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What is a 'Clean' CEDAW and What are RUDs?

U.S. Proposed Restrictions Would Limit This International Women's Bill of Rights


Updated September 18, 2009
The U.S. is one of just eight countries (and the only democracy) that has not ratified CEDAW, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. In an attempt to ratify CEDAW during the administration of President George W. Bush, in 2002 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee attached conditions called RUDs -- Reservations, Understandings, and Declarations -- to limit the impact of CEDAW.

Led by Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), a vocal opponent of abortion, the committee imposed 11 restrictions which run counter to CEDAW's intent as an international bill of rights for women. Included among the RUDs were limitations that negated CEDAW's mandated paid maternity leave and access to family planning and reproductive health care (including abortion.)

In essence, according to international human rights lawyer Janet Benshoof, founder and president of the Global Justice Center, the RUDs created a version of the women's treaty that is a "gutted CEDAW." And by ratifying this version, the U.S. would set a dangerous legal precedent:

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.
In an analysis of these RUDs commissioned by the National Organization for Women (NOW) Foundation, attorney and human rights law expert Martha Davis found that nearly all were "undesirable, objectionable or constitutionally unnecessary." In its position paper "Don't Be Deceived: Only a 'Clean' CEDAW' Should be Ratified," The NOW Foundation argued that the RUDs:
...convey a clear lack of commitment to ending discrimination against women and specifically claim no responsibility for the U.S. to undertake efforts to expand maternity leave, improve access to health care services for women, or take more effective efforts to address sex-based pay discrimination, among other objectives that would promote women's equality.
Another key issue that the NOW Foundation highlights is the Reservation that opposes the "doctrine of comparable worth." By refusing to comply with this critical aspect of CEDAW, this action by the U.S. would have a "chilling effect on efforts to advance legislation that would strengthen current laws prohibiting sex-based pay discrimination." As the NOW Foundation noted:
Davis points out in her memo to NOW: "Instead of taking a blanket reservation to enacting comparable worth legislation, the U.S. should commit to bringing U.S. law into conformity with the international standards of wage equity." Already, 12 states have comparable worth legislation and three other states use a different term to describe this standard.
It is widely anticipated that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the new Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy and Global Women's Issues, will begin CEDAW hearings once again. As she told the Associated Press in March 2009, the subcommittee's hearings will focus on a "clean" CEDAW free of the RUDs that were previously attached.

Sources: Benshoof, Janet. "Twisted Treaty Shafts U.S. Women." On the Issues, Winter 2009.
"Discord Expected Over Women's Rights Pact." Associated Press at MSNBC.com. 7 March 2009.
"Don't Be Fooled: Only a 'Clean' CEDAW Should be Ratified." NOWFoundation.org. 31 August 2009.

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