More Information on CEDAW

UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
March 20, 2006

History of CEDAW:
The UN adopted CEDAW on December 18, 1979. Often called the international “Bill of Rights” for women, it is the culmination of more than 30 years of work by the UN Commission on the Status of Women and its member countries and country states. The creation of this Treaty was the first critical step in developing a standard of basic human rights for women. As of March 2007, 185 countries have ratified the Treaty.

Status in US:
In order for the US to ratify an international treaty, two-thirds of the Senate must consent – that is 67 “yes” votes. No action is required by the House of Representatives. Ironically, although the US was instrumental in drafting CEDAW, it is one of the few nations that have yet to ratify the Treaty. More than 190 US non-governmental organizations are engaged in outreach efforts and public education to achieve ratification.

Why is CEDAW important?
Nations that ratify CEDAW commit to overcoming barriers to discrimination against women in the areas of legal rights, education, employment, health care, political life and finance. It sets out “best practices” for ensuring basic human rights for women without imposing any laws on governments. Domestic laws take precedence everywhere. The Treaty has proven to be a valuable tool for governments wanting to improve their own laws by broadening the basic rights of women. In many of the 185 countries that have ratified the Treaty, it has guided the passage and enforcement of national laws that address discriminatory barriers faced by women such as

  • Sex Trafficking: Ukraine, Nepal, Thailand and the Philippines passed laws to curb sexual trafficking.

  • Domestic Violence: Colombia now ensures protection for all female victims of domestic violence.

  • Education: Pakistan introduced coeducation in primary schools after treaty ratification

  • Health Care: Argentina, Mexico, and Australia instituted programs to provide health care to indigenous and migrant women.

  • Legal Rights: In China, women are now guaranteed joint ownership of marital property and equal inheritance.

  • Work Life: Germany, Guatemala, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Spain and the United King have improved maternity leave and child care for working women.

Why is US ratification important?
The United States has a bipartisan tradition of support for international standards through human rights treaties. Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton ratified similar treaties on genocide, torture, race and civil and political rights. Ratification of CEDAW would continue that proud tradition.

The United States has long been a world leader on human rights. US failure to ratify the treaty allows other countries to divert attention away from their neglect of women and undermines the powerful principle that human rights of women are universal across all cultures, nations, and regions.

The U.S. already has laws consistent with the CEDAW Treaty. Under the terms of the Treaty, the U.S. would submit regular reports to an advisory committee, which would provide an important opportunity to raise up our best practices and assess where we can do better.

Myth's Surrounding CEDAW
Many myths are being circulated by opponents of ratification. It is important to understand those and answer them:

  • The Treaty grants no enforcement authority to the United Nations or any other body.

  • No changes in US domestic law would be required for the US to be in Treaty compliance.

  • The Treaty does not seek to regulate family life – it urges governments “to adopt education and public information programs to eliminate prejudices and practices that hinder women’s equality.”

  • The Treaty does not require countries to send women into combat.

  • The Treaty does not prohibit single-sex schools – it seeks equal education facilities and opportunities.

  • The Treaty intentionally does not address the issue of abortion.

  • The United States would not have to abandon Mother’s Day!

Who else, in addition to the US, has not ratified CEDAW?
Iran, Qatar, Palau, Tonga, Somalia, and Sudan.