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Janet Grillo

Janet Grillo

Posted: November 30, 2009 10:07 AM

A Wall That Has Not Yet Fallen

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Days ago, millions celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. But this year also marks the 30th anniversary of the United States' refusal to break down another crucial wall; the barrier between women and their fundamental rights. Few know what the acronym CEDAW stands for. Which is in and of itself a crying shame. It means: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. In 1979, the United Nations adopted CEDAW, a treaty to protect fundamental rights of women, beyond cultural mores and traditions. Such as: protection from slavery, rape, honor killings and genital mutilation, to name a few. As well as equal pay for equal work, access to health care and parental leave. The treaty was ratified by 186 UN Member States, including such bastions of feminism as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Countries we decry for their outright abuse and oppression of women. Yet the nation with the most political sway in the international fight to protect human rights failed to ratify the treaty. You guessed it; our own. As long as the United States stands idly by, protections against outrageous aggression against women, which CEDAW could provide, linger un-enforced. Sure, they're "on the books." But if the Leader of the Free World doesn't take them seriously, why should Ahmadinejad?

One might ask, what's the value of this treaty in the first place? We all know that UN protocols are as meaningful as the participants' desire to abide them. But treaties are tools with which other watchdog organizations, such as the renowned HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, can work. They provide ground rules so that international pressure can be brought to bear on offenders. They establish standards to which all nations will be held accountable.

We are experiencing a valuable moment of acute public attention to atrocities against women. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn describe what is tantamount to gender genocide in their stirring book, Half the Sky. Hilary Clinton is boldly speaking out against rape as a mode of military conduct. The time has come to advance the cause of human justice for those who are born with two X chromosomes. Mr. Obama, take down this wall!

(Oh, and while we're at it...do you realize that our own Equal Rights Amendment was never passed? And that was originally brought to Congress in 1923.)