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Shulamith Koenig

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Equal Access To Full Human Rights For All Women

Posted: 12/03/09 10:40 AM ET

From the long and exciting journey to have all people around the world know and own human rights as a way of life, allow me to share a celebration. From this we can understand the holistic vision and practical mission of human rights.

On December 3, women and men around the world are celebrating the 30th anniversary of CEDAW, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Within the existing patriarchal order, CEDAW is a revolutionary document, unique in its perception of women as full human beings.

My friend and mentor, professor Upendra Baxi writes:

"No single phrase in recent human history has been more privileged to bear the mission and burden of human destiny than [the phrase] 'human rights'... The greatest gift of classical and contemporary human thought is the notion of human rights. Indeed, more than any other moral language available to us at this time in history, the language of human rights is able to expose the immorality and barbarism of the modern face of power". -- From "Inhuman Wrongs and Human Rights"


Thirty years ago, this single powerful phrase 'Human Rights', was finally recognized as including and belonging to women too. CEDAW calls for equality and the elimination of discrimination. It also calls for the transformation of systems of oppression such as patriarchy and racism. Women's human rights are about human rights for all, they speak to a life of shared and respected humanity. The elimination of discrimination against women is an imperative if we plan to strive in earnest towards human flourishing through human rights.

CEDAW was a major radical step forward, an act of transcendence, embarked on in a world dominated by a patriarchal order. CEDAW recognizes and articulates the political, civil, economic, social and cultural human rights of women. It is a practical yet groundbreaking call that stands to make all religions, all cultures and economic and social organizations across the globe richer by accepting women as equal human beings. CEDAW gives women an important role as agents of change in the center of the state, communities and families.

It is important to stress again that CEDAW places an absolute prohibition on all forms of discrimination against women. Discrimination is defined as "any distinction, exclusion, or restriction, made on the basis of sex, with the purpose or effect" of obstructing the enjoyment of human rights by women and girls. Furthermore, in addition to demanding that women be accorded equal rights with men, the Convention prescribes measures to be taken to ensure that women everywhere are able to enjoy their full human rights to which they are entitled. The Convention covers all areas of life and frames them from a human rights perspective. Women's rights to political participation, education, health, equality in the family, a life free from violence and to an adequate standard of living are some of the human rights covered in the Convention. CEDAW talks about results: all actions taken by the government to improve the life of citizens should lead to equal results and benefits for women and men. The understanding is that life with human rights for all is a win/win situation.

Currently, 186 countries -- over 90 percent of the members of the United Nations -- are party to CEDAW. These nations are bound to put the provisions of the Convention into practice and translate human rights into a lived experience for all. The act of ratification of this human rights convention by a specific country is what gives "teeth" to this call of equality and non-discrimination of women. States that are party to CEDAW undertake the obligation to scrutinize their national laws accordingly and inform the population about it. Unfortunately, too many states are slow in doing so. More upsetting and totally incomprehensible is the fact that the United States is not one of the 186 countries who are committed to upholding CEDAW. This fact speaks for itself and calls for change.

As part of the celebrations to commemorate of the adoption of the CEDAW, this article is a call for all readers to support and join actions to have the Convention ratified by the U.S. Congress. After all, the Convention sets out internationally accepted principles that would be legally binding in the United States after ratification. Just think about the ways CEDAW would enrich the current debates about health care reform. Imagine the possibility of sending children you love to learn about human rights in schools. Let's bring CEDAW home, let's make all human rights matter in this country. A first step is calling for ratification of CEDAW. Because learning about human rights is essential to the reader's personal empowerment, I have included some information about the Convention that may be of use to you.

Yes. Human Rights is a way of life. We have no other option.

Background information on the Convention
CEDAW was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1979 to reinforce the provisions of existing international instruments and thus make human rights indivisible, interconnected and interrelated to combating the continuing discrimination against women. CEDAW identifies many specific areas where there has been notorious discrimination against women, in regard to political human rights, marriage, the family and employment. In these and other areas the Convention spells out specific goals and measures that are to be taken to facilitate the creation of a global society in which women enjoy full equality with men and thus realize their guaranteed humanity. When you read the summary below you will find several important areas of our lives that calls for change in the U.S. as well.

CEDAW is the most important internationally recognized document to overcome the roots of discrimination and therefore enable us to decipher between symptoms and causes. It gives the world a new unique moral and legal framework to guide our daily decisions and relationships. It enables women and men to understand and acknowledge the energies and creativity women have towards making this a better world for all as full human beings. We women must participate in the decisions that determine our lives, guided by the holistic human rights framework.

Useful Resources:
http://pdhre.org/conventionsum/cedaw.html

CEDAW in the U.S. Campaign:
http://actnow-phr.org/campaign/cedaw#petition
http://www.amnestyusa.org/violence-against-women/ratify-the-treaty-for-the-rights-of-women-cedaw/join-the-umbrella-petition/page.do?id=1108268

The text of the Convention: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cedaw.htm

PDHRE: http://pdhre.org/

Discrimination Against Women: The Convention and the Committee, Fact Sheet #22, UN Centre for Human Rights: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FactSheet22en.pdf

Web site in commemoration of the 30th Anniversary of the Convention: http://www.unifem.org/cedaw30/

 

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