The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was established under the Convention to consider reports of states parties on the measures taken to give effect to the provisions of the Convention. CEDAW prepares annual reports for the United Nations General Assembly that include the Committee’s general recommendations and summaries of the consideration of the reports of states parties. The reports are published as Official Records of the General Assembly, Supplement No. 38. The obligations of the Convention are significant in situations where the rights of women, particularly the obligation to ensure the equal rights of women and men, may come into conflict with religious or customary beliefs and practices.

A number of States parties have made declarations or reservations to the Convention due to perceived conflicts with national laws implementing or based on religious law. For example, several Muslim states have made reservations to all or portions of Article 16 (marriage and family relations) with the objection that these provisions conflict with shari’a. Israel has made a similar reservation to safeguard the implementation of personal status law in the courts of its various religious communities. Other states, such as Brazil, Ireland, Malta, Korea and Thailand, have also submitted reservations. See Note by the Secretary-General, Declarations, Reservations, Objections and Notifications of Withdrawal of Reservations Relating to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. U.N. Doc. CEDAW/SP/1992/2 (1991).

CEDAW has issued several general recommendations touching on conflicts between the obligations of the Convention and traditional religious and cultural practices. General Recommendation 14 on Female Circumcision, U.N. Doc. A/45/38 at 80, calls on states parties to take the necessary affirmative measures to eradicate that practice. General Recommendation 19 on Violence Against Women, U.N. Doc. A/47/38 at 1, identifies traditional attitudes that perpetuate such violent and coercive practices as forced marriage, dowry deaths and female circumcision as contributing to discrimination against women. General Recommendation 21 on Equality in Marriage and Family Relations, U.N. Doc. A/49/38, contains important provisions on the relationship between personal status law (in many states based on traditional religious law) and the principle of equal rights of men and women in the decision to marry, the marriage itself, the dissolution of marriage and inheritance. The portion of General Recommendation 21 commenting on Article 16 of the Convention is reprinted below.