C’mon, Congress—Isn’t 34 Years Enough Time to Ratify CEDAW?


Known as the “women’s treaty,” the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women—CEDAW—was signed by the United States 34 years ago today. The United Nations had adopted the treaty, pledging to give women equal rights in all aspects of their lives, on December 18, 1979, and at a special ceremony during the Copenhagen Conference the U.S. and 63 other countries signed on.

But that was only part of the process necessary for putting CEDAW into action. Countries also need to ratify the treaty—and 34 years later, the U.S. still hasn’t. That puts this country in what could hardly be called good company, with Iran, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Palau and Tonga. Hardly a roll call of great democracies and world leaders. Meanwhile, 188 other countries and regions have ratified the treaty.

In the countries that have ratified CEDAW, it has shown success in protecting women and promoting their rights. In Kuwait, CEDAW led to extending the right to vote to women. In Cameroon, under the influence of CEDAW, traditional leaders changed local customs that subjected women to second-class status. And in Nepal, CEDAW helps prevent women and girls from being trafficked. Generally, the treaty expands women’s access to employment, economic resources and political engagement. It addresses ending child marriage, ensuring the right to vote, reducing sex trafficking and increasing access to education and economic opportunities for women, as well as a host of other crucial rights.

Feminists have never stopped trying to get the U.S. government to ratify the treaty. Just a few weeks ago, on June 24, the Senate Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy and Global Women’s Issues held a hearing on “Combating Violence and Discrimination Against Women: A Global Call to Action,” which included important testimony on the status of CEDAW. Hearings are great, but CEDAW remains in limbo, a long way from the Senate floor.

Even though American women enjoy a much more privileged status than most women in the world, it is clear that progress is needed in certain areas, such as ending domestic violence and closing the pay gap. CEDAW would hold the U.S. accountable by international standards to require transparency and action by the government to further the status of women within our borders.While it would not change any U.S. laws, CEDAW provides guidelines and blueprints for national action to end discrimination and elevate the status of women.

On this anniversary, we hope that lawmakers will reflect on the positive impact CEDAW has had in the places where it has been ratified. Hopefully, the U.S. will be the next country to ratify this critical international women’s treaty. Join the fight to ratify CEDAW here.

Photo of U.S. senators during the June 24 hearing on the ratification of CEDAW and the International Violence Against Women Act, courtesy of the Feminist Majority Foundation


  1. Evelyn McMullen says:

    No excuses.

  2. I’m just curious that whether there are any successful cases of fighting against violence against women and closing the pay gap in countries that ratidied the CEDAW. I found the opposition side quite reasonable because I believe (as a non-American woman) women in the U.S. are enjoying greater deal of equality than women in other countries; therefore, there is no point of ratifying the treaty. If there are many real cases mentioned above, can’t we push the U.S. government better to ratify the treaty and achieve women’s equality?

  3. Yes, the United States needs to ratify CEDAW, the Global Women’s Rights Treaty. However, I had some issues with the language in this article. Phrases like ” giving women equal rights” and “protecting women” are very condescending. They ignore centuries of courageous feminist activism and act like rights are something that men give to women.

    Human rights are not “given” by men. They are endowed by Our Creator and by nature. Just read the Declaration of Sentiments written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Seneca Falls, NY 1848 and the Declaration of Rights of the Woman and the Citizen written by the Olympe de Gouges during the French Revolution. None of these groundbreaking documents acted like rights were “given by men.” Rather, these documents imply that rights are an inherent part of our humanity and we must claim them and demand that the world respect them.

    Speaking of respect, I am dismayed that Ms Magazine Online is saying nothing about what happened on July, 1848 in Seneca Falls, NY. 78 women and 32 men dared to declare that all men and women are created equal and Elizabeth Cady Stanton insisted that women claim the right to vote. Most historians say that the Seneca Falls conference in 1848 was the beginning of the American women’s rights movement. All of us are indebted to the pioneers at Seneca Falls and Ms Magazine Online always needs to write an article about it in the middle of July.

    I hate to say it, but feminist groups have done a poor job of paying their respects to feminist breakthroughs and insisting that the world respect Seneca Falls Day and Women’s Equality Day.

  4. In response to Hana’s comment, yes, ” …women in the U.S. are enjoying greater deal of equality than women in other countries…” – this is true, however, I heartily disagree with your next statement: “therefore, there is no point of ratifying the treaty.”

    Just because American women are given (metaphorically) two crusts of bread instead of one (like in other countries), why can’t we enjoy the whole slice? Why must our daily bread have a gaping hole in it?

    I’ve worked my entire life, along with my husband to make a decent middle-class lifestyle for us and our children, and if I’d been paid fairly all those years, I might have had been able to work less and have more time at home with my children.

    I might have also been able to retire earlier and spend time with my husband before he passed away – neither luxury was mine, though, because women still earn only $.77 to every $1.00 that a man earns in this country.

    Likewise, I’m lucky my husband didn’t batter or beat me because the laws in the US are still far behind in protecting women and children from domestic violence and abuse. In Nevada, alone, if someone strangles a woman, and she doesn’t die, the crime is only a misdemeanor.

    We in America need more push and power to make wages and protection for women even better.

    Judy Shine Logan
    Author of “Shelter Me: When friendship is all that remains” – a novel about domestic violence and widowhood. Available on Amazon.com and BN.com

Speak Your Mind


Error, no Ad ID set! Check your syntax!