Publication - Speech/statement

Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women: position statement

Published: 2 May 2018
People Directorate
Part of:
Equality and rights

Our position statement on the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women: position statement


In a vibrant, modern Scotland, everyone should be treated equally.

The focus of the Scottish Government is on making real improvements to the lives of people across all our communities. Equality is therefore central to our business and runs through our Programme for Government.

Legal Framework

Gender equality is a prerequisite for any nation that believes in a society grounded in the principles of equality and social justice. A robust legal framework which eliminates discrimination, ensures rights and promotes access and representation is essential.


The Equality Act 2010 provides a strong framework to combat discrimination in areas of life such as employment, education, access to goods and services, the exercise of public functions and membership of clubs and associations. As well as the characteristic of sex, the Act covers a number of other characteristics – age, disability, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, gender reassignment and pregnancy and maternity. There are also provisions on equal pay between women and men. As well as tackling discrimination, the Act protects people from harassment. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has statutory powers to promote and enforce the Act.

Equality legislation is largely reserved and the 2010 Act is an Act of the UK Parliament. Exceptions to the equal opportunities reservation allow the Scottish Parliament to legislate on some aspects of how equal opportunities should apply to Scottish public authorities, including the performance of the public sector equality duty. This duty, which is part of the Equality Act 2010, aims to embed an equality dimension into the everyday work of public authorities. In Scotland, we have set a framework to help public authorities improve their performance of the duty – the Scottish specific duties. These help the Scottish Government to deliver on ambitions for a more equal and just Scotland.

The transfer of new powers to Scotland through the Scotland Act 2016, including the ability to legislate to achieve gender balance on the boards of Scottish public authorities, will also help the Scottish Government to secure opportunities to advance equality. The Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act received Royal Assent on 9 March 2018.

In addition to anti-discrimination legislation, a range of devolved Scottish legislation supports and advances women's rights, including:

Human Rights

The Scotland Act 1998, in combination with the Human Rights Act 1998 ( HRA), ensures that both Scottish legislation and the actions of public bodies are subject to an overriding requirement to comply with core human rights standards.

Legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament is 'not law' to the extent that it is incompatible with rights derived from the European Convention on Human Rights. These 'Convention Rights' are formally defined in the HRA Scottish legislation can be challenged in the courts and independent judges are able to rule on whether the legislation breaches relevant Convention Rights. Where a court finds that legislation is incompatible, the legislation can be struck down and ceases to have effect. The Scottish Ministers similarly have no power to act in a manner that is incompatible with Convention Rights. Under the HRA it is unlawful for a public body to act incompatibly with the Convention Rights. The actions of both Scottish Ministers and public bodies can be challenged in the Scottish courts.

In addition to these legally-enforceable guarantees, the Scottish Ministerial Code explicitly reminds all Scottish Ministers of the overarching duty they have, as members of Scotland's Government, 'to comply with the law, including international law and treaty obligations'. These obligations include those arising through the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women as well as other United Nations and Council of Europe treaties ratified by the UK. The Scottish Government works closely with the UK Government to report on compliance with these treaty obligations as they apply in Scotland. Through contributing to UK state party reports and forming part of UK delegations in Geneva, the Scottish Government communicates Scotland's distinctive approach internationally.

The Scottish Government's commitment to giving better and further effect to international human rights obligations drives its ambition to achieve equality, social justice, and sustainable, inclusive growth so that everybody in Scotland can live a life of human dignity. The First Minister's Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership has been established to make recommendations, by the end of 2018, on how Scotland can continue to lead by example in human rights.

Policy Framework

The Scottish Government recognises that its actions and policies impact many aspects of people's lives and public services including health, education, care, safety and wellbeing, access to justice, housing, employment, culture, and economy.

Since it was established in 1999 the Scottish Government has taken a "mainstreaming" approach, seeking to embed consideration of equality across the work of Government in all of those areas that affect people's day to day lives. The legal framework provided by the public sector equality duty helps to drive this.

The overall approach to gender equality in policy making is co-ordinated through the Scottish Government's Equality Unit. A suite of strategic plans set out the actions being taking to promote equality, including gender equality: the Fairer Scotland Action Plan ; the Race Equality Framework for Scotland ; A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People ; and the refreshed Equally Safe: Scotland's Strategy to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women and Girls and Equally Safe - A Delivery Plan for Scotland's Strategy to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls.

Since 2013, considerable focus has also been given to reflecting women's position more comprehensively in Scottish Government economic policy and strategies, and to tackling the inequalities which categorise women's interaction with the labour market. The Scottish Government:

  • has delivered a Returner's programme to assist women to re-enter the workforce following a career break;
  • is funding a range of projects tackling the underrepresentation of women in the STEM, finance, security and manufacturing sectors;
  • is taking action to increase business start-up rates for women and the number of women in senior positions;
  • and women in particular will benefit from increased funding for early learning and childcare.

