On January 21, 2013, MADRE called on President Obama to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Throughout this week, we will be calling attention to instances in which CEDAW has made a concrete difference in the lives of women around the world.
While almost every country has ratified CEDAW, it also bears the dubious distinction of having more reservations applied to it than any other treaty in the world. When legislative bodies implement reservations before ratifying, they choose not to comply with certain aspects – aspects that are sometimes at the soul of CEDAW.
In 2008, Egypt lifted its previous reservations on CEDAW. IN 2009, Jordan did the same. In doing so, both countries strengthened their commitment to the core principles of CEDAW, and to the task of insuring women’s equality. In both cases, lifting the reservations followed legislative efforts to allow women to travel more openly and live and work more freely, with less legal interference from the state or family structures.
US opponents of the treaty have tried to ensure that if it is ever ratified, the approved version will be so watered down as to actually endanger rights that women already have. In 1994, and then again in 2002, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee created a set of RUDs – Reservations, Understandings, and Declarations - to weaken CEDAW. The 11 RUDs undid the treaty’s call for paid maternity leave and access to reproductive health care, including, of course, contraception and abortion.
Janet Benshoof, director of the Global Justice Center, explains how RUDs effectively transform CEDAW from a women’s equality treaty into a dangerous legal precedent for women all over the world:
Although the RUDs seemingly apply solely to American women, they eviscerate the core of CEDAW, the definition of equality and provide legal authority to those who want to undermine women’s rights….[T]his gutted CEDAW poses even more danger than continued U.S. isolation. The Senate should advise and consent to the ratification of a clean CEDAW unencumbered by reservations. They should not ratify a CEDAW that limits the full scope of women’s equality rights.
When we call on the President to be a vocal and visible proponent for a clean CEDAW, we are asking him to ensure that when CEDAW is ratified by the United States, the ratification will remain true to the treaty’s core meaning and principles, without senseless reservations designed to undermine women’s eqaulity rather than support it.