About the Author: Irene Marr serves in the Office of Global Women's Issues.
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer testified today before the Senate Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law on The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). In her testimony, Ambassador Verveer said:
"...This hearing could not come at a more critical time for the world's women. Gender inequality and oppression of women is rampant across the globe. The scale and savagery of human rights violations committed against women and girls is nothing short of a humanitarian tragedy. Today, violence against women is a global pandemic. In some parts of the world, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma, and Sudan, women are attacked as part of a deliberate and coordinated strategy of armed conflict where rape is used as a tool of war. In others, like Afghanistan, girls are attacked with acid and disfigured simply because they dare attend school. Girl infanticide and neglect has contributed to the absence from school of an estimated 100 million girls worldwide. In places where girls are not as valued and there is a strong preference for sons, practices ranging from female genital mutilation, to child marriage, to so-called 'honor killings,' to the trafficking of women and girls into modern-day slavery highlight the low status of females around the globe.
"In far too many places, women's participation in parliaments, village councils and peace negotiations is circumscribed or prevented altogether. Policies instructing that 'women need not apply' continue to limit employment opportunities and pay. The majority of the world's illiterate are women and, according to the World Bank, girls constitute 55 percent of all out-of-school children. This has devastating consequences on the health and well-being of families and communities. And today, the HIV-AIDS pandemic has a woman's face, with the number of infections rising at alarming rates among adolescent girls in many places who face the threat of violence, including sexual violence, in their lives.
"Women's equality has rightly been called the moral imperative of the 21st century. Where women cannot participate fully and equally in their societies, democracy is a contradiction in terms, economic prosperity is hampered, and stability is at risk. Standing up against the appalling violations of women's human rights around the globe, and standing with the women of the world, is what ratifying the Women's Treaty is about."
In addressing why the United States should ratify CEDAW, Ambassador Verveer said, "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.
"...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."
A complete transcript is available here.