In Absence of Senate Ratification, CEDAW Progress Moves to Local Level

On December 18, 1979, the United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW. But today, 35 years later, the United States is one of only seven countries that hasn’t ratified the treaty.

CEDAW has been ratified by 188 countries and is an international standard for protecting and promoting women’s rights. It is the only international agreement that comprehensively addresses women’s political, civil, cultural, economic, and social rights, and has been instrumental in expanding educational opportunities and voting rights and decreasing domestic violence and sex trafficking in ratifying countries.

President Jimmy Carter signed the treaty 34 years ago, but the United States remains the only Western and industrialized democracy not to have ratified it. Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Palau, and Tonga haven’t taken that step, either.

The U.S. Senate has never even held a floor vote on the treaty, but several city and state governments have taken action and passed local CEDAW resolutions. In 1998, San Francisco became the first city to adopt an ordinance reflecting the principles of CEDAW. Most recently, the city of Louisville, Ky., approved a resolution in November that will use CEDAW as a framework for all future policy aimed toward ending gender-based discrimination.

Ratifying CEDAW would affirm the United States as a leader and model in protecting the rights of women and girls worldwide. At a Senate hearing on combatting violence and discrimination against women in June, Hauwa Ibrahim, a Nigerian attorney, emphasized how the U.S. ratification of CEDAW would strengthen efforts to expand opportunities for women worldwide, stating, “You are indeed a beacon of hope, and a city on a hill. The passing of IVAWA and CEDAW would lighten our load.”

The hearing featured a panel of seven women senators, who shared instances of violence against women across the globe and detailed the role the U.S. should take in protecting women. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D., Mass., said, “The U.S. must be committed to protecting the rights of women and girls, committed to preventing violence and discrimination against women across the globe.” Warren also urged, “Investing in women and girls means investing in the future. It is prosperous, secure, just, and peaceful for all and it’s time for Congress to carry this fight forward.”

Without ratification, grassroots efforts like Cities for CEDAW, a campaign created last year to empower local women’s groups to push for CEDAW initiatives, are aiming to build momentum for a fix to our nation’s still imperfect commitment to promoting women’s rights – a commitment the world will only notice with the ratification of CEDAW.