Unfinished Business

Senate Hearing Raises CEDAW Hopes

Strong and moving Senate testimony today raised the prospects for approval soon of landmark legislation that would benefit women and girls worldwide, according to June Zeitlin of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

An unusual panel of seven women senators detailed what Senator Tammy Baldwin called “egregious acts of violence” that afflict one of every three women during her lifetime, while other witnesses outlined measures to combat such abuses. At a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on combating violence and discrimination against women, they expressed support for passage of the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) and the international Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

“I’m very encouraged that we could see action on these critically important measures very soon,” said Zeitlin, who heads the Leadership Conference’s CEDAW Project. “The Senate now needs only to put its votes where its rhetoric is.” A two-thirds majority is required for treaty ratification.

Chairing the crowded hearing, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) agreed. “We need to move on legislation that carries out this notion – not very radical – that we are all created equal,” she said. “It’s ridiculous, it’s embarrassing, it’s inexplicable” that the United States has not yet joined 187 other countries in ratifying CEDAW.

Hauwa Ibrahim, a Nigerian attorney who defends women sentenced under Sharia law to abuses such as death by stoning, testified that U.S. ratification “would be a huge partnership with our own work and make our work go easier….a collective interest beyond north versus south or Christian versus Muslim.” Defending women’s rights, she said, is “a responsibility of our common humanity,” and the United States “is our beacon of hope.”

Fully 219 of the girls captured in Nigeria by the radical Boko Haram organization remain missing she said. “We are still living in disbelief that it happened.”

Catherine M. Russell, U.S Ambassador-At-Large for Global Women’s Issues, pledged Obama administration support for CEDAW and IVAWA passage. “CEDAW would be an important additional tool to urge countries to immediately address gender-based violence,” she said. “We can’t underestimate the power it would have in the world.”

Boxer urged those present to make their views known to the rest of the Senate. “This is not complicated. This is an issue that has a solution,” she said.