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Put CEDAW on the US Agenda: The Call to US Senators

By Madeline Taskier, Partnership Coordinator at Women Deliver

Yesterday, a line wrapped around the Dirksen Senate Office hallway as women’s groups, members of the press, and lobbyists gathered to attend the CEDAW ratification hearing hosted by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) presided over the hearing as six witnesses took the podium and argued for the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).  

Created in 1979 through a working group at the UN General Assembly, CEDAW has since been ratified by 186 out of 193 countries. The US is one of seven countries in the world that has not signed the convention along with Somalia, Iran, Sudan, and three Pacific Island nations (Palau, Tonga, and Nauru).

An overwhelming majority of the witnesses at the hearing encouraged US Senators to ratify the treaty because it is in line with domestic policies on women’s issues. Melanne Verveer, US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, argued that democracy becomes a contradiction when women can’t stand equally with men. In her testimony she pointed out that the US is a leader in human rights, but the only industrialized nation not to ratify the convention. By ratifying CEDAW, the US “will send a powerful and unequivocal message to the world…it will signal that the US stands with women on all matters of human rights.”

Geena Davis, actor and founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and Wazhma Frogh, policy and advocacy specialist at the Afghan Women’s Network, emphasized the international significance of US ratification. In Afghanistan, CEDAW provided the framework for Article 27 of the Afghani Constitution, which provides Afghan women and men equal protection under the law. The Afghan violence against women law was also guided by Article 16 of CEDAW. “The ratification of CEDAW is urgent because the US needs to stand as a leader to the rest of the world,” Ms. Davis said.

Arguing against US ratification of CEDAW, Steven Groves from the Heritage Foundation argued that the US legislature or judiciary should not answer to an international committee. He argued that ratification would be unproductive because the US never has or will be in full compliance with CEDAW. In his testimony, Mr. Groves stated that the “CEDAW committee engages in social engineering at a grand scale…and has a particular contempt for the role of women as mothers.” He cited recommendations by the committee to limit genderized mothers’ day messaging in Belarus as an example of discrimination against mothers.

During the Q&A period, Senator Durbin put Mr. Groves’ arguments and concerns to rest by clarifying that the CEDAW committee does not hold the full force of law. They merely offer recommendations for policy change that align with the convention’s articles. Even if Belarus was encouraged to cease mothers’ day messaging that was sexist or genderized, Belarus did not stop celebrating mothers’ day. The suggestions from the committee guide policy; they don’t make policy.

Finally, Marcia Greenberger, Co-president of the National Women’s Law Center and member of the CEDAW Task Force, emphasized that no convention can override the US Constitution.  If the US ratifies CEDAW, we have the opportunity to exercise our moral leadership and not only make things safer and more equal for women, but also establish equality for everyone. 

The take-away message from the Senate hearing:  It is time for the US to step up, ratify CEDAW, and protect the lives and rights of women in the US and worldwide. 

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