The Treaty for the Rights of Women would amplify the U.S. voice in saving women's lives worldwide.
Why a Treaty? Why Now?
Americans are united in supporting basic human rights for women around the world. A global consensus is growing on the need to address the most pressing issues affecting women and girls, especially on providing access to education and health care and ending violence.
The Treaty for the Rights of Women, formally named the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), is the most comprehensive international agreement on basic rights of women. The treaty has been ratified by 182 nations and has become an important tool for partnerships among nations to end human rights abuses and promote the health and well-being of girls.
In many countries worldwide that have ratified the treaty, women have worked with their governments in partnership to change inequitable laws: to help girls receive a primary education; to enable women to get micro-loans to set up small businesses; to stop sex slavery; to improve health care services; to secure the right to own or inherit property; and to protect women and girls against violence. (See The Treaty at Work Worldwide in this kit for examples.)
The Treaty has always enjoyed bipartisan support in the United States, but has never come before the full Senate for a vote. This unfinished business puts the United States in the company of only a handful of nations that have not ratified the treaty, including Iran, Sudan, and Somalia. As a party to the treaty, the Untied States will have a seat at the table where decisions are made about
· Women’s lives around the world and, with all other ratifying nations, will file regular reports on our progress.
· U.S. law already complies with the treaty, and to ratify it will not require the passage of a single new law. The Treaty for the Rights of Women provides us with a useful framework for improving the human rights and the rule of law internationally.
The United States should strive to be a leader and set an example for the rest of the world in its commitment to women and expanding women’s rights. The Senate and President George W. Bush should lead the United States toward joining the overwhelming majority of other countries in ratifying the Treaty for the Rights of Women, adding our strength to the work of ensuring basic human rights for women everywhere.
What is the CEDAW Treaty for the Rights of Women?Exactly how does the treaty work? How would U.S. ratification help women around the world?What is the treaty's U.S. status?
What is CEDAW?
The Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is the most comprehensive international agreement on the basic human rights of women. Created in 1979, it is an important tool for all those who seek to end abuses of women and girls throughout the globe.
Because of the CEDAW Treaty, millions of girls are now receiving primary education who were previously denied access; measures have been taken against sex slavery, domestic violence and trafficking of women; women's health care services have improved, saving lives during pregnancy and childbirth; and millions of women have secured loans or the right to own or inherit property.
Exactly how does the treaty work?
Nations that ratify the treaty commit to overcoming barriers to discrimination against women in the areas of legal rights, education, employment, health care, politics and finance. Like all human rights treaties, the CEDAW Treaty sets benchmarks within traditional enforcement mechanisms that respect sovereignty and democracy. In many of the 182 countries that have ratified the treaty, it has guided the passage and enforcement of national laws. For example:
· Uganda, South Africa, Brazil, Australia and others have incorporated treaty provisions into their constitutions and domestic legal codes;
· Ukraine, Nepal, Thailand and the Philippines all passed laws to curb sexual trafficking;
· India developed national guidelines on workplace sexual assault after the Supreme Court, in ruling on a major rape case, found that CEDAW required such protections;
· Nicaragua, Jordan, Egypt and Guinea all saw significant increases in literacy rates after improving access to education for girls and women;
· Australia and Luxembourg created health campaigns promoting awareness and prevention of breast and cervical cancers; and
· After ratification, Colombia made domestic violence a crime and required legal protection for its victims.
Much remains to be done:
· Sex trafficking: 80% of the estimated 600,000 to 800,000 victims trafficked across international borders are female and nearly half are under the age of 18;
· Education: two-thirds of the world's 771 million illiterate adults are women;
· Maternal mortality: 500,000 women die each year from pregnancy-related complications;
· HIV/AIDS: women are four times more vulnerable than men, and 1.3 million die each year;
· Violence: an estimated 25 to 39 percent of all women experience domestic violence;
· Discrimination: millions of women lack full legal and political rights;
· Poverty: 70% of the world’s 1.3 billion people living in dire poverty are women; and
· Female genital mutilation: 130 million women are victims.
How would U.S. ratification help women around the world?
The United States has long been a world leader on human rights. But, U.S. failure to ratify the treaty allows other countries to divert attention away from their neglect of women and undermines the powerful principle that human rights of women are universal across all cultures, nations, and religions. Until the United States ratifies CEDAW, our country cannot credibly demand that others live up to their obligations under this treaty. Our failure to ratify puts us in the company of Sudan, Iran and Somalia; every other industrialized country has ratified the treaty.
Ratification does not require any change in U.S. law and would be a powerful statement of our continuing commitment to ending discrimination against women worldwide. It would allow us to join with other countries to work toward the common goal of women’s equality. The U.S. already has laws consistent with the CEDAW Treaty. Under the terms of the treaty, the U.S. would submit regular reports to an advisory committee, which would provide an important opportunity to spotlight our best practices and assess where we can do better.
The United States has a bipartisan tradition of support for international standards through human rights treaties. Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton ratified similar treaties on genocide, torture, race and civil and political rights. This treaty continues that proud tradition. What is the treaty's status in the U.S.?Treaty approval requires a two-thirds vote in the U.S. Senate, or 67 votes. Ratification does not require consideration by the House of Representatives.
The treaty is languishing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under Chairman Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), who has indicated he is waiting for the Bush Administration to complete a review of the treaty. In 2002, the State Department notified the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the CEDAW Treaty for the Rights of Women was "generally desirable and should be ratified." Nevertheless, the Administration has not yet taken further action on the treaty; it awaits a Justice Department review about what Reservations, Understandings and Declarations may be necessary.
A coalition of over 190 U.S. religious, civic, and community organizations remain committed to supporting ratification. They include the AARP, American Nurses Association, National Education Association, National Coalition of Catholic Nuns, American Bar Association, The United Methodist Church, YWCA, and Amnesty International. In addition, a bipartisan consensus of U.S. voters has consistently supported human rights for women, showing overwhelming support for efforts to secure the rights of women and girls.