NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Should the United States Ratify Treaty on Discrimination Against Women?

October 24, 2002

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979, and 169 countries are signatories. President Carter signed the treaty in 1980, but the Senate has never ratified it.

Critics are troubled by the potential impact of CEDAW on U.S. law, based on interference in domestic questions by U.N. treaty monitors. For example:

  • In 1998, the CEDAW enforcement committee requested information from Mexico "on whether homosexuality is penalized in the criminal code," and chastised Mexico for "the lack of access for women in all states to easy and swift abortion."
  • In 1999, it recommended to the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan that "lesbianism be reconceptualized as a sexual orientation and that penalties for its practice be abolished."
  • In 2002, the CEDAW committee told Trinidad and Tobago to "consider a revision of any laws which provide punishment for sexual relations between women in order to eliminate this discrimination against women."

The treaty has raised important questions about American sovereignty, observers say. The United States Constitution provides that international treaties are the supreme law of the land. If this treaty is passed, many issues of family law that have traditionally been left to individual states to decide could be determined by international law.

Source: David Limbaugh, "CEDAW means 'cede law,'" IRET Congressional Advisory No. 129, May 20, 2002, Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation, 1730 K Street, Suite 910, Washington, D.C. 20006, (202) 463-1400.


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