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CEDAW Ratification Would Enhance Women’s Global Security

On Monday, President Obama issued the first ever National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, which recognizes that women’s meaningful participation in decisions regarding war and peace promotes national security and stability, and advances nations’ economic and social development. The plan, and the executive order implementing it, commit the United States to undertake steps to promote women’s roles in conflict prevention, peace processes, and decision making; to protect women and children from sexual and gender-based violence and trafficking in conflict zones; and to take women’s particular needs into account in providing humanitarian assistance. The plan recognizes that rape and violence against women is often used as a weapon in armed conflict and that efforts to prevent and end conflicts must address these forms of violence. It also recognizes that investing in women and girls’ health, education, and economic oppor­tunity pays dividends in the form of stable societies and lasting peace, because no nation can thrive when it fails to tap the potential of half its population. The plan is a strong and welcome commitment by the United States to foster women’s participation and leadership in diplomacy, defense, and development initiatives around the world.

The United States’ efforts should be aided by the fact that all but six countries in the world have formally committed themselves to women’s rights as human rights by ratifying the Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a blueprint for respecting, advancing, and protecting women’s full participation in society. Unfortunately, however, the United States will not be able to use CEDAW as a tool in these efforts because, along with Iran, Sudan, Somalia, and two small Pacific islands, the United States has not ratified this treaty. The Obama Administration’s strong support for CEDAW ratification has been met with right-wing obstructionism in the Senate, which has deprived the U.S. of the ability to press nations to live up to their commitments under CEDAW.

U.S. ratification of CEDAW would aid in efforts to enhance women’s role and respond to women’s needs in conflict prevention and resolution efforts internationally. For example, at a recent hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the President of Women’s Learning Partnership, a network of women’s rights activists and organizations primarily based in the Middle East and North Africa, testified that U.S. ratification of CEDAW would meaningfully reinforce the efforts of women’s rights activists in the region to fully implement the treaty’s guarantees of gender equality in their own countries. CEDAW should be a central part of the United States’ efforts to promote peace and prosperity around the globe.