By: Joanna Hoffman, Program Associate at Women Deliver
Twenty-one years have passed since the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly. This development was largely due to the efforts of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which has worked to develop a number of critical declarations focusing on the human rights of women. The text of the Convention was initially drafted by working groups within the Commission and through a working group of the General Assembly from 1977-1979. Since then, 186 of 193 countries have ratified CEDAW. Only seven have not, including the United States, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, and three small Pacific Island nations (Nauru, Palau and Tonga). Next Thursday, November 18th, a hearing will be held in the US Senate on the importance of ratifying CEDAW.
What is CEDAW?
CEDAW is, in effect, an international bill of rights for women which defines what constitutes discrimination against women and outlines a plan of country-wide action to end this discrimination. The Convention defines discrimination against women as "...any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field." Within the 30 articles of the Convention, action steps for various sectors are outlined, such as the right to quality health services, education, employment and the right to vote. How the Convention is interpreted into concrete action varies country-to-country, but the overall scope is consistent with the goal of providing the basis for realizing equality between women and men. Once a country ratifies CEDAW, it commits itself to ending discrimination against women through actions including:
- Incorporating the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;
- Establishing tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and
- Ensuring elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.
Why should the US ratify CEDAW?
Ratifying CEDAW would lead to greater equality and quality of life for girls and women within the US and beyond. The US ranks 50th out of 172 countries on maternal deaths during pregnancy and childbirth. Women continue to earn less than men in the workplace, and domestic violence remains the leading cause of injury to US women between the ages of 15-44. While CEDAW would not in itself automatically change US laws, it would provide a guide and a framework for examining these issues and developing much-needed solutions.
Actions taken now on CEDAW will shape the international agenda around the rights of women and girls. The 55th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is coming up soon, on February 22, 2011. The priority theme will be “Access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work”. The review theme will be “The elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child”, and dialogue is planned around the agreed conclusions from the 51st CSW. CEDAW has been a critical action area within this review theme, though it is also very much applicable to the new theme as well.
A more global ratification of CEDAW will set the stage at the CSW for actions on key policy initiatives supporting girls and women to be further developed and accelerated. In addition, ratifying CEDAW would send a message to the world that the US stands behind women’s rights as human rights. Women around the world have called for CEDAW’s ratification, and the more countries that ratify the Convention, the more universal the effort to end discrimination can be.
What can you do?
The time to act is NOW - we are just a week away from the CEDAW hearing in the Senate. This is the first hearing on CEDAW since 2002.
- Attend the hearing: The hearing is open to the public, and if you live in or near DC and would like to attend, please click here for more information.
- Voice your support: Please visit the CEDAW website and click “What Can I Do” to contact US Senators and President Obama to urge them to support and prioritize CEDAW. You can also find out about CEDAW grassroots efforts and how you can support them.
- Donate: Click here to donate to support grassroots and advocacy activities to build support for CEDAW’s ratification.
Please act today. We all need to work together to ensure that US signs on to this critical Convention. We can’t afford to wait any longer.