Committee on Women in the Law’s Statement of Support of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

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:


  • To incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;
  • To establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and
  • To ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.”


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.

Respectfully Submitted,


The NYCLA Committee on Women in the Law


Committee authors:

Jamie Sinclair, Co-Chair

Jennifer Becker, Co-Chair

Mini Ravindran, Member

Beth Golub, Member

Jamie Haar, Member



Organizations in Support of CEDAW


  1. ACT for Women and Girls
  3. Advocates for Youth
  4. Alaska Federation of Natives
  5. American Anthropological Association
  6. American Association of University Women
  7. American Baptist Women’s Ministries
  8. American Bar Association
  9. American Civil Liberties Union
  10. American Federation of Teachers
  11. American Friends Service Committee
  12. American Islamic Congress
  13. American Jewish Committee
  14. American Jewish World Service
  15. American Library Association
  16. American Psychiatric Association
  17. American Psychological Association
  18. Amnesty International USA
  19. Anti-Defamation League
  20. Asian American Justice Center
  21. The Association for Women in Psychology
  22. Better World Campaign
  23. Black Women United for Action
  24. Business And Professional Women/USA
  25. Cardea Center for Women
  26. CARE USA
  27. Catholics for Choice
  28. CEDPA
  29. Center for American Progress
  30. Center for Health and Gender Equity
  31. Center for International Policy
  32. Center for Reproductive Rights
  33. Center for Women Policy Studies
  34. Center for Women’s Global Leadership
  35. Church Women United
  36. Church World Service
  37. Citizens for Global Solutions
  38. Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues
  39. Coalition of Labor Union Women
  40. Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women
  41. Communications Consortium Media Center
  42. The Communications Workers of America
  43. Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes
  44. Connect US
  45. CRISIS: Global Public Health
  46. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority
  47. Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO
  48. Department on the Status of Women, San Francisco
  49. Demos
  50. Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
  51. Enterprising and Professional Women of the United States of America
  52. The Episcopal Church USA
  53. Equal Justice Society
  54. Equality Now
  55. Family Violence Prevention Fund
  56. Federally Employed Women
  57. Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas
  58. Feminist Majority
  59. Friends Committee on National Legislation
  60. Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media
  61. Gender Action
  62. General Federation of Women’s Clubs
  63. Georgetown University Law Center Women’s Legal Alliance
  64. Global Fund for Women
  65. Global Justice Ministry, Metropolitan Community Churches
  66. Global Rights: Partners for Justice
  67. Global Summit of Women
  68. Gray Panthers
  69. Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America
  70. Heifer International
  71. Human Rights Advocates
  72. Human Rights Ahead
  73. Human Rights First
  74. Human Rights Coalition of North Carolina
  75. Human Rights Watch
  76. The Hunger Project
  77. In Every Language
  78. Institute for Science and Human Values
  79. Interaction
  80. Interfaith Center, New York City
  81. International Center for Research on Women
  82. International Convocation of Unitarian Universalist Women
  83. International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
  84. International Labor Rights Forum
  85. International Women’s Health Coalition
  86. International Women’s Rights Action Watch
  87. Ipas
  88. Just Associates (JASS)
  89. Jewish Council for Public Affairs
  90. Jewish Women International
  91. Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs
  92. Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
  93. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  94. Leadership Council on Human Rights
  95. League of Women Voters of the United States
  96. Legal Momentum
  97. Lummi Victims of Crime Program
  98. MADRE
  99. Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns
  101. Ms. Foundation for Women
  102. NAACP
  103. Na’amat USA
  104. National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum
  105. National Association of Commissions for Women
  106. National Association of Social Workers
  107. 9to5 National Association of Working Women
  108. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  109. National Committee on CEDAW
  110. National Conference for Community and Justice
  111. National Conference of Puerto Rican Women
  112. National Congress of American Indians
  113. National Council of Churches USA, Women’s Ministries
  114. National Council of Jewish Women
  115. National Council of La Raza
  116. National Council of Negro Women
  117. National Council of Women’s Organizations
  118. National Education Association
  119. National Employment Lawyers Association
  120. National Health Law Program
  121. National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
  122. National Lawyers Guild
  123. National Network to End Domestic Violence
  124. National Organization for Women
  125. National Partnership for Women and Families
  126. National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States
  127. National Women and AIDS Collective
  128. National Women’s Law Center
  129. National Women’s Political Caucus
  130. NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
  131. The Newspaper Guild
  132. Older Women’s League
  133. Open Society Policy Center
  134. Physicians for Human Rights
  135. Planned Parenthood Federation of America
  136. Presbyterian Church USA
  137. Project Kesher
  138. Refugee Women’s Network
  139. Refugees International
  140. Religious Action Center
  141. Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights
  142. Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law
  143. Service Employees International Union
  144. Service Women’s Action Network
  145. Sigma Delta Epsilon/Graduate Women in Science
  146. Sisters of Mercy
  147. SisterSong
  148. Soroptimist International of the Americas
  149. Strong Hearted Native Women’s Coalition, Inc.
  150. Tahirih Justice Center
  151. TransAfrica Forum
  152. Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
  153. United Church of Christ
  154. United Methodist Church, General Board of Church &   Society
  155. United Methodist Women
  156. United Nations Association, USA
  157. United Nations Foundation
  158. United States Committee for UNIFEM
  159. United States Human Rights Network
  160. Urban Justice Center
  161. US Women and Cuba Collaboration
  162. US Women Connect
  163. Vital Voices
  164. WAND
  165. Washington Office on Latin America
  166. Wider Opportunities for Women
  167. WILD for Human Rights
  168. WITNESS
  169. Woman’s National Democratic Club
  170. Women Donors Network
  171. Women for Women International
  172. Women Graduates USA
  173. Women of Color Policy Network
  174. Women of Reform Judaism
  175. WomenNC
  176. Women Thrive Worldwide
  177. Women’s Business Development Center
  178. Women’s City Club of New York
  179. Women’s Environment and Development Organization
  180. Women’s Intercultural Network
  181. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, U.S. Section
  182. Women’s Learning Partnership
  183. Women’s Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
  184. Women’s Refugee Commission
  185. Women’s Research and Education Institute
  186. Women’s UN Report Network
  187. World Rights
  188. World Without Genocide
  189. YWCA
  190. Zonta International