Producing Shadow Reports to the CEDAW Committee:
A Procedural Guide
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (the CEDAW Convention) is a powerful instrument for articulating, advocating, and monitoring women’s human rights. These procedural and format guidelines are designed to assist NGOs in producing shadow reports for the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) to use in evaluating government reports under the CEDAW Convention. They are a companion to the IWRAW manual on reporting under the CEDAW Convention, Assessing the Status of Women in the 21st Century.
NGOs have a very important role in making the Convention an instrument of women’s empowerment, through advocacy and monitoring their government’s implementation of the treaty. Because the Convention is primarily enforced through a reporting system, it is imperative that NGOs understand and use the reporting mechanism to maintain government accountability both to its own residents and to the international community.
The Convention’s Optional Protocol provides for additional accountability in the form of individual complaints and requests for special inquiries regarding Convention violations. NGOs whose governments have ratified the Optional Protocol can use those procedures to bring individual and group communications to the Committee. For complete information on using the Optional Protocol, consult the web site of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at http://www.iwraw-ap.org/protocol.htm.
Governments that have ratified the CEDAW Convention (State parties) are required to submit an initial report on the status of women within one year of ratification. Thereafter they are obligated to submit a periodic report every four years on progress made in removing obstacles to equality. States parties that have fallen behind in their periodic reporting are encouraged to present consolidated reports (for example second and third reports together).
New reporting guidelines for CEDAW
In 2008 the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (the CEDAW Committee) adopted new reporting guidelines that could be significant for NGOs. The State party reports now should consist of two documents: the treaty-specific report and a common core document (CCD). The CCD is an account of the State party’s geography, economy, population, political system, and most importantly, describes the laws, policies, institutions, and remedies relating to human rights and specifically to discrimination. The treaty-specific report addresses the substantive articles of the CEDAW Convention and should indicate the impact of policies to implement the Convention.
The guidelines for the CCD were endorsed by the Chairpersons of the Human Rights Treaty Bodies in 2006. They are available in the UN document, Harmonized Guidelines on Reporting under the International Human Rights Treaties, Including Guidelines on a Common Core Document and Treaty-Specific Documents (HRI/MC/2006/3). CEDAW reporting guidelines that refer to both the CCD and the treaty-specific guidelines are available in all UN languages. A new IWRAW guide, New Guidelines for Human Rights Treaty Reporting: Opportunities for Women’s Human Rights NGOs, explains the Common Core Document in more detail and is available on this site.
The CEDAW Committee
The CEDAW Committee consists of twenty-three independent experts, elected by the States parties to the Convention, who review the States parties’ compliance with the obligations of the CEDAW Convention. The membership represents a geographical distribution as well as an attempt to include experts from different political and legal systems. By the terms of the CEDAW Convention, like all the other human rights treaties, the members of the monitoring body are “independent.” They serve in their individual capacity and do not take formal instructions from their governments in considering the State party reports or any of the other work of the Committee. This independence also allows for a certain flexibility in organizing their working procedures and in working with NGOs. However, because the CEDAW Committee experts must be nominated for the position by their government, they are likely to be prominent and their views generally acceptable to their government.
Governments’ assessments of their efforts to comply with the Convention frequently are incomplete and tend to minimize problems and maximize accomplishments. Recognizing this, the CEDAW Committee asks governments whether they have involved NGOs in preparing the government report. The Committee has invited direct NGO input, in the form of independent or “shadow” reports and oral presentations, to bring women’s real concerns to national and international attention.
NGOs that have worked with the government to prepare the official report may find that the government report as submitted does not include their concerns. The CEDAW Committee recognizes that even where the NGOs have been consulted in preparation of the official report, the final version may omit their point of view. Therefore, it is important for NGOs to submit their own materials to complete the record.
NGOs may submit shadow reports that relate to the articles of the CEDAW Convention (a treaty-specific shadow report). This guide provides procedural information on producing shadow reports and provides a timeline for NGO shadow reporting to the CEDAW Committee.
Shadow reports should be organized to meet the Committee’s new guidelines, including response to information in the common core document. It is especially important for NGOs to emphasize at the beginning of their report the structural issues that perpetuate discrimination or fail to address it. These matters should be covered in the common core document, but if the common core document is inadequate they should still be covered by NGOs:
- Overarching policies that indicate the government’s will or lack of will
- Judicial infrastructure, including gender fairness in the courts and judicial independence
- Internal processes for monitoring human rights and discrimination issues
- Existence of national human rights institutions, their mandate and their activities relating to discrimination against women
- Remedies for sex discrimination
Preparing a separate report section that addresses these issues demonstrates attention to the Committee’s guidelines and allows for submitting the same information, in the form of a CCD shadow report, to other treaty monitoring bodies when your government is reviewed by them. The resulting Concluding Observations can add considerable weight to NGO advocacy.
