Half of the American Population Remains Politically Unprotected, Again
By: Marina Kovacevic – Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law
I am political and I would help roughly half of the American population, but I have been touched by every country in the world except the U.S., Sudan, Iran and Somalia. What am I? I am the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).[i] Yes, you read it right—the U.S. has something shameful in common with only these countries.
The CEDAW is associated with campaigns against gross human rights violations like human trafficking or systematic violence against women. But the Convention is also a versatile framework for measuring equality in many arenas, including the global economy and the workplace.[ii] The US signed the CEDAW on July 17, 1980 but has not ratified it, so it has not joined the other 187 countries who have.[iii] President Carter forwarded CEDAW to the U.S. Senate for advice and consent in 1980.[iv] It remains in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.[v] The Senate has held hearings on CEDAW five times in the past 25 years but failed each time to bring the treaty to a vote on the floor.[vi]
The US would be in grave violation of CEDAW with its failure to implement and enforce equality in the legal realm. Congress embarrassingly bailed on passing the Paycheck Fairness Act that would prohibit discrimination existent in the workplace based on sex.[vii] The Supreme Court keeps diminishing women’s worth by refusing to implement anything higher than an intermediate scrutiny standard in cases of sex discrimination. Abortion laws and regulations continue to discredit the theme of Roe v. Wade, such as propositions comparable to Texas Senator John Coryn’s anti-human trafficking bill that would ban a victim restitution fund from covering the cost of abortions.[viii]
Our first world country remains amidst a phenomenon of economic power superior to that of any other country in the world but such political tug of war continues to stifle the progress that half of the nation’s population could be making to equate itself with the male population.
The adoption of CEDAW would force the US to give the rights to women that politicians simply and blatantly do not want to give. The U.S. would be held to international standards of equality for women and this is something that the American conservative politicians will not bow down to. By accepting the convention, states commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws, and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women.[ix] However, the U.S. may sign CEDAW with its own reservations, including any articles of the treaty that would delve too deeply into the family structure.
But have been the reasons our politicians give us for not adopting CEDAW? Would CEDAW harm or help our society? “Conservative organizations, such as the Home School Legal Defense Association and Concerned Women for America, vehemently oppose the ratification of all human rights treaties. They insist that human rights treaties violate American sovereignty.”[x] Because American politics allows for group lobbying, sometimes the group who is the loudest will win, influencing Congress members in making a decision. Conservatives further claim that CEDAW displays feminist views that are too radical for the American society to withstand.[xi]
Congress has been notorious for partisan views, accompanied by personal ideologies and interests, both of which are bound to influence decision making. However, the fact that government representatives allow this to be their reason for rejecting CEDAW or the rights from it is troublesome because congressional representatives are in office to represent their communities, not to further their personal agendas. Whose interests should prevail? Conservative interests based on internal views or factual interests of women who face discrimination?
Why do conservative views on family and tradition continue to outweigh the need for equality that is not present in today’s American society or law? The issue is not that CEDAW would interfere too personally into family structures. The issue is that CEDAW would provide a unique, international channel of protection of women where there would be some recourse for women who experience sex discrimination beyond Supreme Court analysis.
[i] United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
[iii] United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
[x] Lisa Baldez, U.S. Drops The Ball on Women’s Rights, CNN Opinion (Mar. 8, 2013). http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/08/opinion/baldez-womens-equality-treaty/.