On November 18th, 2010, the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, chaired by Senator Durbin, held a powerful hearing on CEDAW. The hearing, "Women's Rights Are Human Rights: U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)", featured several high profile women's rights advocates and U.S. government witnesses, as well as a huge crowd of supporters. Senator Durbin quoted former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor saying that the U.S. needs to ratify CEDAW to help make women's rights advocacy more effective, and emphasized that while ratifying the CEDAW wouldn't change U.S. law, it would, in effect, create stronger accountability on the part of the U.S. government in upholding the conventions of the treaty.
An exciting group of human rights activists headlined by the stunning actress Geena Davis testified on the importance of ratification. Davis spoke poignantly of being a mother and having her three children, two boys and a girl, able to equally participate in sports and other activities. She voiced her support for CEDAW because she envisions a world where women and girls around the world have the same possibilities and opportunities as children in the U.S.
Wazhma Frogh from the Afghan Women's Network told a heartbreaking story from her own life. In Afghanistan, girls were only supposed to clean the family's garden, but Wazhma wanted to play with her male cousin. When her grandfather found out, he broke all of her toys as an illustration of what would happen to her if she broke any family rules again. As a result of her experiences, Wazhma has been fighting for women's human rights in Afghanistan and has used CEDAW to deliver real change for Afghan women.
Testifying at the hearing for the U.S. government was Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues at the U.S. Department of State. She testified that in her travels, the number one question she is asked time and time again is, "Why hasn't the United States ratified CEDAW?" She told the subcommittee that "some governments use the fact that the U.S. has not ratified the treaty as a pretext for not living up to their own obligations under it." Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Samuel Bagenstos from the Civil Rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice also testified in support of CEDAW.
Overall, the hearing highlighted the fact that the U.S. is the only global leader that has yet to sign this overarching treaty in support of women's rights, which seriously damages the U.S. reputation for being a champion for equal rights for all. Those in attendance at the hearing urged the Senate to move forward with ratification of the CEDAW treaty to show the world that the U.S. is a leader in women's human rights.
CEDAW addresses basic human rights of women. It can be a crucial tool to reduce violence and discrimination against women and girls, ensure girls and women receive the same access as boys and men to education and health care, and secure basic legal recourse to women and girls against violations and abuses of their human rights. Amnesty International has been working in coalition to ratify CEDAW and worked hard to make this hearing such a huge success. Amnesty International USA submitted testimony to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee in support of ratification, which can be read here.
Currently, CEDAW is still awaiting Senate ratification. Urge your Senators today to sign this incredible treaty that would finally reflect the U.S. policy on equality and fair treatment of women and girls.
Past "Campaign to Stop Violence Against Women" Columns:
Amnesty International USA is the US section of AI - the international worldwide human rights organization with 1.8 million members in 100 countries. AIUSA has over 350,000 members organized into professional networks, and student and community chapters. You can find out which of our administrative regions you live in and contact our offices if you wish to join a local chapter visit www.amnestyusa.org. You can join the SVAW campaign, get our monthly women’s human rights online bulletin and join the Women's Human Rights Action Network by visiting www.amnestyusa.org/women. We look forward to working with you.