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

About and

Simone Lieban Levine is a rising junior at St. Mary's College of Maryland and an intern for Ms.