The Women’s Treaty: CEDAW

On December 18, 1979, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The call for a Women’s Convention emerged from the First World Conference on Women in Mexico City in 1975. Until the UN General Assembly adopted the Women’s Convention, there was no convention that addressed comprehensively women’s rights within political, cultural, economic, social, and family life.

As of September 2003, 172 countries have ratified the Conventions (see listing), pledging to give women equal rights in all aspects of their lives including political, health, educational, social and legal. The United States is among the 20 countries that have yet to ratify the treaty – keeping company with such notorious women’s rights abusers as Monaco and Sudan.

Why Do We Need CEDAW?

The Convention is the most comprehensive and detailed international agreement which seeks the advancement of women. It establishes rights for women in areas not previously subject to international standards. The Convention provides a universal definition of discrimination against women so that those who would discriminate on the basis of sex can no longer claim that no clear definition exists. It also calls for action in nearly every field of human endeavor: politics, law, employment, education, health care, commercial transactions and domestic relations. Moreover, the Convention establishes a Committee to review periodically the progress being made by its adherents.

As a leading advocate for human rights, the United States has a compelling interest to improve conditions for women. Yet, as one of the few nations that has failed to ratify the Women’s Convention, the United States compromises its credibility as a leader for human rights. Ratification is called for in the concluding documents of the Fourth World Conference on Women, the UN Conference on Human Rights, and the Vienna/Helsinki agreements of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The United States was a signatory to these documents. The United States also made ratification of the Women’s Convention one of its public commitments at the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in September 1995.


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