Why a Treaty

The Treaty for the Rights of Women would amplify the U.S. voice in saving women’s lives worldwide, especially in Afghanistan.

What is the CEDAW Treaty for the Rights of Women?

The Treaty for the Rights of Women is the most comprehensive international agreement on the basic human rights of women. Created in 1979 as the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), it is an important tool for all those who seek to end abuses of women and girls, such as those committed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Because of the CEDAW Treaty, millions of girls are now receiving primary education who were previously denied access; measures have been taken against sex slavery, domestic violence and trafficking of women; women’s health care services have improved, saving lives during pregnancy and childbirth; and millions of women have secured loans or the right to own or inherit property.

Exactly how does the treaty work?

The treaty commits ratifying nations to overcoming barriers to discrimination against women in the areas of legal rights, education, employment, health care, politics and finance. Like all human rights treaties, the CEDAW Treaty sets benchmarks within traditional enforcement mechanisms that respect sovereignty and democracy. In many of the 177 countries that have ratified the treaty, it has guided the passage and enforcement of national law. For example:

  • Uganda, South Africa, Brazil, Australia and others have incorporated treaty provisions into their constitutions and domestic legal codes;
  • Ukraine, Nepal, Thailand and the Philippines all passed new laws to curb sexual trafficking;
  • India developed national guidelines on workplace sexual assault after the Supreme Court, in ruling on a major rape case, found that CEDAW required such protections;
  • Nicaragua, Jordan, Egypt and Guinea all saw significant increases in literacy rates after improving access to education for girls and women; and
  • After ratification, Colombia made domestic violence a crime and required legal protection for its victims.

Much remains to be done:

  • Sex trafficking: at least 4 million women and girls are sold into sexual slavery each year;
  • Education: two-thirds of the world’s 875 million illiterate adults are women;
  • Maternal mortality: 510,000 women die each year from pregnancy-related complications;
  • HIV/AIDS: women are four times more vulnerable than men, and 1.3 million die each year;
  • Violence: an estimated 25 to 30 percent of all women experience domestic violence;
  • Discrimination: millions of women lack full legal and political rights; and
  • Female genital mutilation: 130 million women are victims.

How would U.S. ratification help women around the world?

The United States has long been a world leader on human rights. But U.S. failure to ratify the treaty allows other countries to distract attention from their neglect of women and undermines the powerful principle that human rights of women are universal across all cultures and religions. Until the United States ratifies, our country cannot credibly demand that others live up to their obligations under this treaty. Our failure to ratify puts us in the company of Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran and Somalia; every other industrialized country has ratified the treaty.

Ratification does not require any change in U.S. law and would be a powerful statement of our continuing commitment to ending discrimination against women worldwide. The U.S. already has laws consistent with the CEDAW Treaty. Under the terms of the treaty, the U.S. would submit regular reports to an advisory committee, which would provide an important opportunity to spotlight our best practices and assess where we can do better.

The United States has a bipartisan tradition of support for international standards through human rights treaties. Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton ratified similar treaties on genocide, torture, race and civil and political rights. This treaty continues that proud tradition.

What is the treaty’s U.S. status?

Treaty approval requires a two-thirds vote in the U.S. Senate, or 67 votes. Ratification does not require consideration by the House of Representatives.

The treaty is languishing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under Chairman Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), who has indicated he is waiting for the Bush Administration to complete a review of the treaty. In 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.

A coalition of over 190 U.S. religious, civic, and community organizations remain committed to supporting ratification. They include the AARP, American Nurses Association, National Education Association, National Coalition of Catholic Nuns, American Bar Association, The United Methodist Church, YWCA, and Amnesty International. In addition, a bipartisan consensus of U.S. voters has consistently supported human rights for women, showing overwhelming support for efforts to secure the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan and elsewhere.