Thursday, July 26, 2007
What is CEDAW?
The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is commonly referred to as the “Treaty for the Rights of Women” or the international “Bill of Rights for Women.” The document was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1979 and was the first international agreement to comprehensively address women’s rights within both the public and private spheres.
As of June 2007, 185 nations have ratified CEDAW, thereby agreeing to adhere to its goal of eliminating discrimination against women. Nearly 30 years after the original convention, the United States is the only industrialized nation that has not adopted CEDAW. Other countries that have not signed include Iran and Sudan.
Why Care about CEDAW?
CEDAW is the first treaty to recognize discrimination against women as a human rights violation. While CEDAW acknowledges the strong influence of culture and tradition in shaping gender roles and family relations, it places an affirmative obligation on nations to ensure that women can fully participate in and contribute to all aspects of life in their home countries.
In ratifying the convention, the United States would commit to undertaking a series of measures to end discrimination against women including:
- Reducing violence against women
- Ensuring access to education and health care
- Establishing judicial procedures to ensure legal recourse against violations of women’s human rights.
CEDAW’s History in the United States
For the United States to adopt an international treaty, the president must sign it and the agreement must then be ratified by at least two-thirds, or 67 “yes” votes, in the Senate. The House of Representatives does not play a role in treaty ratification.
Despite significant U.S. participation in the drafting of the original convention and President Carter’s signature on July 17, 1980, it took 10 years before the Senate held hearings on CEDAW. The convention was finally reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September 1994. Unfortunately, a group of conservative senators led by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) put a hold on the legislation and it never came up for a full vote during the 103rd Congress.
In 2002, under Sen. Joseph Biden’s (D-DE) leadership, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a second set of hearings on CEDAW. The committee voted 12-7 to send the treaty to the full Senate for a ratification vote. However, once again the Senate did not vote on the treaty before the close of the session. As a result, CEDAW remains in political limbo and must yet again be approved by the Foreign Relations Committee before it can go to the floor for a full ratification vote by the Senate.