Tuesday, March 17, 2009

From Lily Vreeland

The United States has recently announced an intended push to join the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC)[1], an act which would signal a significant departure from Bush Administration attempts to disassociate the US from the UN and human rights in general. This is a most welcome trend in the human rights community. The Obama administration is, at long last, initiating U.S. change and engaging the nation into more solid relations with the international community. It is now time for the nation to begin addressing the fundamental and long overlooked necessity of ensuring rights for all humanity. Valiant though the new administration’s effort may be, there are many areas left for the U.S. to move closer in line with the rest of the world in relation to human rights. For instance, the United States can make a stronger international stand to protect the rights of its own citizens, particularly women. It can open itself up more freely to international dialogue about its own policies toward women.

Jimmy Carter signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on July 17th, 1980, over twenty-eight years ago. Unnecessary obstacles and opposition stopped it from reaching the Senate floor for ratification. Almost every other nation in the world, and certainly every other democracy, has ratified this critical document. The internal opposition within the U.S. to ratification has made the most inaccurate claims about the treaty, and they simply fail to acknowledge the gross injustices still suffered by women in this country, as is true of every other nation. These violations range from lack of equal pay for women, derogatory stereotypes, and insufficient policies on domestic policies.

These and many other issues must be addressed while we work toward a seat on the HRC. The onus is on the Obama Administration to move quickly to ratify CEDAW. It is the hope that the Obama administration understands the necessity of addressing these inequalities, and that it understands full rights should be granted to women everywhere, solely because, alongside their male counterparts, they are an equal part of the human race.

It is a disappointment that such protections need to be outlined on paper in the first place, and yet we must nevertheless recognize the need for such a document, a need to ratify it, and uphold its high moral standards for our culture. Those of us living in the United States often think of ourselves as exceptional, and yet the refusal to ratify CEDAW places us instead with countries we often criticize, such as Iran and the Sudan. While I absolutely applaud Obama’s efforts to reach out to the greater global community by making a move towards joining the HRC, there are matters that also need to be addressed at home to signal to American citizens and the rest of the world that we have a legitimate claim to speak for human rights on an international level.

Lily Vreeland

Northwestern University

[1] Pisik, Betsey. “U.S. Eyes Bid for U.N. Rights Council.” Washington Post. 10 February 2009.

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