Prepared by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR)*

The landmark United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)—adopted December 18, 1979, entered into force September 3, 1981—constitutes a bill of rights for women the world over. Affirming gender equality in all walks of life, it prohibits discrimination against women, i.e., “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.” Since its adoption, 186 nations have ratified CEDAW, making it one of the most highly ratified human rights treaties in history. The United States, together with Iran, Nauru, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga, is not among them—the U.S. being the only democracy in the world that has not ratified CEDAW. (UN Treaty Collections 2010; International Law Professors Blog 2009; 2009; CEDAW Impact Study Seminar 1999.

 2 — Number of times CEDAW has won bipartisan approval by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (the committee that typically reviews treaties on behalf of the Senate) but which still has failed to bring the treaty to the Senate floor for advice and consent to ratification by the full Senate—with CEDAW’s opponents contending, without substantiation, that it would, among other things, eradicate Mother’s Day, intrude improperly on private relationships, interfere with domestic policy and culture, and conflict with existing U.S. laws (; Feminist Peace Network 2009; Legislative Action Committee 2007)

 4 — Number of U.S. reservations drafted to restrict CEDAW’s domestic impact if and when it is ratified by the U.S. (reservations being permitted under international law if they do not vitiate the “object and purpose” of a treaty)—stating that “the United States is not obligated to any of the following: ‘[a]ssigning’ women to all units of military service (although women are free to participate in any); mandating paid maternity leave…; legislating equality in the private sector…; and ensuring comparable worth (equal pay for the work of equal value)” (Feminist Peace Network 2009; Library of Congress 2009)

15 — Number of U.S. states that have adopted resolutions requesting CEDAW’s ratification by the United States: California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin, plus the Territory of Guam; in addition, 16 counties and 42 cities have adopted instruments incorporating CEDAW into their local laws (U.S. Foreign Relations Committee 2002; The Working Group on Ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women 2001)

 25 — Percent of U.S. women who are victims of domestic violence—all potential beneficiaries of CEDAW, which strives to eliminate violence against women and encourages member nations to adopt legislation against the abuse of women (UN Treaty Collection 2010; 2009; U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services 2004)

 54 — Percent of rural U.S. counties that do not have full-time prosecutors—meaning that people living in these areas (women obviously among them) lack access to legal services and, by implication, related social services, while ratification of CEDAW would assist at least those rural women who, subject to violence and other abuse, are denied such services due to poverty, lack of adequate education, social stigma, lack of mobility, and consequent geographic isolation—and who, without legal right or opportunity, thus contribute to the 70 percent of women worldwide who experience some type of violence during their lifetime, with women between ages of 15 and 44 being “more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria, according to World Bank data” (UN Treaty Collection 2010; UNiTE 2008 ABA 1999)

 90 — Years since 1920 when women in the United States gained the right to vote, yet in those 90 years no woman has been nominated for, let alone elected, President, only 38 women have been elected to the U.S. Senate, and less than 20% of the U.S. Congress is comprised of women, while 18 women are presently in power as presidents or prime ministers worldwide (including in Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Finland, Germany, Iceland, India, Slovakia, and Switzerland) and CEDAW calls for the elimination of discrimination against women in the political and public life of its states parties (UN Treaty Collection 2010; Guide to Online Schools 2010; United States Senate 2010; Center for American Women in Politics 2009)

 99 — Number of states that have ratified the 1999 Optional Protocol to CEDAW and thereby granted to their citizens, following the exhaustion of all national remedies, the right to petition CEDAW’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women for claimed violations of CEDAW—the United States being absent for not yet having ratified CEDAW itself (UN Treaty Collection; United Nations 2009, 2010)

 657 — Average number of dollars earned by women in the U.S. per week during 2009, approximating only 80% of the average dollars earned by men per week during the same year, a disparity that conflicts with CEDAW’s call to take steps to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in the field of employment—one of the four provisions to which the United States is specifically opposed (UN Treaty Collection 2010; Bureau of Labor Statistics 2009)

 1,181 — Number of women murdered by their partners in the United States in 2005, an average of three women every day or about one-third of all women murdered that year, while CEDAW calls for measures to combat domestic violence that could protect women in violent relationships (UN Treaty Collection 2010; National Organization for Women 2009)

 17,500 — Estimated number of people trafficked into the United States each year, primarily women and children—CEDAW calls for the enforcement of all appropriate measures to suppress the trafficking of women (UN Treat Collection 2010; 2006)

24,018 — Number of sex-discrimination cases filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2008, of which 13,670 were dismissed as having no reasonable cause under the high barriers erected by current U.S. statutes; adoption of CEDAW would promote lowering of statutory barriers to civil enforcement of anti-discrimination laws (UN Treaty Collection 2010; EEOC 2009; ABA 1999)

2.4 million — Number of women assaulted by a domestic partner each year, at great psychic and monetary expense; 56 percent of women victims are diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, and partner violence costs the U.S. $5.8 billion annually, of which $4.1 billion is spent on physical and mental healthcare services, the other $1.8 billion accounting for the victims’ loss of productivity (UNiTE 2008; American Institute on Domestic Violence 2001)

10.4 million — Number of single mothers in the United States living with children younger than 18, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010, up from 3.4 million in 1970; if ratified, CEDAW would encourage the development of a network of childcare facilities, increasing the ability of these women to pursue careers that can support their families and provide stability for their children (UN Treaty Collection 2010; US Census Bureau 2010)


*Copyright © 2010 by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR). Prepared by Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and UICHR Senior Scholar Burns H. Weston with the generous assistance of Andrew Boulton, Matthew Hulstein, Laura Lunn, and Jennifer Wideman, students at the UI College of Law. For further information on human rights generally, please visit the UICHR web site.