Ratifying CEDAW, Part I

The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is the United Nation’s international human rights treaty on gender equality. It has been ratified by all but seven of the United Nation’s members: Iran, Nauru, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, Tonga, and the United States.

I would be very willing to argue that any list that includes Iran, Somalia, Sudan and the United States is a list that needs to be rectified as soon as possible. The US is the only advanced, industrialized country in the world that has not ratified CEDAW, and it has become something of an embarrassment, especially taken in conjunction with the US’ lack of ratification of the UN’s children’s rights treaty, and its forty years late ratification of the civil and political rights treaty.

Today I will give a brief summary of the history of CEDAW in the US, and on Thursday I will discuss the current opposition to its ratification, and argue in favor of its adoption in the US.

CEDAW came into force in 1981. Jimmy Carter originally signed and submitted the convention to Congress for review in 1980, but it was unfortunately caught up in the caustic political climate surrounding the discussion of an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that would guarantee equality of the sexes in the US Constitution. Organizations like Concerned Women for America (CWA), and conservative women activists like Phyllis Schlafly, successfully blocked the passage of the ERA.

Similar arguments to those used to block the passage of the ERA were made to stop the ratification of CEDAW:

  • Argument: It would require women to participate in the draft and serve on the front lines of combat.
  • Fact: This is possibly true, given the language of CEDAW, but there is an argument to be made that women already serve on the front lines, and are just not recognized.
  • Argument: It would require standard, unisex bathrooms.
  • Fact: This is an absurd overextension of the language of equality found in CEDAW.
  • Argument: It would obligate access to abortion.
  • Fact: Although CEDAW advocates for family planning, nowhere does it call for access to abortion services.
  • Argument: The US already has existing legislation, such as the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equality of the sexes.
  • Fact: While the 14th Amendment grants equal citizenship opportunities to everyone in the US regardless of gender or color, it does not explicitly guarantee the equality of men and women.

CEDAW was not brought up seriously again in the US until President Clinton signed it again during his tenure, but it was not submitted to Congress. It has only been recently, with the end of the Bush Administration, that CEDAW supporters have again started up a campaign to have the US ratify CEDAW, but many of the same actors have reappeared to oppose it.

Stephen Thompson is a Program and Research Intern with the SISGI Group’s research division. To learn more about the SISGI Group visit www.sisgigroup.org.


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