Why Won’t the U.S. Ratify the CEDAW Human Rights Treaty?

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is charged with ratifying treaties and international agreements, has debated CEDAW five times since 1980. In 1994, for instance, the Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on CEDAW and recommended it be ratified. But North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, a leading conservative and longtime CEDAW opponent, used his seniority to block the measure from going to the full Senate. Similar debates in 2002 and 2010 also failed to advance the treaty.

In all instances, opposition to CEDAW has come primarily from conservative politicians and religious leaders, who argue that the treaty is at best unnecessary and at worst subjects the U.S. to the whims of an international agency. Other opponents have cited CEDAW’s advocacy of reproductive rights and enforcement of gender-neutral work rules.

The U.S and CEDAW

The United States was one of the first signatories of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women when it was adopted by the U.N. in 1979. A year later, President Jimmy Carter signed the treaty and sent it to the Senate for ratification. But Carter, in the final year of his presidency, did not have the political leverage to get senators to act on the measure.

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