Women’s Rights Advocates Make the Case for CEDAW Ratification

Women’s rights advocates recently told the Senate Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law that it is critical for the U.S. as a global leader on human rights to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

“The United States has long stood for the principles of equal justice, the rule of law, respect for women, and the defense of human dignity. We know that women around the world look to the United States as a moral leader on human rights. And yet when it comes to the Women’s Treaty, which reflects the fundamental principle that women’s rights are human rights, we stand with only a handful of countries that have not ratified,” said Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for the Office of Global Women’s Issues in the U.S. Department of State, in her testimony. “And we stand on the sidelines, unable to use the Women’s Treaty to join with champions of human rights who seek to use it as a means to protect and defend women’s basic human rights.”

CEDAW is a landmark international agreement that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women around the world. It is the most comprehensive women’s human rights treaty, and has been used around the world to ensure primary education for girls; to enable women to own and inherit property; improve health care services, saving lives during pregnancy and childbirth; and to address domestic violence and human trafficking. The U.S. is one of seven nations – including Iran, Somalia, and Sudan – that have not ratified CEDAW.

Wahzma Frogh of the Afghan Women’s Network also testified about the impact CEDAW ratification has had in Afghanistan. She said that ratification led to the approval of a provision of the Afghan Constitution, which explicitly states that Afghan men and women are equal under the law, and the passage of the nation’s first violence against women law.

“Some have asked whether CEDAW really makes a difference in countries that have very poor human rights records,” said Frogh. “We have proof that it does.”

The Leadership Conference, which is currently coordinating the campaign for U.S. ratification of CEDAW, submitted written testimony to the committee explaining why ratification is so important to the civil and human rights community.

“We view ratifying the CEDAW treaty as fundamental to achieving equal rights and opportunities for women around the world, including the United States. The failure to ratify this treaty for the rights of women undercuts the credibility of our nation’s stated intention to engage as a global partner, and weakens the effectiveness of our advocacy for human rights, including the rights of women and girls everywhere,” said Leadership Conference President and CEO Wade Henderson.

Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, and actress Geena Davis, founder of The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, also testified. Eighty organizations submitted written testimony in support of CEDAW ratification, and more than 100 organizations signed onto testimony on behalf of the CEDAW 2010 campaign. In addition, more than 250 supporters and advocates attended the hearing filling the room and a second room reserved for the overflow – an exceptionally large audience for a Senate subcommittee hearing. 

  • Check out photos from the hearing on our Flickr page.