CEDAW

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in the United States

The United Nations CEDAW is one of the core international human rights treaties. It is often
referred to as the ‘women’s bill of rights’, because it specifically targets the promotion and protection of the fundamental human rights of women, and urges the empowerment of women so that they can claim and enjoy these rights. See the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in the World Encyclopedia.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in the United States

CEDAW is an international treaty that, following a Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO) information in a document about this Treaty, “commits governments to removing barriers to women’s equality. Adopted by the United Nations in 1979, this “Treaty for the Rights of Women,” is also known as “CEDAW” and addresses the areas of legal rights, education, employment, health care, violence against women, politics and fi nance. (Albert, Sarah, Leila R. Milani and Karina Purushotma, eds. CEDAW: Rights That Benefi t the Entire Community, 2004, 8).

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women does not impose any laws on governments that ratify the treaty. It does require governments to examine their policies and practices in relation to women
and girls and to report periodically to an international committee on the status of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women implementation.

As of March 2005, 180 countries have ratified Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women—including Afghanistan and Iraq. While only a few states have incorporated Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women’s provisions into domestic policy ( Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO). Beijing Betrayed: Women Worldwide Report that Governments Have Failed to Turn the Platform into Action, March 2005) CEDAW is being used by women around the world to advocate for legislation that protects and improves their basic human rights.

For example, women in Ukraine, Nepal, Thailand and the Philippines have used CEDAW to pass new laws to stop sexual traffi cking of women and girls. In Nicaragua, Jordan, Egypt and Guinea literacy rates increased after the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women treaty improved access to education for women and girls. Women in Colombia used Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women to make domestic violence a crime and to require legal protection for its victims. (Albert, Sarah, Leila R. Milani and Karina Purushotma, eds. CEDAW: Rights That Benefi t the Entire Community, 2004)

And in Rwanda women incorporated Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women into the new constitution, reserving 30 percent of seats in parliament for women—opening the door for women to gain 49 percent of all parliamentary seats in the 2003 election. (CEDAW: The Optional Protocol and Women in Decision-Making. Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO))

The United States remains the only industrialized country that has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Ratification of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is essential if the U.S. is to continue to be seen as a global leader in human rights.”

History of CEDAW in the United States

Following the Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO) Document:

“The United States was active in drafting Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1979 and President Carter signed the treaty in 1980. In order for the treaty to be ratifi ed, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee must approve it, two-thirds of the Senate must vote to ratify and then the current President must sign it. Approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was stalled for many years by then
Chairman Senator Jesse Helms, but under new chair Senator Joseph Biden, the Committee favorably voted the treaty out in 2002.

However, since that time the Bush Administration has delayed any further action by ordering an additional review of the treaty by the Justice Department. (Albert, Sarah, Leila R. Milani and Karina Purushotma, eds. CEDAW: Rights That Benefi t the Entire Community, 2004)

Over 190 U.S. religious, civic and community organizations support the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, such as the AFL-CIO, the United Methodist Church, and the League of Women Voters. (Albert, Sarah, Leila R. Milani and Karina Purushotma, eds. CEDAW: Rights That Benefi t the Entire Community, 2004)

Research shows that the American public, when informed of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, also supports United States ratification (Peter D. Hart Research Associates. “International Women’s Rights & The CEDAW Treaty.” Results from focus groups conducted January 2005 for United Nations Foundation, January 2005). Ratification of CEDAW could help to advance political and economic equality for women in the U.S., as women in the United States have not yet achieved full equality. U.S. women comprise
only 14 percent of the Congress and 22 percent of state legislatures, are paid $.70 for every $1 a man makes for the same work and face repeated attacks on their reproductive rights (WEDO. How U.S. Unilateralism Harms Women, 2005).

Although the United States government has not yet ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, action has been taken in cities, counties and states across the U.S. For example, the city of San Francisco, California, enacted a local ordinance in 1998 based on the convention’s principles. The ordinance requires the city to protect women’s human rights, including the elimination of discrimination against women and girls. A Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women Task Force, made up of city officials and community leaders and housed in the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, has been created to lead city implementation of the ordinance.

Gender equity and equal access are promoted in the areas of economic development and employment, violence against women and girls, and health care. The ordinance also requires city departments to undergo gender analysis to monitor discrimination against women and girls in budget allocation, delivery of services and employment practices (Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO). Beijing Betrayed: Women Worldwide Report that Governments Have Failed to Turn the Platform into Action, March 2005).