The Scottish Government has also focussed on action to reduce violence against women and girls, including:

  • passing legislation on a new criminal offence of domestic abuse;
  • and publishing Scotland's first National Action Plan to prevent and eradicate female genital mutilation ( FGM).

The Scottish Government has also taken action to challenge attitudes that can lead to the harassment, abuse, violence and bullying of women, and continues to call out the misogyny and sexism behind these attitudes. A key component of the Equally Safe strategy, to eradicate violence against women, and girls, is ensuring that the harmful attitudes, acts and behaviours – those that start out, or are laughed off, as 'banter' – are addressed and prevented early.

Whether in the home, at work or in street, there is just no place for sexism or harassment and it should not be tolerated – culturally, socially or legally.

A Partnership Approach

Progress on gender equality in Scotland has been possible because of collaboration with a wide range of partners and because there are dedicated people across communities and sectors who continue to fight for change and improvement.

The Scottish Government continues to champion the Partnership for Change 50/50 by 2020 campaign, encouraging organisations and businesses from the private, third, and public sectors, to make a voluntary commitment to work towards gender balance on their boards by 2020.

The Scottish Government is also leading by example by having one of the very few gender-balanced cabinets anywhere.

Over the next few years, one of the most significant transfers of power since devolution will be the social security powers being devolved through the Scotland Act 2016. The delivery of a new system of social security in Scotland will be a significant undertaking and requires a collaborative work. It will demonstrate how the Scottish Government can do things differently and better, when the levers of change are devolved. The overarching aim is to create a social security system that is based on dignity, fairness and respect: which is there to help and support those who need it, when they need it. It will be a system of which all Scots can be proud. Women's organisations and other equality organisations are working with us to ensure that we get the new systems right.

Scottish Government equalities funding for national and intermediary bodies enables them to play an important role in the policymaking process by supporting and engaging communities and ensuring their voices are heard. Around £5 million per year has been allocated to this for 2017-20, with gender equality organisations receiving around £1 million per year.

As well as direct work with communities and their organisations, the Scottish Government works in partnership with statutory bodies such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission who are helping us to make progress. For example, the Commission is a key partner in the Scottish Government's approach to tackling pregnancy and maternity discrimination.


While there is much work still to do there are welcome developments in the drive towards gender equality, such as:

  • the Scottish Government has had a gender balanced cabinet since 2014;
  • the drop in the full time gender pay gap for Scotland from 18.4% in 1997 to 6.6% in 2017;
  • At 1 January 2018, 35 (45.45%) of regulated public boards are balanced, or as balanced as is possible.

The most recent Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (2015) has also shown that the overall trend in Scotland of reducing discriminatory attitudes is continuing.

It's also important to recognise that different groups of women have different experiences and different needs – including older women, ethnic minority women, disabled women and lesbian, bisexual and trans women. Targeted interventions can be very important. For example, as part of the process of implementing Equally Safe the Scottish Government will engage with the disabled people's panel to identify specific actions to support disabled women and girls who experience gender-based violence.

The 2017-18 Programme for Government (PfG) commits the Scottish Government to:

  • press on with implementing Fairer Scotland for Disabled People and continue wider work to protect and promote the human rights of disabled people;
  • publish and implement a Race Equality Action Plan, setting out key actions to drive forward race equality during this Parliament;
  • progress Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill to ensure that women are properly represented on Scotland's public boards;
  • confirm the full membership of the Advisory Council on Women and Girls by autumn 2017, to advise on the impact of government policies (Scottish, UK and local) on women and girls, and identify areas where action is needed to bring about positive change;
  • work with the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign to deal with LGBTI bullying, discrimination and prejudice in schools;
  • consult on reforming gender recognition legislation;
  • publish the first National Action Plan on British Sign Language (BSL) in October 2017, improving access to information and services;
  • implement the socioeconomic duty in the Equality Act 2010;
  • providing access to free sanitary products to students in schools, colleges and universities and consider further action to ensure those on low incomes are assisted.

And as the Race Equality Framework is delivered, the Scottish Government will continue to work collaboratively with stakeholders and to take forward new work around intersectionality, including engagement with both young people and minority ethnic women to make sure their voices are heard.

Gender equality in Scotland will only be achieved through collaboration, significant progress has already been made and the Scottish Government will work hard to ensure this continues.

Scottish Position Statement

While this Scottish position statement cannot be formally submitted to the Committee, it does provide an opportunity for the Scottish Government to demonstrate its commitment to CEDAW, through the showcasing of a wide range of Scottish specific initiatives and policies which are supporting implementation of the Convention.

CEDAW was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, as such some of the wording of the articles is outdated. The text of each CEDAW Article is included at the start of each section in an italicised text box to provide context.

Some text is duplicated throughout this position statement and some articles have been combined - this is because policies and initiatives are often relevant to multiple articles. While this position statement is as up to date as possible at the time of publication, it is inevitable that it will quickly become out of date. The Scottish Government will endeavor to update this position statement in the lead up to the UN Committee's examination of the UK in 2019.