What About CEDAW

by Lisa Bennett-Haigney

It's called the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and it was adopted at the 1979 U.N. Decade for Women Mid-Decade Conference in Copenhagen. The Convention or CEDAW, as it's known, is an international Bill of Rights for women.

CEDAW obligates those countries which have ratified or acceded to it to take "all appropriate measures" to ensure the full development and advancement of women in all spheres -- political, educational, employment, health care, economic, social, legal, and marriage and family relations. It also calls for the modification of social and cultural patterns of conduct in order to eliminate prejudice, customs, and all other practices based on the idea of inferiority or superiority of either sex. CEDAW was passed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1981, and as of September 1995, 144 countries have ratified it. One of the last countries still holding out is the United States.

 NOW has been an active supporter of the U.S. ratification of CEDAW, passing an official resolution in 1986 and a follow-up in 1990. NOW National Secretary Karen Johnson calls it an "embarrassment" that the U.S. has not yet made a commitment to the document. Protesters at the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, this September brought renewed attention to the United States' inaction on CEDAW.

 Johnson offers the possible explanation that the document is far too similar in effect to the Equal Rights Amendment, causing it to languish in committee in the U.S. However, Johnson promises to "keep putting public pressure" on our government to join the world in this strong position against discrimination.

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