CEDAW FORUM: The U.S. Needs a Human Rights Treaty for Women Domestically

By Margot Baruch* 

Before CEDAW there was no international legal mechanism in place that called on states to assess gender inequalities in their country. The Convention draws attention to 30 articles that deal with discrimination on the basis of being a woman. The treaty is divided into six parts - all related to ensuring that women are able to enjoy their “fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,” as stated in the preamble of the UDHR [Universal Declaration of Human Rights].  

Though the US has not ratified CEDAW, San Francisco, in 1998, became the first municipality to adopt CEDAW. A group of rights-based organizations, including WILD for Human Rights (Women's Institute for Leadership and Development) and Amnesty International, worked with local government officials to pass and implement CEDAW. They aggressively launched gender analysis strategies to ensure that local government activities were aware of their effects on all genders. The city departments gathered data on how women were affected by or made use of city services and tracked the effects with a number of indicators ranging from immigration status to age to sexual orientation. The municipality educated themselves with a gender-aware lens so that they could assess their data appropriately. As a result, a number of policies were implemented citywide, such as flexible work schedules which allowed more women (and men) with family responsibilities to work for the city; harsher sentences for domestic abusers were put in place; and increased presence of streetlights in poorly lit areas to help women feel safer at night and to combat violence against women on city streets.

In 2010, the US has still not ratified the Convention. There has been a strong civil society push to get the White House to pay more attention to this enormous gap in US’s attainment of universal human rights. CEDAW ratification is within the US’s national interest and has the potential to foster international dialogue and cooperation to improve women’s lives in the US. For example, CEDAW would ensure that economic policies build in specific applications for women. Combined with the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which the US has already ratified, these two conventions will provide a firm framework to address gender and racial discrimination domestically.

Finally, CEDAW is not the final remedy to achieve equality, but it is a solid entry point. Over the last 30 years, CEDAW has impacted women worldwide and will continue to grow stronger as more countries implement the promises they have made to advance women’s rights.

We need to end US exceptionalism and ratify CEDAW now!

*Margot Baruch, Program Coordinator at the Center for Women's Global Leadership, supports and maintains CWGL's UN advocacy work including the UN Reform processes, the GEAR Campaign, attends and documents UN special sessions and meetings, composes the quarterly e-newsletter and provides outreach, networking and design support for major events and ongoing projects. She earned her B.A. in Women's and Gender Studies with a minor in Spanish at Rutgers University in 2005. In 2006, she spent time in El Salvador as a Peace Corps volunteer building cross-cultural relationships with local government and community groups. From 2007-2009, she volunteered at a local Rape Crisis Center as a Confidential Sexual Assault Advocate, supporting and assisting survivors of rape and sexual assault. She began her M.S. in Global Affairs at Rutgers Newark in 2009 focusing on human rights.


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