The United States is one of six countries that has not yet ratified CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women which was adopted by the United Nations in 1979. The Convention is a significant tool in insuring women’s human rights which defines discrimination against women as,
“any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field”.
- To incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;
- To establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and
- To ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.
That the U.S. with all of its power and resources has chosen to not yet ratify CEDAW is appalling and is significantly detrimental to protecting and furthering women’s human rights and the time to rectify that is now, without reservation (see below for why this is so important).
The question then is what would it take to get CEDAW ratified?
In the United States, ratification of international treaties requires two-thirds of the Senate (67 of 100 Senators) to vote in favor of the treaty, providing the Senate’s advice and consent for ratification. But before an international treaty reaches the Senate floor, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee typically reviews international treaties and votes to send it forward for a consideration by the full Senate. Then the president signs the treaty and ratification is complete…
…The Obama administration strongly supports ratification and has included CEDAW as one of five multilateral treaties that are a priority. In the U.S. Senate, the CEDAW treaty has been voted favorably out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee twice with bipartisan support: in 1994 with a vote of 13-5 and in 2002 with a vote of 12-7. It has never been brought to the Senate floor for a vote.
Vice President Biden was a strong supporter of CEDAW when he was a senator and more recently, Sen. Barbara Boxer indicated strong support for CEDAW in a hearing on international women’s rights last year.
As important as the U.S. ratification of CEDAW is however, we need to be clear that it must be ratified without Reservations, Understandings and Declarations (RUDs) that would undermine and pervert its intent. During an earlier attempt to get CEDAW ratified,
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(Former) Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), a vocal opponent of abortion, the committee imposed 11 restrictions which run counter to CEDAW’s intent as an international bill of rights for women. Included among the RUDs were limitations that negated CEDAW’s mandated paid maternity leave and access to family planning and reproductive health care (including abortion.)
And as the NOW Foundation has pointed out, the restrictions that have been proposed,
convey a clear lack of commitment to ending discrimination against women and specifically claim no responsibility for the U.S. to undertake efforts to expand maternity leave, improve access to health care services for women, or take more effective efforts to address sex-based pay discrimination, among other objectives that would promote women’s equality…
…NOW believes that the Reservation disavowing the “doctrine of comparable worth” will have a similar chilling effect on efforts to advance legislation that would strengthen current laws prohibiting sex-based pay discrimination.
According to international human rights lawyer Janet Benshoof, the damage of passing CEDAW with the qualifications that have been proposed would be enormous,
Ironically, if the U.S. intention in ratifying CEDAW is to send a supportive message to women globally, our twisted sister version will, in fact, do the opposite. Although the RUDs seemingly apply solely to American women, they eviscerate the core of CEDAW, the definition of equality and provide legal authority to those who want to undermine women’s rights.
Although reversal of the United States isolationist stand on international law is atop the wish lists of lawyers in the human rights legal field, engagement via this gutted CEDAW poses even more danger than continued U.S. isolation. The Senate should advise and consent to the ratification of a clean CEDAW unencumbered by reservations. They should not ratify a CEDAW that limits the full scope of women’s equality rights.
187 countries have ratified CEDAW. Six have not: the U.S., Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Palau, and Tonga. It is well past time for the United States to truly become the leader in women’s human rights that it claims to be and ratify CEDAW without reservation.