By Danielle Fox (Thursday, Nov 12, 2009)
The US’ Failure to Ratify CEDAW
Since it was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1979, the ratification of the Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has come up repeatedly in the Senate and within various presidents’ administrations. Although it has gotten close, it has never been approved for ratification (which would require 2/3rds of the Senators’ votes). This year, we believe the conditions are ideal to give CEDAW the final push through.
In 2002 when CEDAW was last approved by the Foreign Relations Committee to go before the full Senate for a vote, its prospects for ratification were not particularly bright. Within the Senate, strong opposition existed from social conservative legislators, who claimed that CEDAW would undermine the family, force the United States to legalize prostitution, and unduly influence domestic debates over abortion (all common myths propagated by anti-CEDAW advocates). Ultimately, CEDAW was never even brought before the Senate for a full vote. The Bush administration was ambivalent as well. Although Secretary of State Colin Powell considered CEDAW generally favorable, Attorney General John Ashcroft was vehemently against it and used his legislative clout against ratification.
A New Time, A New Opportunity
Seven years later, things are looking a lot brighter. A large portion of the Foreign Relations Committee has established vocal support for the ratification of CEDAW. Senators Barbara Boxer, John Kerry and other members of the Foreign Relations Committee have specifically asserted that they will work hard to push CEDAW through to the Senate floor.
Furthermore, for the first time this year, any senator who puts a hold on a treaty (keeping it from being voted upon) must have her or his identity revealed. Beyond the Senate, President Barack Obama’s administration has been significantly more supportive of the U.S. ratifying CEDAW. President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton all explicitly backed CEDAW during their campaigns. Since the election, CEDAW has been placed on top three treaties to ratify list by the Obama administration.
What You Can Do to Help
Now is the time to push CEDAW through. For the first time, both the Senate and the administration are favorable to the United States ratifying CEDAW. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy. There is still significant opposition to CEDAW from activists and from within the government. We need to act now to capitalize on this opportunity and to overcome the opposition. YOU can be a major part of pushing CEDAW through.
Get involved by signing the sign-on on December 1st and organizing your school’s PHR chapter to publicize and get signatures from other students in your community. Another great way to fight for CEDAW is to set up an in-district meeting with your Senator’s office to let them know how important CEDAW is to the promotion of global health and to the fight against AIDS.
An in district meeting with your senator or a staff aide easier than it seems, and is one of the best ways to get your voice heard by your congressional representatives. Rest assured that your senator appreciates hearing from her/his constituents. If your school chapter wants to advocate to your Senator’s office, PHR is happy to help you in all aspects of your planning from assistance setting up meetings to providing talking points and regional advisors.
Please consider using your voice as a health professional-in-training to directly let your representatives know just how important CEDAW is! Contact me if you want to meet with your Senator’s office.