Why Hasn't the U.S. Signed CEDAW, A Treaty to End Discrimination Against Women Worldwide?

Why Hasn't the U.S. Signed CEDAW, A Treaty to End Discrimination Against Women Worldwide?

Dr. Sima Samar speaking on 'How to advance women's rights in developing countries.' {Photo from World Bank webcast, March 5, 2012.}Photo from World Bank webcast, March 5, 2012.

On Monday, March 5, 2012, everyone from policymakers to students gathered at the World Bank for a Special Event on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Women’s Rights.

CEDAW is a treaty that has been ratified worldwide by all but six countries --- the United States, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, and two small Pacific Island nations (Palau and Tonga).

The event was hosted by Caroline Anstey, Managing Director of the World Bank, in conjunction with the Nordic Trust Fund, The Leadership Conference Education Fund, and the United Nations Foundation.

As the sunlight poured through the glass atrium of the World Bank, the speakers' passion and commitment for women's rights illuminated the room. Kathy Calvin, Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations Foundation; Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large on Global Women’s Issues; and Dr. Sima Samar, Chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and Former Minister of Women’s Affairs in Afghanistan spoke eloquently to the importance of CEDAW and the potential positive impact on women if the US joined with others to ratify it.

Verveer emphasized the support of the Obama administration in ratifying CEDAW and added that she believes it is “long overdue,” but that it has been blocked in Congress due to the need for a supermajority. She stressed the magnitude of women’s rights violations, including the “global epidemic” of violence against women and girls, and pointed to CEDAW’s proven capacity to act as an instrument of change in countries such as Afghanistan.

Dr. Samar highlighted the political aspect of women’s rights, particularly the necessity of women’s participation in decision making. She saw first-hand how CEDAW was used in Afghanistan to increase women’s participation in government through affirmative action. “We have to take the power, and we have to take the position,” she stated, “It will not be given to us.”

She also emphasized the topic of reproductive rights, calling it the most important women’s rights issue.

At the conclusion of the luncheon it was clear that CEDAW has the capacity to influence policymakers and challenge social injustices against women and girls around the world, including in the difficult political climates of fragile states such as Afghanistan; but its future in the U.S. remains unclear.

I hope to see more visible discussion surrounding this important treaty in the upcoming election. I would ultimately like to see the U.S. make the same commitment to women’s rights that 186 countries around the world have already made.

Taylor Stewart is policy and advocacy intern at MSH.  Taylor attends the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University.


Watch a replay webcast of the March 5 event: How to advance women's rights in developing countries