Samoa became a party to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in September 1992.

CEDAW, adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination. CEDAW has 187 state parties (as at 5 August 2013).

The Convention defines discrimination against women as "any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field".

By accepting the Convention, states commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including:

   •to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;
   •to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and
   •to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.

The Convention provides the basis for realising equality between women and men through ensuring women's equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life - including the right to vote and to stand for election - as well as education, health and employment. State parties agree to take all appropriate measures, including legislation and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Convention is the only human rights treaty which affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relations. It affirms women's rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality and the nationality of their children. State parties also agree to take appropriate measures against all forms of trafficking in women and exploitation of women.

Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. [Some text sourced from UN CEDAW page.]

Samoa’s Reporting Obligations

Among its obligations under CEDAW, Samoa is required to submit a report on the legislative, judicial, administrative or other measures which it has adopted to give effect to the provisions of CEDAW. This report is considered by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. After an initial report one year after the entry into force of the Convention for Samoa, reports are required every four years. Samoa submitted its combined initial, second and third periodic reports to the Committee at its 32nd session in 2005. The combined fourth and fifth periodic reports were considered by the Committee at its 52nd session in July 2012, which published its concluding observations in August 2012.

In these most recent observations, the Committee expressed its concern and offered recommendations in a number of principal areas. These include:

   •promotion of the Convention throughout Samoa (including in rural and remote areas);
   •domestication of the Convention into national law including the definition of discrimination against women;
   •the establishment of a national human rights institution;
   •the adoption of temporary special measures aimed at achieving substantive equality of women and men in all areas including participation in political and public life;
   •the implementation of a strategy to modify or eliminate patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes that discriminate against women;
   •measures to prevent and address violence against women and girls;
   •improvement of access to health for women and girls;

and several other recommendations.

The NHRI will advise the Government on its reporting obligations under CEDAW and on the content of those reports, as well as assist Government Ministries and agencies with the implementation of obligations under CEDAW. Since 2008, the Committee has also specifically welcomed the input of national human rights institutions to the review process. The Ombudsman will also take into account CEDAW rights when reviewing any existing or proposed legislation, to ensure that any legislation is in accordance with Samoa’s CEDAW obligations, and does not discriminate against women or result in inequality between men and women.