ELECTION 2010: CEDAW—It’s More Than Just Words

By Martha F. Davis* 

By itself, CEDAW (the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) is just words. But these words can have an important function in setting an agenda for women's rights in the U.S. and providing international comparators of our progress.

The U.S. is one of the very few countries worldwide that has failed to ratify CEDAW. As a result, the U.S. does not participate in the international monitoring process that requires periodic reporting to the CEDAW Committee of international experts on our nation's progress and steady efforts toward achieving women's equality.

Without this external review of progressive implementation, domestic women's rights activists concerned about jobs, education, violence, political equality, and the other critical issues that affect women are operating without the full array of available tools for achieving progress. Across the globe, women's movements have been able to use these international monitoring processes to highlight – and prioritize—issues of inequality in their domestic jurisdictions, raising issues ranging from inadequate government support for child care to serious issues of government failure to address violence targeted at women. Within the U.S., civil society groups concerned with issues of racial justice have used the international monitoring process for the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to similar effect, to galvanize U.S. government attention on critical issues of racial inequality. The US ratified CERD in 1994.

Setting a comprehensive agenda for women's equality in the U.S. should be a high priority for any new administration. Ratifying CEDAW, and then participating vigorously in the CEDAW monitoring process, should be a key part of that domestic agenda.

*Martha F. Davis is an Associate Dean and Professor of Law at the Northeastern University School of Law.

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