For more information specifically on the CCD, please see the IWRAW publication, New Guidelines for Human Rights Treaty Reporting: Opportunities for Women’s Human Rights NGOs, available on this IWRAW Web site.
The CEDAW Committee meets each year in at least two sessions of three weeks each. The Committee meets in Geneva. In 2009, the Committee will meet for two sessions, and from 2010, the Committee will meet three times every year. It is expected that one session per year will be at UN headquarters in New York. Check the schedule on the CEDAW website to confirm date and location.
State party reports are considered approximately in the order in which they were submitted, with some variations to provide geographical balance and a balance of initial and periodic reports in each session. States parties are invited to be reviewed according to a list drawn up by the Committee at each session for future sessions. States parties do not have to accept the invitation to be reviewed in a particular session, and the Committee includes a number of “reserve” States to be invited if any on the initial list decline. Therefore the list may remain tentative until two or three months prior to the session.
States are not placed in the queue for review until their report is submitted. The report backlog varies, and States may request a delay in their review, so they may be reviewed from one to two or more years after their reports are submitted.
The reporting and review process is most powerful if it is approached as a continuous cycle. The cycle includes State party reporting to the Committee; dialogue between the Committee and the State party; Concluding Observations by the Committee; follow-up by the Committee, the State party, and civil society; and the next report. This cycle will not be effective without NGO monitoring, participation, and informing the general public in the State. It is important to complete the cycle by using the Concluding Observations as a tool for advocacy and lobbying during the years between reviews.
Approximately 7 to 10 States parties are reviewed at each CEDAW session. For each State party, the Committee members listen to a presentation by a government representative and ask questions. The Committee members ask follow-up questions and engage the State party representatives in a dialogue. In the review session, the State party representative(s) introduce the report for initial and periodic reports. Periodic reports specifically address information pertaining to a List of Issues, prepared by the Committee ahead of time at the Pre-Sessional Working Group.
NGO input for the CEDAW Committee review
As noted in the Timeline for NGO Activity table appended to this Guide, there are several stages at which NGOs may approach the Committee members. The process is relatively open, and at least some of the members are very willing to work directly with NGO materials and to speak with NGO representatives.
Pre-Sessional Working Group (for second and subsequent State party reports)
After each session, a working group of several Committee members remains at the meeting site for a week to prepare for an upcoming Committee session. As of 2008, the Pre-Sessional Working Group prepares for sessions approximately six to ten months in advance. For example, the Pre-Sessional Working Group for the 44th Session (July 2009) was held in November 2008 after the 42nd Session. Each expert in the Working Group serves as a Country Rapporteur for one of the upcoming States parties’ reports (additional Country Rapporteurs may not be at the Pre-Sessional Working Group). The Country Rapporteur is responsible for preparing the List of Issues, which is designed to be the major focus of the State party review. The List of Issues is sent to the State party, which is required to provide written replies to those issues before the session at which it is scheduled for review.
NGO contribution at this stage of the process is essential
Submissions to the Pre-Sessional Working Group ensure that matters of concern to NGOs are placed on the List of Issues. To participate at this stage, NGOs should submit written information (ideally the full shadow report) to the OHCHR before the Pre-Sessional Working Group meeting. NGOs may make an oral presentation to Committee members at the beginning of the Pre-Sessional Working Group. If a full shadow report is not yet available, submit a short written statement highlighting key issues so the Committee may consider the information to be included on the List of Issues.
The schedule for each Committee session and Pre-Sessional Working Group will be posted on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) website for CEDAW, (check the link for sessions), as soon as it is confirmed.
During the full Committee sessions
Most of the Committee members want to have written shadow reports as a basis for useful questions. To reach Committee members well in advance of the session, OHCHR suggests that shadow reports be submitted by e-mail to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Office will place the report on the CEDAW session Web site for reference by all the experts. To have hard copies distributed to the experts at the session, send 40 copies to the OHCHR to arrive at least one week prior to the first day of the session. Address: CEDAW Secretariat, UNOG-OHCHR, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland. NGOs may also send reports via International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW-AP), which will send electronic and/or hard copies directly to the experts. Full details for report submission are on the CEDAW Web site at “Sessions,” listed on the left side of the main CEDAW page. Click on the upcoming session under preparation (in bold), and “Information for NGOs.”
The CEDAW Committee holds meetings during the first and second weeks of its sessions, usually on Mondays, to hear State party-specific information directly from NGOs. This is an opportunity to give an oral presentation to a number of the experts at once. Simultaneous interpretation into at least some of the UN official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish, and Russian) is provided.
Many of the CEDAW Committee experts may be approached individually before and after their meetings to talk informally about the issues that concern NGOs. Some will be willing to have a full-length meeting before a working session or at midday. Most will be willing to have at least a few words.
