Standing with Our SistersMarch 23, 2009
This weekend more than 500 students from around the country attended the Feminist Majority’s National Young Women’s Leadership Conference here in Washington, D.C. Yesterday I attended to hand out AAUW materials and inform students about our mission, relevant student programs, research, and policy actions they can take on women’s issues. High points were meeting one of the AAUW Student Advisory Council members I’d only spoken with by phone, Catherine Grandorff from South Dakota, her feminist colleagues, and Mary Anne McDougall, a Louisiana State Student Advisory Council member who recently helped run the Campaign College event on her campus.
I also had the opportunity to attend one of the workshop sessions on the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, known as CEDAW. As my colleague Gloria wrote in December, 185 countries have ratified this important women’s rights treaty, but the United States is not one of them.
In college, I wrote a paper on CEDAW in my women and public policy course. I did not know about the treaty before the class, and I was simply amazed that the United States has not ratified it. CEDAW addresses basic human rights of women and is used to reduce violence against women, ensure their access to education and health care, and provide women with legal recourse if they are discriminated against. Our ratification of CEDAW would help improve women’s rights domestically since there is no Equal Rights Amendment. Internationally, ratification would help us better enforce its provisions, especially in countries like Afghanistan, which ratified the treaty but does not enforce its provisions.
Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal and Alexandria Arriaga, co-chair for the Working Group on the Ratification of CEDAW, both spoke about the urgency for our activism around CEDAW right now. With the new administration, there are supporters of the treaty in all the right places, from President Barack Obama to Vice President Joe Biden to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Senate Foreign Relations Chair John Kerry. Even though we have support from the people we need, Arriaga and Smeal emphasized how crucial the grassroots efforts will be, since senators may decide that many other issues are more important unless they hear from us.
Arriaga informed us that the U.S. Department of State will send the Senate a list of departmental priorities within the next few weeks, and we need to make sure that CEDAW is near the top of the list. Arriaga recommended that everyone call the White House comment line at 202/456-1111 to ask that CEDAW be made a high priority. Then, contact your senators to make sure they make it a priority so that it can come to the Senate floor in a timely manner.
Visit womenstreaty.org for more information about CEDAW, the campaign, and what you can do to make sure the United States ratifies this crucial treaty to improve the rights of American women and the rights of our sisters abroad. Many students from the conference will be visiting their senators today to ask them to make CEDAW a priority; let’s do our part, too.