Will the Senate Ratify CEDAW and Help End Gender Discrimination? The Jury is Still Out.

Published on The Daily Femme – Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010

Contributed by Annamarya

In his capacity as chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and Law, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) will hold a hearing on the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) tomorrow at 2 p.m (you can watch a webcast of the hearing here). This hearing is vitally important to the state of women’s rights in this country because, while 185 countries have already done so, the United States is one of seven countries–and the only industrialized nation–yet to ratify, although it helped draft the treaty (other UN member nations yet to ratify are Iran, Nauru, Palau, Somalia, Sudan and Tonga).

If you’re not familiar with CEDAW, the purpose of the treaty is simply put: to  promote women’s rights and to end every and all forms of discrimination against women, which is defined in the treaty as, “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” Closely described as an “international bill of rights” for women and girls, CEDAW, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 8, 1979 and entered into force on September 3, 1981, establishes a docket for action by countries to ensure women have and enjoy those rights, and requires all ratified countries to “all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women,” which includes, among many others, removing all prejudicial provisions from laws while enforcing new ones that protect against discrimination; ensuring equal opportunity in education, employment, health care, and participation in political & public life of the country, such as voting and holding public office; use all measures, including legislation, to end prostitution exploitation and trafficking of women; and equality in marriage and parenting, including the freedom to choose a spouse, equal ownership and responsibility of property, and same decision rights to family design (read the treaty here). Here’s a small snapshot of some changes nations made after ratifying CEDAW, according to a National Organization for Women fact sheet:

  • Turkey changed laws to raise marriageable age to 17, allow women to keep maiden names, work outside the home and keep their own wages without permission from their husbands.
  • Honduras created policies to make agricultural training and loans available to women farmers.
  • Cambodia created a women’s ministry.
  • Canada created an institute to address health disparities between women and men.
  • Uganda created and funded programs to reduce domestic violence.
  • Argentina developed a program to prevent teen pregnancy and care for teen mothers, especially homeless teen mothers.
  • Botswana overturned a law giving citizenship to children of men married to foreigners but not to children of women married to foreigners.

When you look what CEDAW has helped to achieve across the globe, it’s dumbfounding why the United States has not yet adopt the treaty after nearly 30 years since it was put into force, especially since doing so not only further cements the truth that women’s rights are human rights, but will act as the kick start we need to reevaluate and develop stronger strategies in combating discrimination against women that will also guarantee complete equality. Just on the local scale, we can see what could happen for the rights of women in this country if we were to ratify: According to NOW, San Francisco was the first United States city to approve an ordinance that astricts itself to CEDAW principles and by doing so, the city has adopted harsher sentences for domestic violence, and  increased the number of male and female city workers with families after implementing new flexible work schedules, in addition to other changes. While these hearings are a step in the right–and 30-years too late–direction, it won’t get the floor vote unless Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) holds a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and, hopefully, he’ll show us tomorrow that women and their fundamental rights are something just as important to him.


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