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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.
Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights. This is the mantra of CEDAW, the most comprehensive women’s human rights treaty that the US has yet to ratify. The reasons to ratify CEDAW here in the U.S. are clear. Not only will ratification strengthen our global voice to stand up for women and girls around the world, but ratification of CEDAW would also benefit women here in the United States.
You may be asking the question, why now? Do we really think—given the increased polarization and partisan tensions--that we can get two-thirds of the Senate (67 Senators) to ratify CEDAW? I don’t dispute that it is a challenge, but we absolutely believe it is possible. Here are two reasons why:
The United States remains one of only seven countries that have not ratified CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women). CEDAW is an international agreement on basic human rights for women and the most broadly endorsed human rights treaty within the United Nations, having been ratified by over 90% of UN member states. CEDAW outlines human rights such as the right to live free from violence, the ability to go to school, and access to the political system.
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].
NCRW asked leading research and policy expert Linda Tarr-Whelan to weigh in on the status of CEDAW. In addition to her responses, below is an excerpt from a previously published commentary from Linda featured on Women’s eNEws and The Huffington Post.
On Dec. 18, 1979, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, or CEDAW, making it a watershed day for women around the globe.
In those heady days, I was deputy assistant to President Jimmy Carter for women's concerns. We expected speedy action after he sent the treaty to the Senate.
The bumper sticker on my wife’s car reads, “Well-behaved women seldom make history!” I believe proponents of CEDAW, the Women’s Treaty, have been minding their manners a bit too much. CEDAW is the most important international mechanism for women’s equality, and provides a universal standard for women’s human rights. The treaty is a basic framework for ending violence against women, ensuring girls access to education, and promoting economic opportunity and political participation for women.
Like many other Americans, I was unfamiliar with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) until recently. CEDAW (also known as the Women’s Treaty) is an international agreement on basic human rights for women. So how had this escaped my attention? Is it because the US has supported human rights for decades so there is little talk of this particular treaty? No. Is it because it is a new treaty that we have just not heard of yet? No. CEDAW was introduced to the UN back during the Carter Administration and our Senate has been sitting on it ever since! Is it because we have achieved equal rights for women as a nation and help all other nations reach that same goal? Certainly not.