*BE PREPARED for these meetings by having your specific points of concern ready to be conveyed in a few words and on a single sheet of paper.
Using Concluding Observations
At the conclusion of the session, the Committee adopts Concluding Observations on the State party, including both commendable progress and recommendations for improvement concerning women’s human rights. These Concluding Observations are the crucial product for NGO action. They are a public statement given to the government that specifies further action required to live up to its obligations under the CEDAW Convention. It is important that NGO treaty-specific shadow reports highlight the priority issues that can be readily included in the List of Issues and the Concluding Observations.
The Country Rapporteur (for both initial and periodic reports) is responsible for reading all the background material provided by the UN (and NGOs) on a given State party and presenting his or her analysis of that information to the Committee during its deliberations. She or he usually is assigned to draft the Concluding Observations on that State party. Usually the Rapporteur will come from the same region as the State Party under review. Committee experts do not participate in the consideration of their own country’s report.
Obtaining the government report
The government report (both the CEDAW-specific document and the CCD) is the basis of the CEDAW Committee review. If the current report is available, the NGO shadow reports may be organized as a commentary on it, or NGOs may choose to provide information only on selected articles.
State party reports are submitted to the UN by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, although ideally all ministries contribute to the report. States parties’ reports should be available from the government. You can also try to obtain the report from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or other Ministries that would have contributed to it. Some States parties post their reports online. Some governments fail to distribute the report within the State, despite the Committee’s recommendation that they do so. The government report is a public document and should be available to all once it is submitted to the UN. If this is not the case, it should be noted in the shadow report.
Government reports are available on the OHCHR CEDAW Web site after they are translated into official UN languages. Reports may not be available from the UN until fairly close to the beginning of the CEDAW session, so it is important to request the report first from the government.
Check for prior reports to find government commitments made in the prior reviews or to compare the performance of your government to that of other States parties. Reports from the 13th through the 39th CEDAW sessions may be found on the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) Web site for CEDAW according to the Session number or by searching the Treaty Body Database.
NOTE: the DAW/CEDAW website will not be updated beyond 2007 due to the 2008 move of the Committee to Geneva. Reports from the 40th session onward are found on the OHCHR CEDAW Web site.
Coordinating the contributors
It is entirely possible for a single organization to prepare useful shadow reports. However, many NGOs collaborate with other national and international NGOs in preparing shadow reports. Collaboration can enhance the impact of the shadow report, demonstrating to both the government and the CEDAW Committee that there is a consensus and broad constituencies in favor of positions taken in the shadow report. Coordination also helps the Committee use NGO information effectively, as the experts cannot be expected to give adequate attention to multiple shadow reports, especially if they arrive in the last few days before the session. If submitting a shadow report in collaboration with other NGOs, it is important to budget time for coordination, identifying the strengths of each participating NGO, the tasks, resource- and cost- sharing, editing process, and responsibility for final submission.
Organizing the shadow reports for maximum impact
Preparing the shadow report and advocating with the CEDAW Committee is a very practical exercise. NGOs can benefit from the experience of organizing the information, working in coalition, and seeing the UN treaty monitoring process in action, as well as from results of the review.
The shadow report should be focused carefully and provide a framework for developing very specific points for lobbying. While it may be ultimately intended for a large audience, including government officials and the public, it should be planned for effectiveness with the Committee. As an audience the Committee has particular requirements:
Content of the shadow report· The Committee experts read the shadow report to obtain specific information that can help them evaluate the government report.
· The Committee experts cannot be familiar with the political and economic background of every State party. They may need contextual information to understand the issues.
· The Committee experts always have a limited amount of time and want to receive information about the most pressing issues in a concise format.
· Most of the Committee experts can work in more than one language, but their fluency varies. Use language that can be understood by readers who are not native speakers.
The following suggestions are based on many years of experience in submitting NGO information to the CEDAW Committee and other UN human rights treaty monitoring bodies.
1) Organize the information according to articles of the CEDAW Convention, not by issue. If an issue concerns more than one article, choose the article that is most on point for a full discussion. Indicate briefly the other articles that may cover the issue. This indicates knowledge of the Convention and respect for the Committee’s time.
2) Take into account the General Recommendations, the decisions, and prior Concluding Observations, that the Committee has issued. They reflect the Committee’s views on implementing the Convention.
3) Prioritize issues. The Committee will not be able to focus adequate attention on more than a few issues. Decide on the most important issues. This is increasingly important as the Committee focuses more on the List of Issues.
4) Gather documentation and evidence to illustrate the issue. This is important to make the case for both the necessity and the possibility of change.
Documentation can include statistics, legal cases, testimony of individuals, news clips, academic research, provisions of national and local laws, and regulations. Statistics are most useful if disaggregated, if possible, by age, marital status, class, ethnicity, and circumstances such as migrant status or disability as well as by sex. Case histories and testimony should be complete, including enough detail to indicate the impact of particular actions or inaction by the government.
