In 1979, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). In 1994, Hillary Rodham Clinton made the statement that “women’s rights are human rights” at the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women. In 2012, gender equality has not been achieved and the United States is still one of six U.N. member states that have not yet ratified CEDAW.
CEDAW provides a blueprint for ensuring gender equality and combatting discrimination throughout the world. Countries have used it to pass laws that address domestic violence, sex trafficking, voting, and inheritance rights. At a special event on CEDAW hosted by the World Bank this past Monday, at which NWLC Co-President Marcia Greenberger spoke, international women leaders emphasized the importance of CEDAW as a tool to achieve equal rights for women everywhere and how U.S. ratification of CEDAW would strengthen the effectiveness of that tool.
Dr. Sima Samar, Chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, delivered a speech that outlined CEDAW’s accomplishments and its importance for advocates around the globe seeking recognition for the rights of women and girls. “The convention [calls] for societies to guarantee the legal status of women as complete human beings,” Dr. Samar said. As more countries ratify and implement CEDAW, international standards are raised which further aid women’s rights movements. Sameena Nazi, Founder of Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy, discussed her home country of Pakistan as an example of how the international standards established by CEDAW influenced the government to pass bills which outlawed sexual harassment and made sure that women are not deprived of their inheritance rights.
Dubravka Simonovic, member of the U.N. CEDAW Committee, spoke about the challenges of persuading countries to live up to their obligation under CEDAW and to implement its guarantees. Even though 187 countries have ratified CEDAW, the international community faces a variety of barriers to combatting discrimination. Meaza Ashenafi, Founder of the Ethiopian Women’s Lawyers Association, gave anecdotes about why implementation is difficult in her home country of Ethiopia. For example, most women believe that it is acceptable for their husbands to beat them if they have done something wrong.
As one of the most powerful countries in the world, if the U.S. ratified CEDAW and affirmed that women’s rights are fundamental human rights, this affirmation could make a difference for women and girls everywhere. Mahnaz Afkhami, Founder and President of the Women’s Learning Partnership, a network of women’s organizations in the Middle East, North Africa, and Afghanistan, pointed out that the power behind the ratification of CEDAW by the United States’ government would strengthen the global women’s rights movement. In an effort to overcome obstacles to implementation, the women called for more coordination between the U.N., organizations such as the World Bank, and governments in order end discrimination and hold each other accountable.
As a longtime leader for the rights of women and girls, the U.S. needs to be a stronger partner in the global movement for gender equality. Ratifying CEDAW would send a strong message to the international community and our citizens that our government is committed to promoting equality for women. The world must be united for this cause, and that includes the U.S. In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th, the Senate should take action that’s long-past due and ratify CEDAW.