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Since President Carter signed the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (the “CEDAW” or the “Convention”) on July 17, 1980, the United States has failed to ratify the Convention time and again. As one of only a handful of countries that has not ratified the CEDAW, the United States is in the same company as Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Tonga, and Palau. When CEDAW ratification stalled yet again in 2002, then-Senator Joseph Biden lamented that “[t]ime is a-wasting.”

Writing in 2002, Harold Koh, former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, bemoaned America’s abdication of its moral leadership: “From my direct experience as America’s chief human rights official, I can testify that our continuing failure to ratify CEDAW has reduced our global standing . . . hindered our ability to lead in the international human rights community . . . [and] challenge[d] our claim of moral leadership in international human rights . . . .” Today, ratifying the CEDAW would undoubtedly be an important foreign policy tool and would communicate to the global community that the United States considers dismantling all forms of discrimination to be an inalienable and universal obligation. However, we argue that the value of ratifying the CEDAW is not limited to its foreign policy implications: At a time of a mass public reckoning on equality, ratifying the Convention would also be a central vehicle for change for women in America, including minority women, to claim their rights in courts, in work-places, and in the family.

Our study is a tour de force of the CEDAW’s impetus for progressive legal changes around the world and an exegesis of its intersections along the axes of security and minority status. The language of the Convention allows each State Party to use “all appropriate measures” to implement legislation to eliminate discrimination and take “all appropriate measures, including legislation” to promote de jure and de facto equality between men and women. Although a causal link cannot always be proven, the very language of the laws of surveyed countries reflects the CEDAW Committee’s Concluding Observations and General Recommendations.

Despite challenges to the CEDAW’s implementation and the imperfect commitments of the 189 ratifying states, the Convention stands as the central vehicle for the incorporation of women’s rights norms into national laws and practice. The Biden Administration should waste no more time in ratifying the CEDAW and joining the international community as it seeks to bring women and girls to the center of our current global recovery. As we write these words, the Taliban has taken control of Afghanistan. The United States must signal its renewed commitment to multilateralism and women’s equality by joining the global bill of rights for women.


International law, women's rights, Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW, sex discrimination, inequality, structural racism & sexism, violence, security

Publication Title

Columbia Journal of Transnational Law

Publication Citation

60 Colum. J. Transnat'l L. 1 (2021)