Today is the 30th Anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW is an international human rights treaty that focuses exclusively on women’s rights and gender equality. The convention sets a global definition for discrimination against women and outlines a plan to end that discrimination. Those states that ratify the convention are required to take, “all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.”
According to United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) the convention requires:
“Not just overturning discriminatory laws, but also introducing new gender-sensitive laws and policies, changing the attitudes, practices and procedures with Governments, ensuring that private organizations and individual citizens do not discriminate against women, and changing harmful cultural stereotypes. The Convention therefore takes the conditions of women’s actual lives, rather than the wording of laws, as the true measure of whether equality has been achieved.”
By taking that approach, CEDAW has the potential to have a significant impact on the daily lives of women. The convention also singles out access to family planning and decisions on the number and spacing of children as areas that countries are required to pay attention to. Unfortunately, the language requiring access to family planning has led to reluctance in the U.S. Senate to approve CEDAW.
While both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have both expressed their support for U.S. ratification of CEDAW, it requires approval by 2/3 of the Senate and has often run into resistance from the anti-abortion movement. This means that while the convention has been reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with bi-partisan favorable support, it has never been taken up by the full Senate.
The failure of the United States to ratify CEDAW is a glaring blemish on our record of advocacy for human rights around the world and a disservice to the women of the world. The United States is one of only seven countries who have not ratified the convention along with Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Palau, Nauru, and Tonga. Is this the kind of company the United States wants to keep? It is time for the U.S. Senate to think of women around the world and step up to ratify CEDAW.
Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager