This chapter offers an overview of UN approaches to women’s lives in legal instruments. It begins by describing the engagement of women’s organizations with international institutions from the start of the twentieth century, particularly the League of Nations. It then moves to UN treaties dealing with women. Its focus is the major UN treaty in this area, the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the work of its monitoring body, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (. The chapter also describes the extensive reservations states parties have entered to the Convention. It discusses the different accounts of nondiscrimination and equality that emerge in UN treaties. The international sphere illustrates the paradox for feminists of, on the one hand, insisting that differences between women and men should be irrelevant in claiming political rights; while, on the other hand, acting in the name of the category of women, thus bolstering the idea of difference. One strand of provisions in UN treaties aims to eradicate differences in the treatment of women, compared to men. Another strand has sought to recognize the particularity of women’s lives, calling for special treatment and often endorsing a rather limited notion of womanhood in the process. These two strands coexist and are regularly included in the same treaty, even though they can be in normative tension.
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