NEW YORK – A global women’s rights treaty completed 30 years ago has a better-than-ever chance for U.S. Senate ratification this year, yet the hunt for the needed 67 favorable votes is likely to incur the wrath of activists on both the left and right.
Known as CEDAW (SEE-daw), the treaty’s formal name is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
Since its adoption by the U.N. General Assembly in 1979, all but eight of the 192 U.N. members have become a party to it – the United States is one of the holdouts, along with Sudan, Somalia, Qatar, Iran, Nauru, Palau and Tonga.
This year, with CEDAW-supporting Democrats holding power in Washington, Sen. Barbara Boxer plans a concerted effort to seek ratification as part of her agenda for a new Foreign Relations subcommittee chairmanship overseeing global women’s issues.
“We’ve waited long enough,” said Boxer, D-Calif. “All these years later, there’s no excuse for not ratifying this critical convention to shine a light on women’s rights around the world.
“It’s a shame that the U.S. stands with countries such as Iran, Sudan and Somalia in failing to ratify the treaty.”
As the world observes International Women’s Day today, scores of domestic and global human rights and women’s groups are hoping that Boxer succeeds. However, the quest for ratification faces not only long-standing opposition from many conservatives, but also a relatively new challenge from a vocal faction of liberal activists who fear the treaty will be burdened with damaging, politically expedient exceptions.
From the right, U.S. opponents of CEDAW contend that ratification could lead to legalized prostitution, increased government interference in family matters, and abolition of remaining restrictions on abortion. They also question the value of joining a treaty that has been ratified by countries such as Saudi Arabia, where women cannot vote or drive.
“The treaty is worse than useless,” said Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America. “It gives legitimacy to regimes that are committing some of the worst abuses against women.”
Wright promised a vigorous fight against CEDAW, which she depicted as “the Equal Rights Amendment on steroids.”
On the left, there is growing apprehension that Democratic leaders in the Senate, who need Republican votes to get the treaty ratified, will be willing to add various reservations, understandings and declarations – known as RUDs – that some activists feel would be harmful.
“It would be an important signal to the world that we adopt this critical convention without limitations that exempt the U.S. from coverage and responsibility for the treatment of women,” said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. “It sends a kind of ‘ugly American’ signal that we expect to hold other countries to a standard that we’re not willing to accept for ourselves.”
Boxer said her subcommittee will start hearings this year with a “clean” version of the treaty, but aides said it’s almost certain some RUDs will be added as a step toward winning enough votes. The subcommittee is awaiting input on that subject from the Obama administration, which supports the treaty.
One of the most contentious RUDs – likely to be revived this year – stipulates that nothing in CEDAW should be interpreted as creating a right to abortion.