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Ratify CEDAW, Because Women's Rights are Human Rights

Lenora M. Lapidus,
Former Director,
Women's Rights Project, ACLU
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November 17, 2010

Tomorrow, November 18, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law will hold a hearing on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) — the landmark international treaty that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women. The hearing, chaired by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), will be the first hearing on CEDAW since 2002. It is high time that the Senate addresses this important treaty and this hearing will be a significant step toward a vote for ratification. We encourage those who can to attend this historic hearing at 2 p.m. in Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. If you can’t make it in person, watch it online.

Since its adoption by the United Nations in 1979, 186 other nations — almost all the countries of the world — have ratified CEDAW, but the U.S. has not done so. We stand alone with only six other countries — Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Nauru, Palau, and Tonga. It is time for the U.S. to demonstrate its global leadership and take this stand in support of women and girls.

In live testimony at the hearing and in written statements submitted for the record, witnesses will describe the ways in which CEDAW provides a practical blueprint for achieving progress toward ending sex trafficking and violence against women, prohibiting forced marriage and child marriage, expanding girls’ access to education, ensuring women’s right to vote, fighting maternal mortality, and ending workplace discrimination against women.

One of the witnesses, Wahzma Frogh, is an international activist who uses CEDAW in her home country of Afghanistan to push for progress for women and girls. By recognizing that women’s rights are human rights, the hearing will demonstrate how ratification of CEDAW will promote the American values of dignity and equality at home and around the world.

Another witness will be Melanne Verveer, Global Ambassador for Women’s Issues in the State Department. President Obama’s administration has committed to ratifying CEDAW, a commitment reaffirmed earlier this month in the U.S. presentation on its Universal Periodic Report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. At that convening, 27 nations called on the United States to ratify CEDAW, including close allies and democratic nations such as Canada, Japan, India, Spain, France, Indonesia, Turkey, Costa Rica, Australia, Ghana and New Zealand.

The benefits of ratification to the U.S. are many. Formally embracing the internationally accepted minimum standards pertaining to women’s human rights would send a powerful message to the rest of the world that the U.S. stands behind its commitment to providing equal opportunity for all — a commitment that is part of our Constitution and laws. It would instantly strengthen the credibility of U.S. criticism of women’s rights abuses in other nations. Participation in the CEDAW process would also create an opportunity for the U.S. to benefit from open dialogue and the exchange of ideas about ways that we could continue to enhance women’s equality at home.

Ratifying the most comprehensive women’s rights treaty in existence will strengthen our democracy and continue our proud history of participation in international life, and in particular our leadership through the power of example in the area of international human rights. With millions of women throughout the world enduring daily exploitation and discrimination, we can’t afford not to be a part of CEDAW. We therefore commend Sen. Durbin for holding this hearing and urge the Senate to move forward with ratification of CEDAW as soon as possible. Ratification would represent an important reaffirmation of our nation’s commitment to the human rights of women, and a momentous step forward for women around the world.

Act now: tell your senator to ratify CEDAW!

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