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. The Treaty for the Rights of Women 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 Treaty for the Rights of Women, officially named the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), is the most comprehensive international agreement on basic human rights of women. The Treaty has been ratified by 185 nations and has become an important 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.
  • As the leading superpower, U.S. ratification would lend weight to the Treaty and provide valuable support to women seeking reforms in countries around the world. U.S. failure to ratify the Treaty undermines the powerful principle that human rights of women are universal across all cultures, nations, and religions, and worthy of being guaranteed through international human rights standards. Without the United States as a party to the Treaty, repressive governments can easily discount the Treaty’s provisions.
  • As women in the United States take on greater leadership roles and participate in record numbers in local and national elections, it is time for the U.S. government to show the international community that it stands unequivocally for the rights of women internationally by ratifying this Treaty.

U.S. Government’s Position on the Treaty

  • The United States played an important role in drafting this Treaty, which 185 nations have ratified.  But our country is now one of eight that have yet to ratify the Treaty, alongside Sudan, Somalia, Qatar, Iran, Nauru, Palau and Tonga.
  • 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. 
  • The Treaty has always enjoyed bipartisan support in the United States, but has never come before the full Senate for a vote. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has twice voted favorably – in 1994 and 2002 – with bipartisan support to send the Treaty to the Senate floor for ratification, but the Senate has recessed each time before that occurred.  The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joseph Biden, has reiterated his strong supports for ratification of this Treaty.  It is time for Senators to stand together in support of women and ratify CEDAW.
  • Legal scholars and the Congressional Research Service have determined that the Treaty, as considered by the Senate (with the current package of reservations, understandings and declarations), would not require the passage of new laws. 
  • 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.   

Jump to:
What is the CEDAW Treaty for the Rights of Women?
How does the Treaty work?
What is the status of women’s human rights around the world?

How has the Treaty been used in other countries?
How would U.S. ratification help women around the world?
Who supports ratification?

What is the CEDAW Treaty for the Rights of Women?

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.

The Treaty for the Rights of Women addresses basic human rights of women and can be a useful tool to:

  • Reduce violence against women
  • Ensure access to education and health care
  • Provide legal recourse against violations of women’s human rights

U.S. failure to ratify the Treaty undermines the powerful principle that human rights of women are universal across all cultures, nations, and religions, and worthy of being guaranteed through international human rights standards. It is time to stand firmly for the rights of women internationally by ratifying this Treaty.

How does the Treaty work?

Treaty ratification commits nations to take concrete action to improve the status of women and to reverse discrimination and end violence against women in their own country and around the world. For example, ratifying countries commit to:

  • Take measures to ensure women can enjoy basic human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • Establish judicial procedures to ensure the effective protection of the rights of women.
  • Take appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.
  • Submit national reports every four years on measures they have taken to comply with the treaty to protect and promote the rights of women in their country.

What is the status of women’s human rights around the world?

  • Violence against women is pervasive throughout the world. Discrimination is a root cause for violence and that impunity perpetuates violations and abuses.
  • Approximately one in three of the world’s women will experience violence in her lifetime, with rates reaching 70% in some countries.  The World Health Organization estimates that globally one woman in five will be the victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.  In Africa, it is estimated that one in three women will be raped in her lifetime.
  • 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.
  • Two-thirds of the world's 771 million illiterate adults are women.
  • More than 500,000 women die each year from pregnancy-related complications.
  • Women are four times more vulnerable than men, and 1.3 million die each year.
  • Millions of women lack full legal and political rights.
  • 70% of the world’s 1.3 billion people living in dire poverty are women.
  • 130 million women are victims of female genital mutilation:.

How has the Treaty been used in other countries?

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 care services have improved, saving lives during pregnancy and childbirth; and millions of women have secured essential loans and the basic right to own or inherit property. Other examples:

  • 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.

How would U.S. ratification help women around the world?

As the leading superpower, U.S. ratification would lend weight to the Treaty and provide valuable support to women seeking reforms in countries around the world. U.S. failure to ratify the Treaty undermines the powerful principle that human rights of women are universal across all cultures, nations, and religions, and worthy of being guaranteed through international human rights standards. Without the United States as a party to the Treaty, repressive governments can easily discount the Treaty’s provisions. As women in the United States take on greater leadership roles and participate in record numbers in local and national elections, it is time for the U.S. government to show the international community that it stands unequivocally for the rights of women internationally by ratifying this 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.

Who supports ratification?

The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joseph Biden, has reiterated his strong supports for ratification of the Treaty. It is time for Senators to stand together in support of women and ratify CEDAW.

In addition, a working group of more than 200 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.