Hyde Park, NY
Statement by Anna Eleanor Roosevelt
Chair, Roosevelt Institute
To the Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
November 18, 2010
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is a landmark international agreement that guarantees fundamental human rights and equality to women around the world.
Ratification by the United States, after decades of delay, is a moral imperative for our country. But I encourage you to consider it in instrumental terms as well.
Today we know with certainty that improving the status of the world's women is not just the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do. Investing in women must be recognized as a necessary, strategic objective of United States foreign policy.
Studies from more than 100 countries offer impressive evidence that societies are more peaceful and prosperous where women have basic rights and opportunities.
Democracies flourish and economies prosper -- public health improves and natural environments are best protected and sustained -- when women participate more fully and fairly in public life.
All over the world, countries are incorporating CEDAW's principles into their national constitutions, basic laws and administrative policies. Civil society organizations and individuals are using it to challenge specific state actions on grounds of discrimination.
The treaty has been an important tool to help punish the perpetrators of violence against women and of trafficking in women and girls; to establish standards for women's education, political participation, civil status, and economic advancement; and to reform customary laws of marriage and family status that have held women back for centuries.
I encourage you to consult the compelling document, Promoting Progress, Recognizing Rights: The Global Impact of CEDAW, compiled for this hearing by the highly regarded International Center for Research on Women. It offers numerous specific examples of the ways in which CEDAW has been used to advance women's rights in areas of the world of vital strategic interest to the United States from Afghanistan, Egypt and Turkey to India and Japan, to South Africa and the fragile emerging democracies of Rwanda and Liberia, and in Latin America and the Caribbean.
American women enjoy opportunities and rights only dreamed of by most women in the world, who are calling on us to ratify as a strong signal of our commitment to them. But even here at home few would dispute that more progress is needed to help women balance work and family, improve the quality of health care and child care, close the pay gap, and punish domestic violence and sex trafficking. Comparative global indexes of well-being for women no longer favor the United States because women lack access to important protections and services in these sectors.
CEDAW would not automatically result in changes to U.S. law. Ratifying the treaty provides a valuable moral framework and a powerful symbol but still leaves the power to debate and adopt appropriate legislative actions with Congress and the states.
My grandmother, Eleanor Roosevelt, understood the basic truth that human rights, as she once said memorably, must "begin in small places, close to home... where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination."
Eleanor Roosevelt was one of only eighteen women in a sea of men at the founding of the United Nations in 1945. But those women, from every corner of the world, united to create a foundation for universal human rights. They explicitly guaranteed that those rights would benefit all "human beings", not just men, and established the UN Commission on the Status of Women, alongside the Human Rights Commission, to demonstrate the power of their common commitment to gender equality.
CEDAW is one of the five core agreements of the United Nations that codify the aspirations of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights, hammered out under the firm but genial guidance of my grandmother.
President Jimmy Carter signed CEDAW back in 1980, but today the United States remains one of just seven countries that has not ratified it, placing us in the unlikely company of Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and several small Pacific island nations. Held hostage by partisan Senate politics and campaigns of misinformation, CEDAW has nonetheless twice won bi-partisan approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and enjoys broad-based public support.
The time for formal ratification is long overdue.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to share my views.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt