By Regina Varolli
Friday, July 16, 2010
Women's rights activists are trying to push CEDAW, the major U.N. women's rights treaty, out of a Senate committee where it's been stuck for decades and up for a vote on ratification. "Call Senator John Kerry," urges U.S. lawmaker Carolyn Maloney.
NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--U.S. ratification of an international treaty to protect women's rights has been held up in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for three decades, a situation women's activists would like to change during the Obama administration.
Those who have battled for or resisted the treaty know it as CEDAW, shorthand for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
"Contact the office of Senator John Kerry," U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, urged a recent gathering here of ant-violence activists. "As the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he needs to hear from you. Write to Senator Kerry, tell him that we want the U.S. in CEDAW now."
Maloney, addressing a recent event organized by UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women and the National Council for Research on Women, noted that under the Carter administration the United States signed onto the treaty in July 1980, a few months after it was first opened for signatures at U.N. headquarters.
"With powerful women in the current administration, namely Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, the U.S. is at an optimal time for ratification of CEDAW," Maloney told the crowd.
The only centralized pro-ratification effort in the United States is the CEDAW Task Force of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a Washington-based group that came together in the past year. It is a politically diverse coalition of over 140 organizations, including the American Bar Association, The United Methodist Church-General Board of Church and Society, Presbyterian Church USA and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The Obama administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have expressed what June Zeitlin, director of the CEDAW Education Project, called "strong support" for the ratification of the treaty. However, Zeitlin's group is heightening its call for Obama to "send a strong and urgent signal to the Senate that ratification of CEDAW is vital."
"It was important to formerly organize ourselves into the Task Force to take advantage of the opportunity of support from the new administration," Zeitlin told Women's eNews. "We're working to gain enough support for a vote this year."
"We look to advocacy groups to take the lead on laying the groundwork for when the political conditions are right," a staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who asked not to be quoted by name, told Women's eNews. "It was clear the advocacy element hadn't really gotten underway yet. There hadn't been good grassroots campaigning for a while. But the CEDAW Task Force of The Leadership Conference has taken over more strongly in recent times."
The staffer said that for a "big controversial, multilateral treaty to move through the Senate, there needs to be an enormous amount of White House support. While there have been statements from the administration--especially early on from Secretary Clinton and Susan Rice--the White House certainly has not pushed this in the same way, for example, as they're currently pushing the START treaty (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia), where they've been very aggressive in saying they really want Senate movement during this Congress. They haven't approached CEDAW in the same way, and that also sends a signal to the Senate."
U.S. ratification requires 67 votes in the Senate, posing a formidable political challenge, said Ellen Chesler, director of the Eleanor Roosevelt Initiative on Women and Public Policy at New York's Hunter College.
"The right wing is holding the U.S. back from ratifying CEDAW," Chesler said. "It has become one of the whipping boys of conservatives because it talks about reproductive rights and it holds countries accountable for the quality of their reproductive health services."
Chesler described CEDAW as setting a benchmark for litigation affecting women--for writing civil, case and constitutional law--in every country in the world that is working to change the status of women.
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