Much to celebrate…and more to do

March is Women’s History Month, and events commemorating women and their contributions to history and contemporary society have taken place throughout the United States. It is an annual celebration along with the lesser known Women’s International Day on March 8.  This year we had another special remembrance for the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and the awakening of the second phase of feminism. How wonderful our country is for acknowledging, promoting, and protecting the rights of women. Well, not totally.

Let me introduce you to the United Nation’s Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, also known as CEDAW. Adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, it is often described as an international bill of rights for women and delineates what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination. The Convention ensures women’s equal access to and equal opportunities in political and public life and establishes the basis for equality between women and men. To read a brief overview and history of the Convention read here.

On an international level, CEDAW has been influential in promoting the rights of women and has opened doors to less violence and discrimination. Albeit, some of the doors may only be opened a crack, but change happens incrementally. Many countries including the developing ones have ratified this bill since its inception. To be precise, 187 out of the 194 members of the U.N. have signed on. Those who have not include, the United States, Iran, Somalia, South Sudan, Tonga Palua. How embarrassing to be in such infamous company.

CEDAW was sent to the Senate in 1980 by President Carter and has remained in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ever since. Although hearings were held, it never came out of the committee.  Several issues are preventing our country from ratifying the bill, which had been promoted by several Republican presidents including Nixon and Ford. In addition to a segment of our population that is vehemently opposed to the U.N. and suspects any treaty with them jeopardizes our sovereignty as a nation, we have seen half of our country make a hard right turn. Little by little, they are trying to overturn Roe Vs. Wade. And, let us not forget how long it took them to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

The United States must reassert its authority in leading the world and supporting women’s rights and the elimination of violence and discrimination of all forms, blatant and subtle. It is still out here.

Hannah Cohen

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