The University of Iowa

Women’s Rights are Human Rights

November 3rd, 2010

By Jill Kacere,

Jill Kacere is a senior at The University of Iowa majoring in international studies and minoring in Spanish. She is a communications intern in the Office of Communications and Relations in UI International Programs and president of the UI Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance.

As a strong global leader, the United States needs to step up and defend the rights of women. The U.S. has not taken a global stance on equality for men and women because it has yet to ratify CEDAW – the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

An international treaty originally created by the United Nations in 1979, CEDAW defines what constitutes discrimination against women and offers methods to end discrimination based on gender. President Jimmy Carter signed the convention in 1980, but CEDAW was never ratified by the senate and today, with 186 countries signed onto the treaty, the U.S. stands with only six countries in the world that have not ratified the convention.

When a country ratifies CEDAW, they commit to ending gender based discrimination. It is up to each country how to insert principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women.

CEDAW has helped reduce sex trafficking and domestic violence in Mexico, enhanced access to primary education in Bangladesh, increased political participation in Kuwait and provided access to basic health care to women across the globe.

In 2002 Senator Joe Biden stated that CEDAW is “a landmark document that will impose a minimal burden on the United States” and that the treaty is “generally desirable and should be approved.”

“This treaty is about equality!” said Alice Dahle, Iowa area coordinator for Amnesty International, an international organization that works to promote international human rights and justice.

Ratifying CEDAW would provide an effective blueprint for policymakers to end such discriminatory practices against women and to ensure women’s full equality.

A longtime supporter and advocate of CEDAW, Dahle believes that the lack of U.S. ratification has come from a continued objection from the far right that claims CEDAW will challenge family relationships and require a right to reproductive choice. These objections come from patriarchal worldviews that leave no room for gender equality.

Brian Farrell, director of academic achievement in the UI College of Law and adjunct lecturer in International Studies, suggests objections against CEDAW come from special interest groups that claim the convention is pro-abortion and against “family values”. Their claims, however, are unwarranted as CEDAW remains neutral on the issue of abortion, leaving policies to be set by signatory states.

Farrell also cites the U.S.’s long time rejection of international human rights law as a barrier to our ratification of CEDAW. This rejection stems from a fear of losing American sovereignty.

“There is a feeling that human rights law is foreign and inferior to our constitutionally protected rights, and given the process necessary for ratification of treaties, even a relatively small minority of senators can block a treaty, and that has happened on occasion,” he said.

Another related reason why the U.S. has not ratified CEDAW is that it does not consider itself a part of the global community.

Amy Weismann, deputy director for the UI Center for Human Rights, notes our government’s long term resistance to implementing international human rights treaties into our domestic law as symptomatic of our limited global perspective. Weismann said because our government holds this view, the U.S. thus feels it is not subjected to following and participating in international standards and norms in regards to human rights.

“It is now a timely moment to consider this issue,” said Weismann, who asks how the U.S. can lecture others around the world about human rights abuses when we have not adopted such global standards ourselves. Ratification is so important because it would demonstrate our commitment to human rights abroad.

If ratified, the benefits of CEDAW are numerous. On an international level, ratifying CEDAW would strengthen our country’s global leader position by standing up for women and girls all across the globe. On a national level, CEDAW can be used as a mechanism for American women to hold their government accountable on issues of gender inequality.

Two large issues of gender discrimination within the U.S. include domestic violence and pay inequity. Each year in the U.S., two million women report injuries from current or former partners. American women are paid only $0.78 to each dollar that a man makes. Ratifying CEDAW would provide an effective blueprint for policymakers to end such discriminatory practices against women and to ensure women’s full equality.

How the U.S. can lecture others around the world about human rights abuses when we have not adopted such global standards ourselves?

Although the U.S. has not ratified CEDAW yet, it has many supporters doing great things at the national and local level.

On the national level, we can create change by educating, petitioning, and lobbying senators about CEDAW and the need to ratify it. Although the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the economic crisis have monopolized the time and attention of Congress, it is important to continue signing petitions and sending letters and phone calls to our senators urging them to prioritize the ratification of CEDAW on their agendas.

On a local level, some communities around the country have adopted parts of the treaty. Activating CEDAW here in Iowa City, along with educating the local public, would be a great way to organize local support.

As the world’s super power, the U.S. should be the one to set an example; it should not be the last one in line to sign up for basic human rights. By supporting CEDAW we are helping to create a culture of gender equality.

“Ratification,” Dahle continued, “would allow us to lead by example and speak with integrity and moral authority in defense of the civil and human rights of women and girls everywhere.”

Alice Dahle will be speaking about CEDAW and its ratification on Monday, Nov. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in the Iowa City Public Library Meeting Room A. Following the lecture, there will be a letter writing party. This event is free and open to the public. This event is sponsored by the UI Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and the Iowa United Nations Association. For more information or special assistance, contact

Learn more about CEDAW at

This article appeared in the November 2010
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