Sexism and CEDAW

Sexism and CEDAW

Sexism, discrimination based on sex, has recently seen an upsurge in attention in the Netherlands. As such, the Dutch government should take appropriate and proactive measures to eliminate sexism as stated in Article 5 of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Sexism in commercials according to the CEDAW Committee

According to the CEDAW Committee of the United Nations, allegedly sexist commercials should be examined by the state. The Committee finds a commercial sexist when it portrays a negative stereotype of a woman, or when a woman’s body is objectified: ‘(…) discrimination against women includes differences in treatment that exist because of stereotypical expectations, attitudes and behaviour directed towards women.’ According to the Committee, negative stereotyping is harmful to a state’s progress toward equality.Dutch Advertising Code Committee will start to apply CEDAW

The Dutch Advertising Code Committee (RCC) has recently affirmed its commitment to conducting its assessment of commercials with due regard to CEDAW. This commitment follows from a recent decision of the RCC on a campaign by fashion company Suit Supply launched by Clara Wichmann Proefprocessenfonds and the PILP in 2016. We are pleased to find that the RCC is now applying the norms and standards of CEDAW in their work, and look forward to better and more thorough assessments.

Clara Wichmann Proefprocessenfonds and the PILP do not have an issue with nudity or sex in commercials, but with the objectification of women’s bodies and the impact that can have on Dutch society. Women in the Netherlands still experience more disadvantage than men, and tend to be victims of sexual violence, sexual intimidation and discrimination at a higher rate.

Clara Wichmann Proefprocessenfonds and the PILP thus advise the use of CEDAW and the considerations of the CEDAW Committee in future complaints about allegedly sexist commercials in the Netherlands.

What does the PILP do?

Together with Clara Wichmann Proefprocessenfonds and some legal researchers, the PILP examines the applicability of CEDAW in cases of alleged public sexism.

Research PILPG

The PILP and Clara Wichmann Proefprocessenfonds had research conducted by the PILPG into sexist advertising and the use of CEDAW. The first report, entitled Sexism in advertising: international framework under the CEDAW, analyses the relevant provisions of CEDAW regarding advertisements that contain negative gender stereotypes or sexist content. Further, it looks at the way the CEDAW Committee has dealt with cases of sexism in advertising in the past and discusses the obligations of state parties in this context. The second report, Legal frameworks regarding sexism in advertising: comparison of national systems, demonstrates that regulatory bodies in neighbouring countries such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom do in fact look into whether advertisements contain gender stereotypes or sexist content when assessing them.

Conversation with the RCC

The PILP and Clara Wichmann Proefprocessenfond sent a letter to the RCC and a meeting was scheduled. The PILPG research formed the basis of a conversation which concerned, amongst other things, the difference between sex and sexism. The RCC stated in this meeting that it would assess commercials based on sexism and stereotyping when explicitly requested in a complaint they receive.

Complaint on sexist commercial

After the meeting, a complaint was lodged by the Clara Wichmann Proefprocessenfonds and the PILP against the latest commercial of Suit Supply, the ‘Toy Boys’ advertising campaign. The campaign attracted much public disaffection and is perceived by many to be sexist.


This is one in a long line of questionable Suit Supply campaigns. In 2010, 144 complaints were lodged against their ‘Shameless’ advertising campaign, and in that case the RCC dismissed all of them. In coming to their decision, the RCC looked at these commercials with a view to chastity; whether there was too much nudity or sex in the commercial. Using the same narrow evaluation criteria, the RCC assessed a commercial of Radio 538, in which a predominantly naked woman with a cat in front of her genitals praised the radio station. In this case, the RCC did consider this to be sexist, but only by pointing to the depicted nudity. According to the RCC, this was ‘in violation of good taste and/or decency.’


The RCC decided that the complaints against the ‘Toy Boys’ campaign were well-founded. Still, this case highlighted a lack of clarity around whether and how CEDAW had been used. It wasn’t, for example, explicitly named in the examination or decision. Clara Wichmann Proefprocessenfonds and the PILP thus objected to the decision, and requested clarification on the issue. In its extended decision, the RCC clarified the manner in which the examination had taken place and stressed that it had conducted the examination in accordance with the requirements of CEDAW.


In its decision of October 2016, the RCC clarified the manner in which the examination of the campaign had taken place and stressed that it had conducted is assessment in accordance with the requirements of CEDAW.

On March 8, 2016, International Women’s day, Clara Wichmann Proefprocessenfonds and the PILP submitted a complaint to the Dutch Advertising Code Authority. The complaint involves the sexist stereotyping of Suit Supply’s ‘Toy Boys’ advertising campaign.