Today marks the beginning of the Fifty-Seventh Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, a United Nations body that is responsible for facilitating international progress regarding the development and implementation of women’s rights initiatives. Since its inception in 1946, the Commission has been instrumental in addressing issues that touch the lives of women around the world; and in 1979, just six years after the U.S.’ landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, the Commission helped bring to life the most significant international achievement toward the advancement of women’s rights: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, better know as CEDAW.
CEDAW is a remarkable document which provides for equal treatment among men and women, and helps to ensure that women are entitled to equal pay for equal work, are able to freely choose whether to have a child and access birth control, and make decisions regarding their sexual orientation, among other things. In 1979, this was likely the most progressive international document ever to be written. It’s importance is evermore apparent today, when discrimination against women is rampant worldwide–most significantly in the areas of sex-trafficing, sexual orientation, and the economy. Despite CEDAW’s guarantees for women, for over thirty years the United States Senate has balked at ratifying CEDAW’s provisions into U.S. law.
As the only original signatory to not ratify the treaty (1 of 99), the United States is laughed at by Nations around the world for failing to guarantee its women equal rights in the same manner that all other post-industrial nations have (the six other post-industrial nations: U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Canada have all done so). In addition to the 99 original signatories which have all ratified CEDAW, another 88 nations have subsequently ratified the Convention, bringing the total number of states parties to the Convention to 187. The United States enjoys the company of Sudan, Somalia, Iran, and two small Pacific Island nations (Palau and Tonga) as the only non-ratifiers. Perhaps it is time to stand in line with the overwhelming judgment of the world, but I’m not holding my breath.
The United States remains bitterly divided over women’s issues. As a result, the Senate has refused to ratify the Convention. Such an act would bind the United States to provide women with the right to choose (to have an abortion), the right to equal pay for equal work, and the right to marry whom ever she wants. For years, conservative Americans have trumpeted–with a truly unbelievable confidence–that ensuring equal rights for women will have malignant consequences: it is said that equal pay for equal work will destroy the free-market economy, and that the right to choose whom to marry or whether to have a child would be violative of the Christian values that this country was founded upon. Therefore, for thirty years the matter has been settled. Yet to at least half of the women in the United States, the leaders of 187 other governments, and the countless others who strive for equal justice year in and year out at the annual Commission on the Status of Women, the issue is not settled. The latter group gathers each and every year at the Commission on the Status of Women to address women’s rights, and each year the United States sends a delegation. Maybe this year something will give. Maybe this year the Senate can be convinced that the world is right on this one.
What do you think? Should the United States ratify CEDAW? What do you think of the fact that the United States shares company as a non-party with Iran and the Sudan? How long, if ever, do you think it will take the United States to ratify? And, will it be to late by then? Will the world have already condemned us as bigots?
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