“The UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women”- also known as the “Women’s Equality Treaty” or “CEDAW” for short (pronounced “see-daw”)-is the most important international human rights treaty focused specifically on the rights of women. It requires governments and society to proactively address gender-based discrimination in all areas of public and private life, including employment, wages, job security, public safety, child-care, domestic violence, and reproductive health.
Specifically, CEDAW enshrines a series of principles-based obligations that require governments to adopt “all appropriate measures, including legislation,” to inter alia:
• Guarantee women the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men. (Article 3)
• Ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, “in particular . . . [t]he right to equal [pay], including benefits, and to equal treatment in respect of work of equal value, as well as equality of treatment in the evaluation of the quality of work.” (Article 11(1)(d); and
• Ensure substantive equality, including equality of opportunity, equality of access, and equality of benefits and results.
To do this, CEDAW (like other human rights treaties) requires governments to:
• Proactively take stock of the level of rights achievement that women and girls face in society vis-à-vis men and boys, including as disaggregated by race, sexual-orientation, disability, and other statuses.
• Strive to understand the causes of unequal outcomes, and work continuously to remedy gaps in access and protection through proactive and affirmative measures.
• Continually monitor progress and set-backs through regular audits of policy and practice within all levels of government and government programing.
• Create annually updated plans of action for actively redressing the gender-based discrimination and inequity that is uncovered.
• Actively involve all members of civil society and all levels of government in the process of identifying problems and working out solutions, including at the design, implementation, and review stages.
Adopted in 1979, CEDAW has now been ratified by 187 of the 194 U.N. member states.
As of 2016, the United States holds the discreditable status of being one of only seven countries in the world(together with Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Tonga), and the only industrialized nation, that has yet to ratify CEDAW.
The United States’ failure to ratify CEDAW means that the treaty’s obligations do not have internationally legally binding force for the nation. To have effect for local communities, therefore, the principles of CEDAW must be incorporated into domestic law in different, more localized ways, through local, state and national-level policies, programs, initiatives, and action plans.
CEDAW is important because it provide a framework and methodology for such incorporation, regardless of its formal ratification status.
Click here to see what Cities for CEDAW is.