The Role of the United States

The United States was active in drafting the Treaty for the Rights of Women. President Carter signed the Treaty on July 17, 1980, and it was sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in November 1980 for a vote on ratification. A decade later, in the summer of 1990, the committee held hearings on the Treaty. In the spring of 1993, 68 senators signed a letter to President Clinton asking him to take the necessary steps to ratify the Treaty.

In June 1993, Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna that the Clinton Administration would pursue the Treaty for the Rights of Women and other human rights treaties. In September 1994, the Treaty was reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee favorably by a vote of 13 to 5, with one abstention. This vote occurred in the last days of the Congressional session. Several conservative senators put a hold on it, thereby blocking the Treaty from a ratification vote on the Senate floor during the 103rd Congress.

When the Senate, under new Republican leadership, convened in January 1995, the Treaty reverted back to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Momentum for the treaty grew in 2002 under the leadership of Sens. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA). The treaty was voted favorably out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a bipartisan vote of 12 to 7 on July 30, 2002. However, an overcrowded fall session prevented the treaty from being considered by the full Senate.

Senate rules required that the treaty revert back to the committee in the next Congress. The new committee chairman, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), indicated that he would wait for the Bush Administration to complete a review of the treaty. In early 2002, the State Department notified the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the CEDAW Treaty for the Rights of Women was “generally desirable and should be ratified.” Nevertheless, the Administration has not yet taken a formal position on the treaty; it awaits a Justice Department review about what Reservations, Understandings and Declarations may be necessary.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee members are listed on the following pages:

  • Republicans: http://foreign.senate.gov/
  • Democrats: http://foreign.senate.gov/Democratic/committee/index.html

With U.S. Senate action blocked by extremists for so many years, momentum for ratification has begun to come from the states. To date, legislatures in 10 states have endorsed U.S. ratification: California, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Vermont. The Connecticut and Wisconsin Senates and the House of Representatives in Florida, Illinois and South Dakota also have endorsed U.S. ratification.