As the world’s leading democracy and proponent of the ideals of liberty, justice, equality, and respect for human rights, the United States regrettably stands alone with some of the world’s most egregious violators of womens’ rights. The U.S. is one of six nations that includes Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and the two small island nations of Palau and Tonga who have yet to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Elimination and Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW is a global treaty adopted in 1979 that strengthens and enhances human rights and equality for women and girls. As with all global agreements, U.S. leadership is crucial in sending a message to the rest of the world that we fundamentally affirm our commitment to the values we cherish here at home and; therefore, ratification of CEDAW by the U.S. conveys the importance we place on protecting these values for every woman and girl of this world. This should be our hope and aspiration that they can equally share the ideals we hold in such high regard. Furthermore, for the critics and opponents of ratification of CEDAW based on economic considerations, there is good news: The U.S. would not be required to incur any costs because of our signing of this agreement. With the information we now know, is there any reason why the U.S. should not join with the community of nations and ratify CEDAW? Do we really want to continue to be mentioned with some of the world’s worst abusers of human rights? The answer certainly seems quite clear: The time has come to be the 188th nation to ratify CEDAW.
The CEDAW Framework
Once a nation commits to ratifying the treaty, it places itself squarely in the camp of those who wish to see discrimination against women and girls of this world ended. Each nation has a roadmap to follow that the international agreement laid out to ensure every country can achieve success in promoting the fair and equal treatment of women and girls. The blueprint sets forth a list of parameters for countries to follow to assist in adhering to the spirit of the agreement.
The list includes:
• A reduction in violence against women and girls and recognizing such violence as a crime.
• Providing educational assistance.
• Enhancing the right of women to become participants in the political process.
• Increasing access to maternal health care.
• Abolishing child marriage, forced marriages, and allowing women to have the right to property inheritance.
• Eliminating the discrimination against women by allowing them the right to employment and to become business owners.
It is important to note that CEDAW is quite explicit in making known it is up to each individual nation to determine how to administer guidelines and incorporate them into a country’s own laws and policies.
CEDAW Success Stories
There have been a number of successes achieved directly resulting from nations who have ratified CEDAW. Women across the globe, emboldened by CEDAW, have joined with their respective governments to expand the opportunities available to them. In Bangladesh, for example, the government has used CEDAW to create a more level “playing field” in education and has vowed to eliminate all inequities between boys and girls by 2015. Mexico has seen an exponential rise in gender-based violence and it has taken advantage of CEDAW by incorporating provisions of the international agreement in to its General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free from Violence. A positive development is that all 32 Mexican states now have this as law. Indonesia is another country that has taken steps in this direction. The nation of Kenya decided to address the disparity that exists between men and women as it relates to rights of inheritance. By utilizing CEDAW, the government was able to create gender equity in the area of inheritance. Finally, Kuwait allowed women the right to vote in 2005 after the CEDAW Committee recommended it to the Kuwaitis.
The Usual Opposition Arguments Out in Full Force
As is the case with any U.N. treaty or agreement, opponents inevitably roll out the same tired and worn out arguments in their attempt to make the case as to why the U.S. should not sign or ratify an international document. The number one reason always deals with the issue of sovereignty, and how the U.S. will be relinquishing it to the global body by becoming a signatory to a particular agreement. In the case of CEDAW, opponents are wrong are on this front. If there is a conflict between the international agreement and local law, a nation can communicate the conflict through “reservations, understandings and declarations” (RUD). RUDs are essentially a compromising mechanism that allows changes to occur to the agreement. However, it is my contention that these changes cannot infringe upon the spirit of the agreement to satisfy its opponents. Moreover, there is no enforcement authority associated with the CEDAW Committee; it makes recommendations on how nations can improve, and the nation then moves forward with how best to implement them.
Where Do We Go From Here?
On July 17, 1980, the administration of former President Jimmy Carter signed CEDAW and it was sent to the Senate in November 1980. Since former President Carter signed the treaty, it has been voted out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on two separate occasions: 1994 and 2002. In 1994, the vote was 13-5 in favor, 2002, 12-7. Unfortunately, this is where it ends. The treaty has not made it to the full Senate for a vote despite wide support from the American people, including some very large and influential groups such as the American Bar Association and the National Education Association. The Obama Administration is a strong supporter of the agreement. If this is the case, then President Obama needs to push harder for the full Senate to vote on ratification. The U.S. is a beacon of human rights and the democratic ideals of freedom, liberty, justice, and equality for the peoples of the world. We are look to for leadership in these areas. This is why the U.S. must ratify CEDAW now!