

The government now has to take responsibility for its actions and show real commitment to Women, Peace and Security. WILPF for sure will make sure that happens. Perseverance is something we do not lack.

Read WILPF India’s shadow report to CEDAW and WILPF India’s statement.

Have a look at the Concluding Observations of the Committee.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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