Have Questions? Contact Us.
Since its inception, NYCLA has been at the forefront of most legal debates in the country. We have provided legal education for more than 40 years.
New York County Lawyers’ Association
Board of Directors
14 Vesey Street
New York, NY 10007
March 25, 2016
To the Board of Directors:
This letter represents the Committee on Women in the Law’s Statement of Support of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). What follows is an overview of the goals and purpose of CEDAW, its history in Congress, the impact its adoption in the United States would have, and the existing support already in place for its passage.
What is CEDAW?
As of December 2015, 187 of the 193 United Nations member states have ratified CEDAW, yet the United States is among six countries that have not yet ratified the Convention, which also include Iran, Sudan, Palau, Somalia and Tonga.
CEDAW was first adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and consists of a preamble and 30 articles. Often described as the international “bill of rights” for women, CEDAW “defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.” Discrimination against women is defined within CEDAW 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.”
States that adopt CEDAW commit to undertaking measures to end discrimination in all forms, and “commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination in all forms, including:
CEDAW’s Hstory in the United States
CEDAW was signed by President Carter in July 1980 and was submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in November 1980. Yet it sat idle until the summer of 1990 when hearings were held in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The State Department testified at these hearing that they had not completed a legal analysis of how CEDAW comports with United States law and CEDAW was not brought to a vote.
In the Spring of 1993, 68 Senators sent a letter to President Clinton urging him to take action to ratify CEDAW. In both 1994 and 2002, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee favorably voted on the treaty but the Senate floor never saw CEDAW for a vote. In 2010, the Obama administration strongly supported ratification of CEDAW and the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law held a hearing on CEDAW. In the 2011 Senate Foreign Relations subcommittees’ joint hearing on Women and the Arab Spring, several speakers noted that CEDAW has helped to advance the rights of women and girls in the Middle East and North Africa. On June 24, 2014, Senator Barbara Boxer presided over a hearing on Combating Violence and Discrimination against Women: A Global Call to Action, with the support of 74 organizations that urged the ratification of CEDAW and the International Violence against Women Act (IVAWA).
Nigerian human rights attorney Hauwa Ibrahim who testified at the June 2014 hearing, illustrated the powerful impact of a U.S. ratification of CEDAW: “You are indeed a beacon of hope, and a city on a hill. The passing of IVAWA and CEDAW would lighten our load.” In January of 2016, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights which convenes a CEDAW Task Force of almost 200 national organizations, shared with the Senate that one of their legislative goals was the ratification of CEDAW. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has compiled a list of 190 organizations that are in support of CEDAW. Yet, it remains that CEDAW has never been brought to the Senate floor for a vote.
The Impact of CEDAW
The need for the U.S. to ratify CEDAW is of significance internationally as well as domestically. As a world leader, the United States can make an important statement in the international community, set an example for the leading standard of morality, and secure a role in the conversation regarding the rights of women and girls in the future. Signing on to CEDAW is an opportunity for the U.S. to reinforce for the world the importance of the obligations we all share to protect the rights of women and girls.
The U.S. has made great strides and improvements in its attempts to rectify the social and economic obstacles that women face on a daily basis, including the passage of Title VII, Title XI, the Pregnancy in Employment Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and the Equal Pay Act, as well as countless state laws providing for paid sick leave, public and private breastfeeding, and abortion rights. While these successes have helped promote and perpetuate gender equality in this country, more that needs to be done. Women are currently making 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man, with African-American women and Latinas making even less, earning 64 cents and 54 cents respectively. Additionally, one out of every three women is a victim of domestic violence and one out of every five women will be experience sexual violence in their lifetime. Simply put, women in the U.S. are still not enjoying full equality in 2016.
Signatories to CEDAW must report every four years on what is being done to prevent and eradicate discrimination against women in their country. This self-evaluation required by CEDAW will require the U.S. to identify areas where women are not enjoying full and equal rights and create a plan to move forward. Ratifying CEDAW sends a message throughout the U.S., and the world that affirms the importance of equality for women and girls, acknowledging that ongoing attention and action is required to achieve full gender equality, and committing to achieving such equality.
Broad Support for the Ratification of CEDAW in the United States
Although U.S. ratification has not taken place yet, broad bipartisan support exists for the passage of CEDAW as shown by the more than 180 leading organizations – representing millions of people in the U.S. – who support the ratification of the Convention. In September 1995, representatives of 189 governments came together at the Fourth World Conference on Women where the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was formed, which made commitments for gender equality and empowerment of all women. CEDAW was one of many international agreements upheld by the Platform for Action.
On the local level, support for CEDAW is clearly embodied in the Cities for CEDAW campaign. Cities for CEDAW was born in 2013 as a grassroots campaign for local organizations and municipalities to be able to effectively initiate CEDAW in their local governments. Cities for CEDAW was launched at a 2013 meeting of the UN Committee on the Status of Women by the NGO Committee on the Status of Women. This movement was founded by The Women’s Intercultural Network and the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women and joined in 2015 by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
The Cities for CEDAW Campaign provides a mechanism for localities to adopt measures that reflect CEDAW principles protecting the human rights of women and girls by addressing barriers to full equality. As the first city to implement a CEDAW resolution, San Francisco became an early model for advocates and organizations who were trying to adopt CEDAW principles locally. The San Francisco model includes transformative components such as the gender analysis guidelines for assessment, recommendations, and implementation; the CEDAW Task Force for advocacy and oversight; and the San Francisco Gender Equality Principles Initiative for engaging the private sector.
To date, five cities have passed CEDAW ordinances: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Miami-Dade County, and West Hollywood. Another seven cities have CEDAW ordinances pending passage, including Cincinnati, Daly City, Honolulu, Louisville, Kansas City, University City, and Washington, D.C. More than 24 NGO coalitions in other cities have expressed an interest in establishing the principles of CEDAW locally.
The localized efforts to implement CEDAW demonstrate the broad support in the United States for ratification of CEDAW. The current state of gender inequality in the United States justifies the need for ratification in the United States. Ratification of CEDAW would allow the United States to become a leader in advancing the need for equality at home and across the world.
It is our hope that this letter will serve as an educational tool to the Board on the history and importance of this U.N. resolution.
The NYCLA Committee on Women in the Law
Jamie Sinclair, Co-Chair
Jennifer Becker, Co-Chair
Mini Ravindran, Member
Beth Golub, Member
Jamie Haar, Member
Organizations in Support of CEDAW