US: Ratify Women’s Rights Treaty

The United States’ long delay in ratifying the global women’s rights treaty undermines fulfillment of the US commitment to women’s rights at home and abroad, Human Rights Watch said today.

Former President Jimmy Carter signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on July 17, 1980, but the treaty has never been brought before the full Senate for a vote. The Obama administration has expressed support for ratification, but has yet to take the actions needed to secure ratification, Human Rights Watch said.

"Women’s rights – the right to be free from domestic and sexual violence, the right to equal treatment in education, employment, and access to health care – are not back-burner issues," said Meghan Rhoad, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "But for 30 years the major international treaty on women’s rights has been treated like one."

Since Carter signed the treaty, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has twice voted favorably on the treaty, but a lack of political will has kept the treaty from reaching the Senate floor.

The Senate has made few moves to ratify international treaties in recent years.  As a result, ratification of CEDAW will require strong and consistent leadership from the Obama administration and Senate leaders, Human Rights Watch said.

In May 2009, the Obama administration put the women’s rights treaty on a list of treaties that were priorities for ratification. In March 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women that the administration would "continue to work for the ratification of CEDAW." But with the months passing and no progress, more concrete action is needed, Human Rights Watch said.

"We are past the point of passive expressions of support," Rhoad said. "Moving this treaty forward will take public pressure on the Senate by President Obama to begin considering the treaty and stepped-up action by the Senate to schedule hearings and move toward a vote."

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