Durbin Chairs Hearing on Ratification of Women's Rights Treaty

U.S. One of Only Seven Nations Which Has Failed to Ratify the Thirty Year-Old Treaty

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) chaired a hearing today on U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW is the only international treaty to focus solely on the rights of women and it addresses issues such as violence against women, sex trafficking, the right to vote and equal access to education. Today’s hearing was the first ever Judiciary Committee hearing on whether to ratify a human rights treaty.


“CEDAW is about giving women all over the world the chance to enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities that American women have struggled long and hard to achieve,” Durbin said. “These are fundamentally American freedoms – the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – and CEDAW is a fundamentally American treaty. Women have been waiting for 30 years. It’s long past time for the U.S. to ratify this treaty and we should do so without further delay.”


CEDAW was sent to Senate in 1980 for ratification. Yet 30 years after its signing, the U.S. is one of only seven nations in the world - joining Iran, Sudan, Somalia and three small Pacific island nations – which has failed to ratify the treaty. On bipartisan majority votes, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has sent CEDAW to the full Senate for ratification twice – once in 1994 and in 2002 – but the treaty has never received a vote. The Obama Administration has called ratification of CEDAW a priority.


With violence against women and girls alarmingly prevalent around the world, CEDAW plays an important role in protecting and improving the lives of woman. CEDAW has led to the passage of laws prohibiting violence against woman in Afghanistan, Ghana, Mexico and Sierra Leone. It led to women being granted the right to vote in Kuwait and helped give women the right to inherit property in Kenya, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.


The U.S. does not need to ratify CEDAW to protect the rights of American women and girls. While more progress is needed, women have fought long and hard for equal rights in the United States and have won many victories along the way. From the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote; to Title IX, prohibiting discrimination in education; to the Violence Against Women Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, American women have rights and freedoms that far exceed those required under CEDAW – and ratifying the treaty would not change current U.S. law in any way. The United States ought to ratify the treaty to ensure our dedication to the protection of human rights around the world isn’t questioned.


In a letter to Senator Durbin, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote:


“The Senate’s failure to ratify CEDAW gives other countries a retort when U.S. officials raise issues about the treatment of women, and thus our non-ratification may hamper the effectiveness of the United States in achieving increased protection for women worldwide.”


“When I travel around the world, one of the first things I look at when visiting a new place is how that country treats its women,” Durbin said. “It gives me insight into how that country views the world and what its priorities are, because treating women with dignity and respect, and giving them rights and a role in society is the only way nations will grow and prosper. CEDAW has done more to protect the rights of woman and girls that any other treaty in history and I’ve seen its results firsthand,” Durbin said.


Testifying at today’s hearing were Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, U.S. Department of State; Samuel R. Bagenstos, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice; Geena Davis, Academy Award Winning Actor, Founder, The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; Wazhma Frogh, Policy and Advocacy Specialist, Afghan Women’s Network, Recipient of U.S. Department of State’s International Women of Courage Award; Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President, National Women’s Law Center; and Steven Grove, Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow, The Heritage Foundation.


Copies of witness testimony and a webcast of today’s hearing can be found here.