Almost 20 years after the First World Conference on Women, the United States has still failed to ratify the most comprehensive human rights treaty addressing international women's rights -- the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
"It is embarrassing that the United States, a proclaimed leader in human rights advocacy, has not yet ratified CEDAW," said Karen Johnson, Vice President Membership. "This is one more backlash to the women's rights movement."
The U.S. is the only industrialized democracy that has not yet ratified CEDAW, placing us in company with countries such as Sudan and Afghanistan.
CEDAW promotes women's rights and recognizes gender discrimination as a global problem. The treaty obligates ratifying countries to establish measures to ensure the full development and advancement of women in all civil, political, economic and cultural arenas. The Convention also creates committees to monitor reports of progress in he treatment of women by its adherents.
CEDAW has made substantial improvements for women in countries including Japan, Brazil, Sri Lanka and Zambia. The impact of CEDAW in these countries and others has helped women gain political office, equal employment opportunities and child care programs.
On International Women's Day in March, President Clinton reaffirmed the importance of U.S. ratification of CEDAW, sending a letter to the Senate leadership which stated that "obtaining Senate advice and consent to the ratification of CEDAW is a top Administration priority during this session of Congress." Sixty-seven votes are needed in the Senate for CEDAW to be ratified; currently, only 54 senators support the treaty.
In 1980, President Carter signed CEDAW and submitted it to the Senate for ratification before he left office. Under the Reagan and Bush administrations, the treaty sat in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for ten years.
In a 1994 committee report, Republican senators opposed to the treaty referred to it as "another set of unenforceable international standards" and an instrument that "promise[s] more than we can deliver." Several members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, presently headed by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), voice objection to the treaty contending it threatens family and cultural values abroad and at home. CEDAW must be voted out of committee in order to reach the Senate floor unless a rarely used and seldom successful discharge petition is filed.
A number of senators remain undecided on this important treaty. NOW encourages all of our members to pressure their senators to vote in support of CEDAW. Members can contact their senators at http://www.senate.gov/ or by calling 202-224-3121.
"It's time that the U.S. government join the world in this strong position against sex discrimination," said Johnson. "We must demand that our leaders protect our human rights."
For more information, see http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/ or call the U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women at 212-963-3130.