Earlier this week, Senator Barbara Boxer’s “Combating Violence and Discrimination Against Women: A Global Call to Action” hearing revisited the US’s failure to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women—colloquially known as CEDAW, because that’s a mouthful—and its failure to pass the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA). The immensely popular hearing (there was a line to get into the overflow room) included testimony from many female senators, including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Patty Murray, and Tammy Baldwin, but it was the testimony of panelists directly involved in combating violence against women that held both the hearing room and overflow room in silence for the hour and a half-long hearing.
Five things to take away from the hearing:
- Ambassador Catherine Russell, the US State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, affirmed that the Obama administration fully supports the ratification of CEDAW. Calling CEDAW a lifeline for many women overseas, Russell, along with fellow panelist Jacqueline O’Neill from the Institute of Inclusive Security, said what many of us already know: women are essential for formulating effective diplomatic and peacemaking initiatives.
- Hauwa Ibrahim, a Nigerian human rights lawyer and all-around wonder woman, called the US a “city on a hill, a beacon of hope” to women everywhere. This, she said, means that U.S. ratification of CEDAW will make work easier for women’s rights activists across the globe.
- An international advocate for engaging men and boys in the fight to end violence against women, Dr. Gary Barker noted that there isn’t “enough prison space to lock up men who are violent against women.” He emphasized that men and boys could help the cause by engaging in several preventative measures, including bystander intervention, ensuring equitable and safe educational opportunities for girls, working with the health sector to decrease violence during pregnancy, and encouraging the economic power of women.
- When asked what the US can do to engage more women in the peacemaking and peacekeeping processes, Jacqueline O’Neill said the US needs to get more countries to create national action plans that incorporate more women. Currently, the countries that contribute the most UN troops do not have any such plans.
- At the end of the hearing, Senator Boxer brought up the elephant in the room: if 188 countries have ratified CEDAW, why not the US? Could it be that the US actually enjoys being in the company of such (in)famously female-friendly countries as Iran, South Sudan, Sudan, and Somalia (4 of the 6 other countries that have yet to ratify CEDAW)? Senator Boxer made it clear that politics are to blame for the US’s lethargy. As one of the longest-serving members currently in the Senate, Senator Boxer knows politics. She noted that this issue, unlike most of the issues that come before her, is not complicated. Passing IVAWA and CEDAW are obvious steps in working to end violence against women, and Senator Boxer knows that the best time to pass important treaties and pieces of legislation is when there is a supportive administration in office.
During his remarks, committee member Senator Dick Durbin recalled a piece of advice he once heard from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: when assessing a country’s potential and progress, you only need to look at how that country treats women. Not ratifying CEDAW and not passing IVAWA doesn’t reflect well upon the US. But like Senator Boxer said, the solution here is remarkably simple. Women at home and abroad have waited long enough.