The first hearing in eight years on the international treaty to promote women’s rights – drafted in 1979 by the United Nations and ratified by two-thirds of its member countries – was held today by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Supporters of the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) turned out in droves with a line winding down the hall outside the room where the hearing was held. In recognition of the hearing’s historic importance, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE), the committee chair, asked Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the sole female member of the committee, to chair the meeting. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA) and Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-MD) as well as several representatives from prominent women’s organizations joined supporters. In addition, several women from Afghanistan were present to discuss their plight under the repressive rule of the Taliban and women from India and Egypt talked about how the ratification of CEDAW in their countries had made things better for women.
“This is a critically important vote for women. The Feminist Majority has spent the past five years fighting to end the oppression of women in Afghanistan. We must ratify this historic treaty so that we don’t let down the women of the world, especially in places like Afghanistan,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority. “Domestically, this treaty provides a way for every Senator to say no to regimes that oppress women.” The committee has yet to schedule a vote on CEDAW. If the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approves the treaty, it will then go to the full Senate for a vote. CEDAW defines discrimination and gives states a plan of action to ensure that the rights of women are equal to men. So far, 169 countries have ratified CEDAW, pledging to give women equal rights in all aspects of their lives including political, health, educational, social and legal. The United States is among the 22 countries that have yet to ratify the treaty – keeping company with such notorious women’s rights abusers as the Taliban’s Afghanistan, Monaco and Sudan.