Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to have been born an American female in the 21st century. While discrimination and other obstacles still certainly exist, women in this country can vote; girls have access to an education; we can work outside of the home; and women exercise their right of self-determination. It is easy to take these freedoms for granted—after all, I am entitled to the same rights as the boys.
Millions of women around the world are not as lucky as I am. On October 9, 2012, a fifteen-year-old Pakistani girl named Malala Yousafzai was on her way home from school when the Taliban stopped her bus and shot her in the head. The Taliban targeted her because both she and her father were promoting education for girls. At the time of the attack, Malala had already written about girls’ education for four years, was an activist, and once dreamed of becoming a doctor. The Taliban were desperate to silence Malala and to limit girls’ ability to get an education. The story of her miraculous recovery and unrelenting activism, despite continued threats from the Taliban, is truly inspiring.
Malala’s story, and the stories of millions of girls like her, is why the United States should finally ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The United States is one of only seven nations that have not ratified CEDAW. The other countries that have not ratified it are Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Iran, and two small Pacific Island nations, Palau and Tonga.
The Pakistani government has condemned the attack on Malala, but how do we know they are taking active steps to prevent a similar attack? One answer is CEDAW. Every four years, each party state must report what they are doing to prevent and eradicate discrimination against women in their country. These reports and the self-examination they require, are critical in ensuring states live up to their duties under the convention.
An important right protected in CEDAW is the right of girls to get an education. Pakistan has ratified the convention and consequently they have a duty to prevent another attack like the one on Malala. The international community is watching and can hold Pakistan accountable because the country has publically committed to holding itself to a higher standard, thanks to CEDAW.
So why should we, the United States of America, ratify a convention condemning the discrimination of women? One crucial reason is that the U.S.’s ratification of CEDAW is important to the international community, because it further reinforces international norms and obligations to protect women and girls’ rights. How?
1. The U.S. will demonstrate moral authority
2. The U.S. can participate on the convention committee
3. The U.S. will lead by example
4. The U.S. will reaffirm its commitment to eliminate discrimination at home
CEDAW is one of the few treaties in international law on which nearly all states can agree. The U.S.’s absence from the treaty is not just a blot on our international reputation; it is a missed opportunity to exercise leadership. It’s time for our country to make clear that women’s rights are human rights. It’s time to ratify CEDAW.
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