History, Background & Chronology

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History & Background
Chronology

 

History & Background

The Treaty for the Rights of Women is the most complete international agreement on basic human rights for women. The Treaty is officially known as the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1979. The United States played an important role in drafting the Treaty, which 185 nations have ratified as of March 2007. The United States is now one of only eight countries that have yet to ratify CEDAW, alongside Sudan, Somalia, Qatar, Iran, Nauru, Palau and Tonga.

This Treaty has enormous support within the United States. More than 200 leading organizations representing millions of people across this country are united in support of U.S. ratification. The groups range from the AARP and Amnesty International, to Business and Professional Women USA and the American Association of University Women, to B’nai B’rith International and the American Bar Association.
                                        
The Treaty for the Rights of Women addresses basic human rights of women. It can be a useful tool to reduce violence and discrimination against women and girls, ensure girls and women receive the same access as boys and men to education and health care, and secure basic legal recourse to women and girls against violations and abuses of their human rights. Women around the world have used the Treaty to achieve important reforms in their country that reduce violence and discrimination. Measures have been taken against sex slavery, domestic violence and trafficking of women; millions of girls are now receiving primary education that were previously denied access; women's health services have improved, saving lives during pregnancy and childbirth; and women have secured the right to own or inherit property. In order for the United States to ratify an international treaty, two-thirds of the Senate must consent — that is 67 "yes" votes. No action by the House of Representatives is required for ratification of international treaties.

Chronology: The Road to Ratification  

  • December 18, 1979: United Nations approves the Treaty for the Rights of Women (officially known as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women — or CEDAW).
  • July 17, 1980: President Jimmy Carter signs the Treaty as he is leaving office. Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush prioritized ratification of specific human rights treaties, including UN conventions on Genocide and on Civil and Political Rights. President Clinton pressed for ratification of the conventions against torture, against racial discrimination, and on this Treaty. 
  • 1990: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a hearing on the Treaty.
  • 1993: Sixty-eight senators write to President Bill Clinton requesting treaty ratification.
  • 1993: The United States commits itself at the U.N. World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, Austria, to ratification of the Treaty for the Rights of Women, among others.
  • 1994: President Bill Clinton recommends ratification.
  • September 1994: With bi-partisan support, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee votes 13-5 with one abstention to recommend treaty passage by the full Senate. But several senators put a "hold" on it for the duration of the 103rd Congress.
  • August 1995: At the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, the United States makes Treaty ratification a primary commitment to be achieved before 2000.
  • March 16, 1999: The CEDAW Committee approves an Optional Protocol that provides a process for complaints of treaty violations that lets women appeal directly to the United Nations.
  • 1999: Ten Senators call for a new hearing for ratification of the Treaty but are rebuffed by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
  • May 2000: The House International Relations Committee holds an informational hearing on the Treaty: A total of 168 nations have ratified it, and 62 have ratified the Optional Protocol.
  • June 13, 2002: Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, holds a hearing on the Treaty for the Rights of Women (CEDAW).

  • July 30, 2002: The Treaty was voted favorably out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a bi-partisan vote of 12 to 7.
  • Fall 2002: The Senate adjourned in 2002 without time for a vote on ratification. The treaty reverted back to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under the leadership of Chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN).

  • 2003: The Treaty stalled in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2003 under new chairman Lugar (R-IN).
  • April 2007: A total of 185 nations have now ratified the treaty. The current Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden, has reiterated his strong support for ratification of the Treaty for the Rights of Women.