In 1979, the General Assembly of the UN formally adopted CEDAW -- the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women -- a set of equal justice standards that serve as an international bill of rights for the protection of women. Countries that sign on to the Convention are bound to "undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms," including:
- Incorporating the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolishing all discriminatory laws and adopting appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women
- Establishing tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination
- Ensuring elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises
Today, the US remains one of only eight nations (alongside Sudan, Somalia, Qatar, Iran, Nauru, Palau and Tonga) NOT to ratify the Convention. On November 18th, members of the US Senate Subcomittee on Human Rights and the Law heard testimony from experts on why it is essential that the US finally ratify CEDAW if we hope to maintain our standing as a global leader in the fight to protect the rights of women and girls worldwide.
The hearing -- which drew more than 250 attendees and featured testimony [pdf] from Marcia Greenberger co-president of Ms. Foundation grantee the National Women's Law Center -- was buoyed by a strong letter of support from former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who highlighted for subcommittee chair Senator Dick Durbin the global importance of the US finally putting its money where its mouth is in respect to the rights of women and girls. "Ratification of CEDAW," O'Connor wrote, "would enhance the authority of the United States to advocate on behalf of women's rights in countries, including both CEDAW parties and non-parties, that do not respect women's rights to the same extent that the United States does."
Here in the US, too, the protections that CEDAW confers remain much needed. As the Center for Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers University (CWGL) has pointed out -- and as the Ms. Foundation and our grantees know full well -- women in the US are still hugely at risk of having their human rights violated, or suffering other forms of discrimination, every day. CWGL notes that,
- On average four women per day are murdered in the US and 5.5 million women per year physically assaulted or raped by intimate partners
- Women working full-time today still earn, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men
- In 2008, 37 percent of single-mother households were food insecure at some point during the year -- and a lack of decently paying jobs remains a problem of particular severity among women and in communities of color
- Between two and three women die every day during pregnancy and childbirth in the USA: women of color, those living in poverty, Native Americans and immigrant women and those who speak little or no English are particularly affected.
The Obama Administration has already stated its strong support for ratifying CEDAW; now's the time to make sure that Congress finally takes action and ratifies the measure -- before the legislative session ends. The CEDAW Task Force of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is running a great campaign to push Congress to act; do your part today to remind our leaders just how important CEDAW remains for women across the world -- and here at home.