Advocates in San Francisco have used the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women to educate and influence the attitudes and behaviors of decision-makers towards women’s equality. By implementing the the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) ordinance, the number of women in higher paying, non-traditional employment positions has increased, an effort to increase street lights has improved women’s safety, the city is monitoring the availability of flexible work hours for women, training on sexual harassment in city departments, and collecting data on women by city departments (useful for tracking women’s experiences of inequality) (Women’s Institute for Leadership and Human Rights (WILD). “Testimony of Krishanti Dharmaraj of WILD For Human Rights, to the New York City’s Government Operations Committee on Human Rights GOAL Hearing, April 8, 2005,”).

New York City is currently working on a city ordinance based on the San Francisco model. However, New York is taking the ordinance a step further by combining the principles of CEDAW and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which was ratifi ed by the U.S. in 1994. City resolutions supporting the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women have passed in 47 cities as diverse as Los Angeles, California and Louisville, Kentucky, as well as in 17 states and 19 counties (numbers compiled in July 2005 by the Working Group on the Ratifi cation of U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)).

Such ordinances and resolutions come from concerned citizens and their desire to create positive change for women at the local and state levels. While ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women at the national level continues to stall, United States women can work to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women at the city, county and state levels so as to advance women’s human rights here at home and stand in solidarity with the world’s women who are using the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women to do the same.

Summary of the articles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

The articles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women fall into three main groups. The first set of articles explains the nature and scope of the State’s obligations.

The second set of articles targets specific forms of discrimination and outlines measures that the State must undertake to eliminate discrimination in each of these areas. The last set of articles governs procedural and
administrative matters, such as the composition of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women Committee and the way in which the reporting process operates.

The following is a summary of the first two sets of articles-scope of state obligations, and forms of discrimination.

Article 1 provides CEDAW’s definition of discrimination against women. Under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, this includes not just direct or intentional discrimination, but any act that has the effect of creating or perpetuating inequality between men and women.

Article 2 sets out a range of general measures the State must take to eliminate discrimination against women, with a strong focus on legal protections. The State must:

  • enshrine the principle of gender equality in national constitutions
  • enact legislation prohibiting discrimination against women
  • ensure effective legal protection for the right to be free from discrimination, including through the creation of national tribunals and other institutional mechanisms
  • ensure that no public authority discriminates against women
  • ensure that no private individual or organization discriminates against women
  • abolish existing discriminatory laws, customs and practices

Article 3 directs the State to take the positive measures needed to ensure the realization of women’s human rights on the basis of equality with men. Especially in the political, social, economic and cultural fields, the State must take whatever steps are needed to ensure the full advancement of women.

Article 4 directs the State to take temporary special measures where they are needed to speed up the process of achieving equality. Article 4 makes clear that measures that temporarily favour women over men, or impose different standards, are not a form of discrimination if they are being implemented as a means of speeding up the achievement
of gender equality.

Article 5 underlines that the State has responsibility for eliminating discrimination in social and cultural life, and so must take measures to eliminate prejudices and customary and other practices that are based on notions of women’s inferiority or stereotypes.

Article 6: Trafficking and Prostitution: States are required to take all necessary measures to “suppress trafficking in women and the exploitation of prostitution.

Resources

See Also

  • Human rights international conventions
  • Human Rights conventions
  • International human rights law Part 37
  • Human Rights
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
  • Women International Law
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Human Rights Committee
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • Development International Law

Biography

  • A Progressive Agenda for Women’s Rights. Chesler, Ellen. From What We Stand For: A Program for Progressive Patriotism, by The New Democracy Project. Mark Green, ed., Newmarket Press, 2004.
  • Beijing Betrayed: Women Worldwide Report that Governments Have Failed to Turn the Platform into Action, Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO): March 2005.
  • CEDAW: The Optional Protocol and Women in Decision-Making. Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO): December 2004.
  • CEDAW: Rights That Benefi t the Entire Community. Albert, Sarah, Leila R. Milani and Karina Purushotma, eds.
  • The Working Group on the Ratification of U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), 2004.

CEDAW: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about CEDAW. This part provides references, in relation to CEDAW, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about CEDAW by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about CEDAW and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about CEDAW or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to CEDAW and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting CEDAW. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about CEDAW should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to CEDAW when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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