Specialist in International Relations
The Senate may consider providing its advice and consent to U.S. ratification of the United Nations (U.N.) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, or the Convention) during the 113th Congress. CEDAW is the only international human rights treaty that specifically addresses the rights of women. It calls on States Parties to take measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all areas of life, including political participation, employment, education, healthcare, and family structure. CEDAW has been ratified or acceded to by 187 States Parties. The United States is the only country to have signed but not ratified the Convention. Other governments that have not ratified the treaty include Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga.
President Jimmy Carter signed the Convention and submitted it to the Senate in 1980. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on CEDAW in 1988, 1990, 1994, and 2002. It reported CEDAW favorably, subject to certain conditions, in 1994 and 2002. To date, however, the Convention has not been considered by the full Senate.
The election of President Barack Obama focused renewed attention on the possibility of U.S. ratification of CEDAW. The Administration called the Convention an “important priority,” and in May 2009 identified it as a treaty on which it “supports Senate action at this time.” At a November 2010 hearing on CEDAW held by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, Administration officials expressed further support for U.S. ratification. Then-Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer stated that ratification is critical to U.S. efforts to promote and defend women’s rights worldwide. Secretary of State John Kerry has also expressed support for U.S. ratification of CEDAW.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee or the full Senate could consider providing its advice and consent to ratification of the Convention at any time because the treaty has already been submitted to the Senate. In practice, however, presidential support, sometimes accompanied by executive branch suggestions for conditions to ratification, has preceded Senate action.
U.S. ratification of CEDAW is a contentious policy issue that has generated considerable debate in Congress and among the public.
- CEDAW supporters hold that the Convention is a valuable and effective mechanism for fighting women’s discrimination worldwide. They argue that U.S. ratification would give the United States additional legitimacy when it advocates women’s rights internationally, and that it might empower women who fight discrimination in specific countries.
- CEDAW opponents maintain that the treaty is not an effective mechanism for addressing discrimination against women internationally, emphasizing that countries widely believed to have poor women’s rights records have ratified the Convention. Critics also contend that U.S. ratification could undermine U.S. sovereignty and impact the private conduct of U.S. citizens.
Date of Report: May 7, 2013
Number of Pages: 29
Order Number: R40750
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