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New Hope for Progress on US Ratification of CEDAW

Women have been stymied for years in efforts to achieve U.S. ratification of CEDAW, the UN treaty to eliminate discrimination against women. Now, meeting at the UN, U.S. women hope to regain influence in establishing rights for women around the world.

Women have been stymied for years in efforts to achieve U.S. ratification of CEDAW, the UN treaty to eliminate discrimination against women. Now, meeting at the UN, U.S. women hope to regain influence in establishing rights for women around the world.

The theme of the 54th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW) meeting in New York these first two weeks in March is “Beijing + 15,” a look at progress women have made since the International Women’s Conference in Beijing a decade and a half ago. With the Obama Administration and a new Congress beginning in 2009, hopes are high for bold work on women’s rights both internationally and within the United States.

In meeting with women from NGOs and other U.S. women’s groups that are coalescing around the official UN CSW meetings, U.S. delegate Ellen Chesler, author and Hunter College historian, remarked that “There are very conservative countries we’re dealing with here. Happily, the United States is no longer among them.” She looks forward to “dramatic” achievements for women across the globe.

The United States is preparing a resolution on maternal mortality—calling not only for its reduction, but elimination. That entails a focus for women around the world on access to health care, an end to the dangers of illegal abortions, eliminating marriages of children, and allowing women the ability to space the bearing of children through family planning. Other of-the-moment issues under discussion during the two weeks treat physical violence directed toward women involved in politics, participation by women in policy making that is real—not just on paper, women taken hostage, women and economic development, an end to female genital mutilation, and fighting HIV-AIDS.

But key among the inspirations that United States delegates and U.S. women’s groups will take away from the meetings is a renewed impetus for the United States to ratify CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. CEDAW was passed by the UN General Assembly more than 30 years ago and has been ratified by all UN member states, except the US and such others as Sudan, Iran, and Somalia. The United States is the only industrialized country not to have ratified. Essentially, by failing to ratify, the United States is losing whatever status it may have had as a leading country in the area of women’s and human rights.

In a meeting this week of delegates and women’s groups, ratifying CEDAW was compared to ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, only better, because a UN treaty would have the weight of international bodies behind it. CEDAW has been used by women around the world to monitor the status of women and to share best practices in making change. For stories about the success that it has had, one need only look to the United Nations Unifem website for such headlines as:

Kenyan Courts Protect Women’s Inheritance Rights

CEDAW Shines a Spotlight on Femicide in Mexico

Equality for Women in Morocco’s Family Law

CEDAW has also been used to fight sexual enslavement and the trafficking of girls and women, to secure legal recourse against violence and human rights abuse, to access primary education and health care, to save lives during pregnancy and birth, and to help women attain equity through reforming inheritance laws and development loans.

Even without the sanction of ratification, U.S. localities have embraced CEDAW. For example, the city of San Francisco passed a local ordinance reflecting the values of CEDAW in 1998. That has lead to a data-driven report on girls and gender analysis guidelines for the policies, programs, and budgets of city departments.

An effort to ratify the treaty this year, before U.S. mid-term elections, is spearheaded by the ACLU, YWCA, Citizens for Global Solutions, and National Women’s Law Center among other groups under the auspices of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. For more information on the campaign, visit the CEDAW Task Force website.

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