Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

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Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

The call for a convention respecting the rights of women emerged from the First World Conference on Women in Mexico City in 1975. The Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1979 and entered into force in 1981. It is often described as an international bill of rights for women. The Convention describes discrimination against women 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. (Article 1)

By ratifying the Convention, state parties agree to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal systems, to establish institutions that ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination, and to ensure the elimination of acts of discrimination against women by "persons, organizations and enterprises."

The CEDAW established the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women as the working body responsible for its implementation. The Committee receives reports from state parties. The Optional Protocol (1999), which had seventy-five signatories and sixty adhering state parties in 2005, allows individual complaints to be filed with the Committee. Even in the case of adherence to the Optional Protocol, the Convention grants no power to the UN to enforce its provisions.

By early 2005, 180 countries (of 191 members of the UN) were parties to the Convention, including all the principal European allies of the United States. Although the United States was an active participant in the drafting of the Convention and U.S. President Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) signed it on July 17, 1980, the United States has yet to become a state party.

At the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, U.S. representatives made a commitment to ratify CEDAW. In 2002 the U.S. State Department notified the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States should ratify the CEDAW, but the administration has since backed away from that position. Just prior to a June 2002 hearing on the treaty, President George W. Bush (b. 1946) notified Senator Joseph Biden (b. 1942), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that he had returned CEDAW to the Justice Department for further review. Nonetheless, CEDAW received a favorable review by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July 2002, although by 2005 it had not progressed any further in the ratification process.

Opponents of CEDAW argue that ratification might jeopardize traditional family values. Some have also expressed concern that it might promote abortions.

In not moving forward on CEDAW, the United States finds itself in the same group of nation-states as Iran, Qatar, Somalia, and Sudan, most of which are not known for their equal treatment of women. In 2005 the United States was the only economically advanced nation not a party to the Convention.

See also: Equal Protection of the Law; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Right to Privacy.


Campaign for UN Reform.<http://www/>.

Steiner, Henry J., and Philip Alston. International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 2000.

United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women. <>.

Donald W. Jackson

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Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

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Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)