Letter to Congress on CEDAW

From the Center for Reproductive Rights

As the United States observes Human Rights Day today, we are reminded that just one week later, December 18, marks the 22nd anniversary of the United Nations’ unanimous adoption of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Disappointingly, the United States still has not ratified this women’s rights treaty – despite having signed it more than 20 years ago. We urge you to take action to ensure that the Senate ratifies CEDAW immediately.

In the last several months, the world has looked even more to the United States for leadership in the global struggle for freedom and the promotion of fundamental human rights principles around the world. The success of these efforts depends on fulfillment of the rights of women. Women’s rights are foremost in the thoughts of U.S. citizens and the international community today, who have been horrified by the terrible oppression of women in Afghanistan. This tyranny over women has occurred despite the fact that Afghanistan’s previous constitution contained a clause ensuring equal rights for women. CEDAW has become known as the international bill of rights for women. U.S. ratification of CEDAW would strengthen acceptance of this treaty as the blueprint for restoring the rights of women during the rebuilding of Afghanistan as a democratic and stable nation that respects human rights for all its citizens.

In failing to ratify CEDAW, the United States is also passing up an opportunity to help shape international human rights standards that are being developed to address the rights of women throughout the world. Just as the United States is eager to restore its presence on the Human Rights Commission, our government should be equally enthusiastic about establishing a presence on the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee), the UN body that monitors compliance with the women’s rights treaty. Indeed, in this respect U.S. citizens are in the forefront, leading the call for U.S. ratification of the women’s rights treaty as demonstrated by a letter from 82 organizations sent to the Senate last week.

Ratification of CEDAW would enable the United States to nominate a candidate to serve on the CEDAW Committee, comprised of 23 experts in women’s rights from different countries. Each ratifying country agrees to submit a report to the Committee every four years on its efforts to implement the Convention, addressing the legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures adopted to combat discrimination against women. The Committee reviews the reports and formulates comments highlighting positive aspects and laying out the Committee’s primary areas of concern and its non-binding recommendations for further improvements. The Committee is also authorized to make General Recommendations on issues such as domestic violence.

We urge you to support hearings and a positive vote on CEDAW to ensure that the Senate ratifies this crucial human rights treaty immediately, in order to demonstrate the United States’ commitment to the rights of women in this country and throughout the world.


Julia L. Ernst
International Legislative Counsel

Rosemary J. Dempsey
Washington, D.C. Office Director