Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

The Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is considered an international bill of rights for women, outlining standards for ratifying countries to meet in the treatment and rights of women. By accepting the Convention, States commit themselves to undertake measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including:

  • incorporating the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system by abolishing all discriminatory laws and adopting appropriate ones that prohibit discrimination against women
  • establishing tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination
  • ensuring elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises

The treaty was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979. As of April 2, 2014, 187 countries have ratified the Treaty for the Rights of Women. Among the countries that have not yet ratified it are Sudan, Somalia, Iran and the United States. The UU@UN works to advocate for universal adoption of CEDAW and international implementation. Find more information on the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website.

Why Has the U.S. Not Ratified the Treaty?

President Carter sent CEDAW to the U.S. Senate for consent in 1980. It remains in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations since then. There are several organizations that heatedly oppose the ratification of all human rights treaties. The reason given is that the treaties are not aligned with American values and threaten our sovereignty. For example, opposition claims that the treaty will interfere with the proper role of child bearing. However, the document calls for “common responsibility of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children” and “to promote what is in the best interests of the child.” In addition, critics claim that CEDAW defines “discrimination” too broadly, and will lead to frivolous lawsuits. However, the treaty does not allow for any lawsuit not already allowed under U.S. law. For more information on myths and facts surrounding CEDAW, please consult the Amnesty International Fact Sheet (PDF).

How About a City Cedaw Ordinance?

A high-ranking official at UN Women suggested to the UU@UN that in light of congressional inaction on this important UN convention that cities follow the example of San Francisco and enact CEDAW as a city ordinance. Of course, such a city ordinance would not have the force of an international UN convention, but if enough local governments commit to the equal rights protections afforded women in CEDAW, it might eventually put pressure on the U.S. Senate to do the right thing and ratify CEDAW.

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