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

The U.S. should affirm our commitment to eradicating institutionalized discrimination. When the U.S. seeks to enforce women’s human rights through diplomatic efforts, we are hampered by our refusal to have ratified the commitments that almost every other country in the world has claimed that they will abide by. Ratifying CEDAW will strengthen the U.S. as a global leader standing up for women and girls.

2. The U.S. can participate on the convention committee

CEDAW requires a committee of 23 experts (representing party states) to review the reports countries submit regarding their implementation of CEDAW and make nonbinding recommendations regarding best practices. By ratifying the convention, the United States would be able to nominate an expert to participate in this process. This gives the U.S. another tool to offer solutions to countries that are discriminating against women and girls.

3. The U.S. will lead by example

In the age of exercising smart power, the U.S. should take advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate our leadership in the international community. By publically evaluating our policies against the rights outlined in the articles of this treaty, we can take the opportunity to lead by example and demonstrate that every country can make improvements, and the value of transparency in the self-evaluation process.

4. The U.S. will reaffirm its commitment to eliminate discrimination at home

Perhaps this is the most important argument for Americans. The United States has already eliminated many discriminatory practices mentioned in CEDAW, but there is still much more we can do. We still need to improve the lives of women by ending sex trafficking, closing the wage gap, combatting domestic violence and rape, eliminating pregnancy discrimination, and promoting access to health care, including reproductive health care. The self-evaluation required by CEDAW will be helpful to identify areas where improvement is needed and create a plan to move forward.

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.

Blog Action Day 2013 This blog post is part of Blog Action Day 2013. Click here to read more blog posts or join the conversation on Twitter with #BAD13.

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