The CEDAW Issue

December 18th marks the 36th Anniversary of UN General Assembly Resolution 34/180 – commonly known as the Convention for the Elimination Against all Forms of Discrimination Against Women or CEDAW.  As the map below shows, of the 193 member states in the UN in 2015, 187 have ratified the CEDAW treaty.

CEDAW_Map copy
Ratification of the Convention Against All forms of Discrimination Against Women (as of December 2015)

The United States remains among the non-ratifying countries, a group that also includes: Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga. U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has argued that “stand[ing] with those countries” is a “disgrace”.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed CEDAW.  The U.S. Constitution requires that the Senate approve all treaties by a supermajority (2/3) vote.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has discussed the document in 1994 and 2002. Both times they voted in favor of ratification.  Yet the floor of the U.S. Senate has thus far never voted on the convention.

Senate rules require that if a resolution of ratification is not passed by the end of that Congress, the treaty starts this process all over again. This means that a handful of dissenters can successfully block the ratification if they are able to simply keep it off the agenda long enough for the Congress to end.

Such dissenters have included Jessie Helms, who was the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1995-2001.  For example, on International Women’s Day in 2000, Helms testified before Congress on the “Radical Agenda of CEDAW” stating:

“Why has CEDAW, the Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, never been ratified? Because it is a bad treaty; it is a terrible treaty negotiated by radical feminists with the intent of enshrining their radical antifamily agenda into international law. I will have no part of that.

Others have claimed that CEDAW undermines the important role of women as caregivers and would lead to the elimination of Mother’s Day in the United States.

The truth, is, however, that any member state of the UN who ratifies the Convention has the right to issue certain reservations against it. Most countries that have signed the document have done so.



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