Target: President Obama, the U.S. Senate, and State Department
Goal: Adopt the laws outlined in the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to help secure women’s rights.
In 1979, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which counters sex-based discrimination by encouraging the provision of equal opportunity for girls and women and establishes means by which to ensure these rights are secured. Heralded as an internationally-recognized bill of rights for women, the CEDAW was quickly signed by President Jimmy Carter; however, without ratification from the Senate, the United States is not obligated to adhere to the provisions in the treaty. To this day, we are the only democratic country in the world to have not yet ratified the CEDAW, and we, disgracefully, share this distinction with other countries such as Iran, Somalia, and Tonga where violence against women is pervasive. Why would a country that prides itself as an exemplar of human rights protection have yet to include itself among those countries that wish to protect girls and women against poverty, domestic violence, and health-related issues?
Concerned Women for America, a conservative group, as well as the religious right, have repeatedly cited that passage of the CEDAW would challenge “traditional” cultural mores and place the sovereignty of the United States in jeopardy. Repeated attempts to ratify the CEDAW have been thwarted by conservative politicians such as Senator Jesse Helms in 1994. President George W. Bush had even given the CEDAW consideration at the beginning of his presidency, but later backtracked, undoubtedly because of partisan pressures. Fear-mongering and myth-generating around the CEDAW as a radical feminist agenda has turned the issue of women’s rights into a partisan issue, and consequently, delayed its passage.
Additionally, as Kavita Ramdas, President and CEO of Global Fund for Women and proponent of CEDAW explains, many believe that compliance with the treaty would mean some existing laws with the United States would have to be changed or amended. Yet, the treaty itself has no enforcement authority, and simply requires each participating country to report, on occasion, its implementation of the laws. For those people who believe “traditional” family and gender roles would be in jeopardy with passage of the CEDAW – a point continuously raised by conservatives and the religious right – the treaty, instead, seeks to eliminate those social and cultural practices that undermine women based on stereotyped sex roles. As Ramdas states, reproductive and sexual rights, which include safe and equal access to sex education and family planning services, including abortion, are included in the treaty. Therefore, despite being exactly what this country needs to protect and uphold the rights of women, the CEDAW threatens conservative doctrines, and remains unratified.
As an internationally-recognized bill of rights for women, the CEDAW outlines provisions that would help to eliminate discriminatory customs and practices. Protection from domestic violence, equal pay for equal work, and reproductive education and rights, are basic human rights and should be championed by the United States. Our representatives must cease the endless partisanship surrounding CEDAW and understand its ratification for what it truly would be – a message to Americans and those around the world that we make the rights of women a priority, and moreover, we would be thus justified in exalting our position as an international leader in human rights.
For more information about the myths versus the realities of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and what ratification would mean for the United States, please visit http://www.unausa.org/Page.aspx?pid=935.
While President Carter signed the CEDAW in 1980, it has yet to be ratified, and consequently, enforced by the United States. To this day, we share this dubious distinction with other countries such as Iran, where human rights violations are, tragically, persistent. Elimination of those practices that seek to perpetuate disparities between men and women, while promoting traditional sex roles and ideas around family that oppress many within our country should be a higher priority.
Adherence to internationally-recognized statutes for women’s rights should not be an issue mired in partisanship. As a treaty that seeks to help women out of poverty, protect them from domestic violence, and provide access to health services, including reproductive health and family planning, the provisions of the CEDAW are precisely those ideals for which our country professes to strive. The United States is the only democratic country in the world that has not ratified the treaty, and 31 years of partisan-bickering and stalling must be stopped. President Obama, the Senate, and the State Department must pay more than lip service in making the rights of girls and women a policy priority and set an example for the rest of the world by ratifying the CEDAW now.
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