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CEDAW FORUM: Lighting a Fire for the Women’s Rights Treaty

By Allie Bohm*

As a colleague recently reminded me, our system of government was developed not to pass laws, but to make change slowly. Take, for example, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the international treaty dedicated to gender equality. Although the U.S. played a major role in drafting the treaty and signed it in 1980, it still has not been ratified by the Senate. We’re hoping to change that this year.

Around the world, CEDAW has been used to ensure primary education for girls, improve health care services, save lives during pregnancy and childbirth, address human trafficking, pass laws against domestic violence and female genital mutilation and allow women to own and inherit property.

Domestically, ratification of CEDAW would encourage the U.S. to take stronger measures regarding issues such as gender-based and domestic violence, discrimination against women in housing and access to health care, education and employment. CEDAW calls on countries to take special measures to end the marginalization of immigrant and indigenous women and women of color. While ratifying CEDAW does not automatically result in changes to U.S. law, it would provide an opportunity for national dialogue on how to address persistent gaps in women’s full equality. It would be a much-needed catalyst for the United States to engage in systematic analysis of its policies and practices and develop strategies for solutions.

Sounds pretty good, huh? So what are we waiting for? Well, as I mentioned, Congress is notoriously trigger-shy. We need to light a fire, and President Obama could really provide the spark.

Fortunately, last year, the Obama administration prioritized CEDAW ratification. And President Obama has been outspoken in support of women and girls. When he created the White House Council on Women and Girls, he emphasized how important it is for us “to ensure that our daughters and granddaughters have no limits on their dreams, no obstacles to their achievements – and that they have opportunities their mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers never dreamed of.” Well, one way for the United States to demonstrate its commitment to equal access and opportunity for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world is by ratifying CEDAW, and we need President Obama’s leadership in order to do it.

That’s where you come in. Please write to President Obama and urge him to actively push the Senate to ratify CEDAW. With his leadership and your activism, we could make the dream of CEDAW ratification a reality this year.
 

* Allie Bohm works in the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union

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