10 Ways the US Lags Behind the Rest of the World in Women’s Rights

By Lizzy Hibbard
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1.  We still haven’t ratified CEDAW

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (or CEDAW) is a United Nations treaty often referred to as an international bill of rights for women, It was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, and President Carter signed it in 1980, but to be ratified it must pass in the Senate by a ⅔ majority. The United States is one of seven countries in the world that has not ratified this treaty. The others? Iran, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, and two small Pacific Islands, Palau and Tonga.

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2. We don’t have guaranteed paid maternity leave

In his 2015 State of the Union Address, President Obama said, “Today, we are the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers.”

The US and Papua New Guinea are the only two countries that don’t guarantee paid maternity leave.

Since 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees as much as 12 weeks of “unpaid leave for full-time workers at firms with 50 or more employees”, but that does not address 40 percent of American workers who work part-time or otherwise don’t fit into the law. It also does it guarantee paid leave.

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4. We’re #20 in the Global Gender Gap Index

The Global Gender Gap Index, published by the World Economic Forum, ranks countries on “the relative gaps between women and men across four key areas: health, education, economy and politics”. We’re number 20. That’s right, we’re

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Niall, don’t look so happy. This is not a good thing.

As of the 2014 report, we rank behind Iceland (#1), Nicaragua (#6), Rwanda (#7), New Zealand (#13), Latvia (#15), South Africa (#18), and Canada (#19).

On scale from 0 to 1 (0 being unequal and 1 being totally equal) the US is 0.7463. What a coincidence, that’s almost how much women make for every dollar men make.

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5. We haven’t ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child

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The Convention on the Rights of the Child (or the CRC) is a United Nations Human Rights Treaty that specifically addresses the human rights of children. What does this treaty guarantee children, and especially girls who are so often discriminated against worldwide? It creates “ global standards to ensure the protection, survival, and development of all children, without discrimination. Countries that ratify the treaty pledge to protect children from economic and sexual exploitation, violence, and other forms of abuse and to advance the rights of children to education, healthcare, and a decent standard of living.”

The United States is one of two countries in the world that has not ratified it, along with South Sudan. Somalia ratified it most recently in 2015.

The United States has signed the CRC, but it has  not been ratified by the Senate. Sounds a lot like CEDAW back in bullet point one, huh? The ultimate irony here is that UNICEF explains one reason why the US hasn’t ratified the CRC, saying “Moreover, the US Government typically will consider only one human rights treaty at a time. Currently, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) against Women is cited as the nation’s top priority among human rights treaties.”

Which is particularly ironic seeing as we’re one of the few countries to not ratify that either.

6. We rank 55th in Maternal Mortality

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In the newly released Social Progress Index, the US ranks 16th overall based on three overarching categories: Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity. Each category is broken down into smaller issues, and maternal mortality falls under Basic Human Needs.

The Social progress Index was first brainstormed at the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Philanthropy and Social Investing. It bases its definition of maternal mortality off of the World Health Organizations.

7. We rank 32nd in Early Marriage

The Social Progress Index also rates countries on Early Marriage, under the “Opportunity” Category, and the US ranks #33 globally.

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8. We rank 83rd worldwide in Women in Parliament

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This helpful map produced by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women ranks countries on Women in Ministerial Positions and Women in Parliament. We rank 23rd in Women in Ministerial Positions and 83rd in Women in Parliament (a rank we share with San Marino).


Just to be clear, America has made huge strides in the rights of women and girls over the past decades. Women and girls are represented in almost every sector of public and private life. We’re running companies and in public office. We’re professors and lawyers and teachers and doctors. Many women in America may never face strong outright discrimination or violence and that’s wonderful.

However America still doesn’t have an Equal Right Amendment guaranteeing equality in the constitution. Only 20% of Congress is women. Not even 5% of Fortune 500 Companies are run by women. Rape and violence against women is still all too common. As a leader in human rights worldwide, it’s critical that the United States recognizes where it lags behind. Otherwise, how could it ever improve?

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2 comments

  1. This information should be in newspapers often, on the front page. These are things our country should be ashamed of, citizens – U.S. anyone who loves women & doesn’t believe we’re inferior – should be protesting about, demanding change & our country needs to change. What a dismal record for the supposed beacon of democracy, the most powerful & wealthy country in the world! What a joke. We need TO BE the greatest country in the world, not just keep saying we are. The number of women, & their children in poverty, the outrageous numbers of DV, men killing their wives &/or kids, the number of sexual assaults speak for themselves.
    Our strength is in numbers, we are over half the population. We just have to get organized & start demanding changes. I don’t think most people know the ERA never passed. Women were granted the vote in 1920, after years of fighting, protesting, being assaulted, jailed, etc. That was 95 years ago & women’s equal rights are still not guaranteed by a Constitutional Amendment! In 5 more years it’ll be the 100 year anniversary of women getting the right to vote. We’ve made some progress, yes, but to still not have an ERA, that’s a slap in the face! It says government isn’t going to do it, it needs to be a social revolution. We have virtually no influence in our laws, let alone 50%. Talk about taxation without representation! Millions of women only paying 74% of our taxes would get their attention!
    I could hardly believe that the antiquated idea that a woman was her husband’s property was still a law until the Supreme Court said it was no longer valid in 1966! 1966!

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