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US: Ratify Women’s Rights Treaty

30 Years on, Obama Administration, Senate Leaders Should Press for Action

NEW YORK - The United States' long delay in ratifying the global women's rights treaty undermines fulfillment of the US commitment to women's rights at home and abroad, Human Rights Watch said today.

Former President Jimmy Carter signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on July 17, 1980, but the treaty has never been brought before the full Senate for a vote. The Obama administration has expressed support for ratification, but has yet to take the actions needed to secure ratification, Human Rights Watch said.

"Women's rights - the right to be free from domestic and sexual violence, the right to equal treatment in education, employment, and access to health care - are not back-burner issues," said Meghan Rhoad, women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "But for 30 years the major international treaty on women's rights has been treated like one."

Since Carter signed the treaty, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has twice voted favorably on the treaty, but a lack of political will has kept the treaty from reaching the Senate floor.

The Senate has made few moves to ratify international treaties in recent years.  As a result, ratification of CEDAW will require strong and consistent leadership from the Obama administration and Senate leaders, Human Rights Watch said.


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In May 2009, the Obama administration put the women's rights treaty on a list of treaties that were priorities for ratification. In March 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women that the administration would "continue to work for the ratification of CEDAW." But with the months passing and no progress, more concrete action is needed, Human Rights Watch said.

"We are past the point of passive expressions of support," Rhoad said. "Moving this treaty forward will take public pressure on the Senate by President Obama to begin considering the treaty and stepped-up action by the Senate to schedule hearings and move toward a vote."

The treaty has been ratified by 186 countries. Only seven countries - the United States, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Palau, Nauru, and Tonga - have not ratified it. Human Rights Watch said that ratifying the treaty would both boost US efforts to improve the status of women internationally and provide an important mechanism for advancing women's rights at home.  If CEDAW were ratified, the US government would periodically review progress made on issues like violence against women and participate in a dialogue with a UN committee of experts on ways to improve policies and programs.

The CEDAW committee, which monitors implementation of the treaty, is currently meeting in New York. The committee will be discussing the status of women in Russia, Argentina, India, Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Albania at this meeting.
"The global conversation on women's rights is moving forward, and the US should be at the table," Rhoad said.


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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

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