5) Identify major obstacles and recommend approaches to removing them. Consider the practical approaches to solving the problem. Which actors should be involved? Who needs to be trained or made aware of the Convention and national laws and regulations regarding women: Ministry officials, local authorities, judges, police, prosecutors, women’s advocates, school administrators, teachers? Keep in mind how local women can be involved in monitoring the process and making change.
Recommendations for action should be concrete, suggesting specific action. Language from the CEDAW General Recommendations or prior Concluding Observations of the Committee may be helpful. Questions that remain open from consideration of prior government reports — stated in the Concluding Observations — should be addressed. Be specific. For example, “government should protect women from domestic violence,” is not precise. It would be more helpful to propose:
Government should a) collect accurate data on the incidence of domestic violence against women (on the national level, local level, etc.); b) increase the allocation of resources to women’s shelters by 50% and; c) train the police to ensure that they offer battered women timely assistance.
6) Reference to implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action is required by the Committee’s reporting guidelines.
7) Address any reservations. If your government has entered reservations to the Convention, it is important to suggest the changes that would allow for withdrawal. This could include analyzing the reservations in light of the current law and state of society to suggest narrowing them to reflect the actual circumstances of society or suggesting a change in law and policy that would lead to withdrawal. Reservations are supposed to be made with intent to eventually withdraw them as the law and culture change to better meet Convention obligations. They are not supposed to indicate a total refusal to change. Reservations are listed by State on the CEDAW website.
Suggested Format for Shadow Reports
To provide the essential information and guidance to the reader, the shadow report should include:Executive Summary1. Title page including title, author(s) or NGO name, State party name, and date of the shadow report;
2. Executive summary (see below);
3. Table of contents;
4. Introduction that gives more information about the production of the shadow report;
5. The main body, organized by Convention article, including recommended actions. This should be no more than 30 pages in length.
6. Concluding remarks;
7. Appendix (if necessary; can include text of important laws, lists of references or participants in shadow report preparation, media clips, etc.). If you would like to add an extensive appendix, consider publishing it online and provide the link.
An executive summary is a very brief presentation of information that allows busy readers to instantly get a clear idea of the main points in the shadow report. A good executive summary saves time for the reader and helps determine which part of the shadow report is of most interest. It is especially important to provide an executive summary for use by CEDAW Committee experts whose first language is not the language in which the shadow report is written.
An executive summary is usually no more than three pages long. Information must be concise, accurate, and carefully selected from the full shadow report. It should include:
· the main points of the shadow report;
· the evidence/data included to support the main points; and
· recommendations for government action to address the key issues, in language the Committee can use in its Concluding Observations.
The executive summary generally is the most difficult part of the shadow report to produce. It should state clearly where in the shadow report the reader can find more details about a particular point if she or he wishes to know more. Some suggestions:
· All the information about one article of the Convention should be possible to summarize in one paragraph. If you cannot do so, it probably means that the discussion does not have a clear focus and may need to be reorganized.
· Every important paragraph can be reduced to one sentence.
· Not every sentence or paragraph needs to be represented in the executive summary.
1) The CEDAW Convention and the General Recommendations. As of the beginning of 2008 there are 25 General Recommendations to the CEDAW Convention. General Recommendations are adopted by the CEDAW Committee to articulate the obligations of the CEDAW Convention in detail. They give guidance to governments as to the details of specific issues to address in reports. General Recommendations Nos. 19 through 25 are quite detailed, but even the earlier ones include important instructions. Copies of the General Recommendations can be obtained from the treaty body Web site (see addresses at end of this document).
2) CEDAW Concluding Observations. Since 1994, the Committee has issued Concluding Observations after each State party review, highlighting shortcomings, accomplishments, and recommended action to further implement the Convention. Concluding Observations are adopted at the session and usually are posted on the OHCHR-website within one or two months, as soon as they are translated. To obtain “advance unedited” Concluding Observations in English, subscribe to the Treaty Body listserve (see Annex).
3) Summary Records. Summary records of some State party reviews, reflecting the discussion during the review session, are available in the Treaty Body Database (enter summary record as type). They are useful for seeing the points on which the Committee experts and the State party delegations focused in prior review sessions.
4) Assessing the Status of Women in the 21st Century: A Guide to Reporting Under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (forthcoming 2008 superseding the 2000 manual). Provides commentary on each article as well as a number of questions on implementation of each article.
5) Samples of NGO shadow reports can be obtained directly from NGOs or, in some cases, IWRAW. Most recent shadow reports are available on the OHCHR CEDAW website (see Annex). Shadow reports for 1992-2000, produced by IWRAW, are on the IWRAW Web site, under IWRAW country reports. More recent shadow reports produced by NGOs are available on the IWRAW-AP website.