San Francisco’s Women’s Leadership Alliance
Position Paper on CEDAW


More than twenty years after it was first introduced in the United Nations, the United States remains the only industrialized nation that has still not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The Women’s Leadership Alliance (WLA) urges the U.S. Senate to ratify CEDAW and implement its principles. WLA will work to support efforts for national ratification, as well as to support local and state efforts to implement the principles of CEDAW.

CEDAW is an international human rights treaty that was adopted by the United Nations General assembly in 1979. It was signed by former President Jimmy Carter in 1980, but has yet to be ratified by the Senate and thus, the U.S. is not subject to its obligations. In April 1998, San Francisco became the first city in the United States to pass an ordinance to implement CEDAW locally.

CEDAW broadly defines discrimination against women as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex” that effects women’s enjoyment of rights on an equal basis with men in the “political, economic, social, cultural, or any other field.” CEDAW recognizes gender-based violence to be a form of discrimination that affects a woman’s full enjoyment of human rights.

Critics of CEDAW ratification argue that it is unnecessary, and that women’s equality is protected under existing civil rights laws. But CEDAW’s impact goes beyond Title VII, Title IX, and other federal anti-discrimination laws. Like current law, CEDAW guarantees gender equality, and the same rights for women and men. CEDAW also requires that government take proactive steps both to eliminate gender base discrimination and to achieve gender equality.

CEDAW’s principles translate into removing stereotypes from school textbooks, paid maternity leave and expanded child-care for families with children, and affirmative steps to ensure women’s political and economic participation on an equal basis with men. All of these actions are much needed in the U.S. today, and existing laws mandate none.

Finally, critics argue that CEDAW’s principles will destroy the traditional family structure and would interfere with an individual’s exercise of religion. CEDAW emphasizes the importance of a woman’s role in the family and requires that a government take affirmative measures to eliminate stereotyping of women’s roles; at no time does CEDAW interfere with an individual’s right to worship and faith.


The Women’s Leadership Alliance supports ratification and implementation of CEDAW. As a supporter of international human rights, the Unites States must take proactive steps to ensure the human rights of women and girls at home, as evidenced by CEDAW’s principles. For human rights to be fully realized in the United States, it is vital that women’s rights are protected through ratification and the implementation of CEDAW at national, state and local levels.

For further information please contact the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women or the Women¹s Institute for Leadership Development for Human Rights (WILD) .