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Why the United States Should Ratify the Women’s Treaty
In my time at the State Department, I have visited scores of countries and met with women from all walks of life, from human rights activists in Russia, to microcredit recipients and small-business entrepreneurs in rural South Asia, to survivors of rape and conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In my travels, the number-one question I am asked time and time again is, "Why hasn’t the United States ratified CEDAW?"
It is understandable that I continue to receive this question everywhere I go. 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, including Somalia, Iran, and Sudan—countries with some of the worst human rights records in the world. We stand alone as the only industrialized democracy in the world that has not ratified the Women’s Treaty. 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.
U.S. ratification of the Women’s Treaty matters because the moral leadership of our country on human rights matters. 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. Our failure to ratify also deprives us of a powerful tool to combat discrimination against women around the world, because as a non-party, it makes it more difficult for us to press other parties to live up to their commitments under the treaty.
The United States is firmly committed to the principles of women's equality as enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Our ratification will send a powerful and unequivocal message about our commitment to equality for women across the globe. It will lend much needed validation and support to advocates fighting the brutal oppression of women and girls everywhere, who seek to replicate in their own countries the strong protections against discrimination that we have in the United States. And it will signal that the United States stands with the women of the world.
Importantly, ratification will also advance U.S. foreign policy and national security interests. As the Obama Administration has made clear, women’s equality is critical to our national security. President Obama’s National Security Strategy recognizes that "countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunity. When those rights and opportunities are denied, countries lag behind." And as Secretary Clinton has stated,"the subjugation of women is a threat to the national security of the United States. It is also a threat to the common security of our world, because the suffering and denial of the rights of women and the instability of nations go hand in hand." Ratification of this treaty, which enshrines the rights of women in international law, is not only in the interest of oppressed women around the world – it is in our interest as well.
In fact, my office has been working closely with the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy at the Department of Defense to highlight issues related to women, peace and security. We as a U.S. government recognize the interconnection of women’s progress and the advancement of U.S. objectives across the world. And Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently stated, "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wisely summed it up last week when she said, ‘If we want to make progress towards settling the world’s most intractable conflicts, let’s enlist women.’ I couldn’t agree more – and I would only add: The time to act is now so we don’t have to ask, yet again, why did this take so long? But as we think about how far we’ve come, we must also consider how far we have still to go."
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