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Human rights for women.

In December, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) will turn 30 years old. Now ratified by 186 of the 193 member states of the United Nations, CEDAW's provisions securing equal rights for women have not been ratified by the United States nor has the United States ever adopted an Equal Rights Amendment to its own constitution.

Several articles in this issue of Peace & Freedom discuss issues facing women in armed conflict. Fortunately, the United States has consented to Security Council Resolution 1325 mandating women's full and equal participation in peace negotiations and post conflict reconstruction, and women's full and equal access to protections and humanitarian aid in times of war. But it is in CEDAW that we find the most adequate articulation of women's human rights, not only in conflict situations but in all situations and contexts. CEDAW, which carries treaty status, would legally bind the government to implement its provisions.

There is reason to hope that the U.S. Senate will finally vote on this critical treaty this fall. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton participated in the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 where she publicly stated her support for U.S. ratification of CEDAW, a promise reiterated during her 2008 presidential campaign. The Obama administration has included CEDAW among the three human rights treaties slated for fast track action, along with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The administration has also made several encouraging appointments with regards to women's rights, including Susan Rice as ambassador to the United Nations, Melanne Verveer as ambas-sador-at-large for Global Women's Issues, Harold Koh as legal advisor to the Department of State, and Sonia Sotomayer to the Supreme Court. Although support for CEDAW does not fall strictly along party lines, several of its staunchest supporters are Democrats with significant seniority and clout in the current senate. Therefore WILPF, along with hundreds of other women's organizations (see for more information and resources), is amping up its advocacy in support of CEDAW ratification this fall.

As you participate in community forums on CEDAW or when you visit your senator to secure her/his commitment on CEDAW ratification, please keep in mind that WILPF supports ratification without compromising Reservations, Understandings and Declarations (RUDs). In past Senate discussions of CEDAW, a number of RUDS have been proposed that would water down the intent and effectiveness of CEDAW, a treaty that understands women's human rights as indivisible and universal.


Most importantly, from WILPF's perspective, CEDAW--as a U.N. treaty--places women's equality within the context of conflict prevention and sustainable peace. Like all human rights treaties, CEDAW both protects and empowers the vulnerable. WILPF sees the affirmative rights defined in CEDAW as fundamental to ending violence against women.

CEDAW's definition of discrimination is more rigorous and explicit than that which has evolved in U.S. civil rights law. It prohibits distinctions, exclusions and restrictions which have the effect of producing gender disparities and inequalities regardless of the practice's original purpose. In Massachusetts, the League of Women Voters has challenged the practices of insurance companies which charge women and men the same premiums for annuities and life insurance yet, on average, pay out smaller monthly benefits to women retirees. These benefits are calculated on the basis of actuarial tables, a practice that was not designed to discriminate against women but nonetheless produces a discriminatory outcome. Such a benefit structure could be considered discriminatory under CEDAW.

Whereas the U.S. market economy typically casts children as the personal responsibility of their individual parents, CEDAW recognizes the intrinsic social value of children and child-bearing as a social function and upholds the obligation of governments to support women's rights to freely choose their partner and to decide freely on the number and spacing of any children they might have, within the context of full economic, social and cultural rights. These rights are supported by state responsibilities to ensure accessible and appropriate health care and nutrition throughout pregnancy and lactation, and equal access to healthcare even without regard to pregnancy (art. 12.1 and 12.2).

In considering economic rights, CEDAW is quite specific. For example, it obligates states to introduce maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits and without the loss of former employment (art. 11.2.b). It also stakes a claim for comparable worth--i.e., equal remuneration for work of equal social value--recognizing that the unremunerated domestic activities of women contribute to development in every country and that once a job category becomes feminized wages for that field typically fall.

WILPF has worked for CEDAW ratification since its inception. In 1974, WILPF formally instructed its sections in various countries to engage their governments in crafting an international human rights convention which would "bring together the various aspects of women's rights to form international law," because our organization understood that "only through the intensive participation of women can best possible development in each country ... and world peace be achieved."

The CEDAW convention, in integrating the provisions of key international human rights instruments, recognizes that freedom of thought and expression can be repressed not just by police or military action but by social isolation and lack of access to the basic goods necessary to sustain human life. We therefore assert our understanding of and support for CEDAW as the most comprehensive and integrated codification of the full range of women's human rights, including the rights to bodily integrity, to sexual autonomy, to form families of one's own choosing without coercion, and to an environment clean enough to support healthy lives, not just for ourselves but for all the generations to which we might give birth. The right to define one's own identity and aspirations lies at the very heart of the quest for freedom, and for world peace.


This fall, we urge all of our members to engage their senators on the issue of CEDAW ratification. We'll be circulating our own statement on ratification through e-mail and Facebook and offering our supporters opportunities to take action online. We'll also be working with WILPF sections around the world to build international pressure for U.S. ratification. We hope that each of you will carry this work into your local communities, social and spiritual networks, and workplaces to re-awaken broad public awareness and citizen advocacy in support of ratification now.

By Nancy Munger and Laura Roskos, Co-Presidents, U.S. Section
COPYRIGHT 2009 Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
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Title Annotation:International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
Author:Munger, Nancy; Roskos, Laura
Publication:Peace and Freedom
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2009
Previous Article:Marilyn Clement.
Next Article:Gaza, Bil'in and the West Bank: Who Profits?

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