Women. Power. Peace.

Women’s Rights: CEDAW

CEDAW: The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

What is the Treaty for the Rights of Women?

  • The Treaty for the Rights of Women (formally known as CEDAW, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination) is often described as an international "Bill of Rights" for women. It is the first and only international instrument that comprehensively addresses women's rights within political, cultural, economic, social, and family life.
  • As of July 2002, 170 countries have ratified the Treaty. The United States is among a small minority of countries - including Afghanistan, Iran, and Sudan - and is the only industrialized democracy that has not ratified the Treaty for the Rights of Women.

How has the Treaty helped women around the world?

* The Treaty for the Rights of Women calls on governments to remove barriers to substantive equality. This requires countries to examine the actual conditions of life for women and girls and to report on structures and customs that discriminate, and on actions taken to eliminate those barriers. As a result of the Treaty, hundreds of laws have been put in place that improve the basic human rights of women around the world. These laws include:

  • Stopping violence against women: In Colombia, the courts ruled in 1992 that the absence of legal recourse then available to a female victim of domestic violence violated her human rights to life and personal security. The state now ensures protection for all such women.
  • Promoting girls' education: Slovenia and Switzerland have changed their school admission policies to benefit girls.
  • Improving health care: Australia launched efforts to promote awareness and prevention of breast and cervical cancer, including postcards reminding 3 million women to get pap smears.
  • Ensuring women's legal rights: Laws to advance women's political participation have been adopted in 22 of the 168 countries that have ratified the Treaty.
  • Improving women's lives at work: Germany, Guatemala, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom are among the countries that have improved maternity leave and child care for working women in accord with Treaty provisions.

* The Treaty requires regular progress reports from ratifying countries but it does not impose any changes in existing laws or require new laws of countries ratifying the treaty. It lays out models for achieving equality but contains no enforcement authority.

Why is it important that the United States ratify the Treaty for the Rights of Women?

  • As long as it remains one of the few nations that have failed to ratify CEDAW, the United States compromises its credibility as a world leader in human rights.
  • Women around the world need the United States to speak loudly and clearly in support of the Treaty, so that it becomes a stronger instrument in support of their struggles. Without U.S. ratification, some other governments feel free to ignore the principles laid out in the Treaty.

For more information about the Treaty for the Rights of Women:

The CEDAW Working Group | www.womenstreaty.org
Women's Action for New Directions | www.wand.org

WAND | Women’s Action for New Directions

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