Saturday, March 7, 2009

U.S. stands with countries such as Iran in not supporting women's rights treaty

From Yahoo news:

Discord likely over ratifying women's rights pact

By DAVID CRARY, AP National Writer David Crary, Ap National Writer 2 hrs 52 mins ago

NEW YORK – A global women's rights treaty completed 30 years ago has a better-than-ever chance for U.S. Senate ratification this year, yet the hunt for the needed 67 favorable votes is likely to incur the wrath of activists on both the left and right.

Known as CEDAW (SEE-daw), the treaty's formal name is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Since its adoption by the U.N. General Assembly in 1979, all but eight of the 192 U.N. members have become a party to it — the United States is one of the holdouts, along with Sudan, Somalia, Qatar, Iran, Nauru, Palau and Tonga.

This year, with CEDAW-supporting Democrats holding power in Washington, Sen. Barbara Boxer plans a concerted effort to seek ratification as part of her agenda for a new Foreign Relations subcommittee chairmanship overseeing global women's issues.

"We've waited long enough," said Boxer, D-Calif. "All these years later, there's no excuse for not ratifying this critical convention to shine a light on women's rights around the world.
"It's a shame that the U.S. stands with countries such as Iran, Sudan and Somalia in failing to ratify the treaty."

As the world observes International Women's Day on Sunday, scores of domestic and global human rights and women's groups are hoping that Boxer succeeds. However, the quest for ratification faces not only long-standing opposition from many conservatives, but also a relatively new challenge from a vocal faction of liberal activists who fear the treaty will be burdened with damaging, politically expedient exceptions.

From the right, U.S. opponents of CEDAW contend that ratification could lead to legalized prostitution, increased government interference in family matters, and abolition of remaining restrictions on abortion. They also question the value of joining a treaty that has been ratified by countries such as Saudi Arabia, where women cannot vote or drive.

"The treaty is worse than useless," said Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America. "It gives legitimacy to regimes that are committing some of the worst abuses against women."

Wright promised a vigorous fight against CEDAW, which she depicted as "the Equal Rights Amendment on steroids."

On the left, there is growing apprehension that Democratic leaders in the Senate, who need Republican votes to get the treaty ratified, will be willing to add various reservations, understandings and declarations — known as RUDs — that some activists feel would be harmful.

"It would be an important signal to the world that we adopt this critical convention without limitations that exempt the U.S. from coverage and responsibility for the treatment of women," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. "It sends a kind of 'ugly American' signal that we expect to hold other countries to a standard that we're not willing to accept for ourselves."

Boxer said her subcommittee will start hearings this year with a "clean" version of the treaty, but aides said it's almost certain some RUDs will be added as a step toward winning enough votes. The subcommittee is awaiting input on that subject from the Obama administration, which supports the treaty.

In 1994 and 2002, when the treaty came before the Senate but failed to win ratification, a total of 11 RUDs were added. Among them were stipulations that CEDAW could not compel U.S. women to serve in military combat units, could not be used to interfere with private conduct, and could not force the United States to provide paid maternity leave.

One of the most contentious RUDs — likely to be revived this year — stipulates that nothing in CEDAW should be interpreted as creating a right to abortion.

Janet Benshoof, president of the New York-based Global Justice Center, called this provision "the most deceptive."

"This language is touted as neutral or benign but is not," she wrote in a recent essay. "This language can and has been used as an anti-abortion weapon."

Because of pressure to shy away from abortion, Benshoof said, U.N. and other agencies have even been unwilling to raise the idea of offering abortions to girls impregnated by rapists in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region.

Benshoof contended that a treaty encumbered by such RUDs "poses even more danger than continued U.S. isolation."

Another New York-based women's rights group, MADRE, has similar concerns and is launching a campaign to get a "clean" version of the treaty ratified.
"Most senators don't understand that the treaty could actually do harm" if accompanied by certain reservations, said Yifat Susskind, MADRE's communications director.

"The argument you'll hear is that it's better for the U.S. to at least be in the game, even with a weaker CEDAW," she said. "I don't buy that argument ... What you're compromising on is so integral that you really would be selling the principles of what you're trying to."

Opinions are sharply divided over the tangible impact that CEDAW has had internationally, in part because the committee that monitors treaty compliance cannot enforce its recommendations.

Nonetheless, CEDAW supporters say the treaty has been valuable in numerous countries in expanding property rights and political rights, developing domestic violence policies, and improving education for girls.

The treaty does not require legalization of prostitution, although the monitoring committee has recommended decriminalization in some countries so that women who are victims of sexual slavery and trafficking won't be deterred from seeking help from authorities.

If Boxer's subcommittee votes for ratifying the treaty, it would then advance to the full Foreign Relations Committee chaired by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

Kerry is "extremely supportive of stronger international frameworks for promoting global equality and women's empowerment," said committee spokesman Frederick Jones. "He is looking at a number of draft bills and international instruments and will support the most effective avenues to accomplish his ideals."


On the Net:
U.N. treaty:
Treaty opponents:
Treaty supporters:

Posted by: Jerin Alam,
President, Hunter Women’s Rights Coalition (HWRC)

What do YOU think? Should this treaty be ratified?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Channeling the spirit of Susan B. Anthony

This article was published on my column on the WORD here:

By Jerin Alam, President, Hunter Women Rights Coalition

I and eight students from the Hunter Women’s Rights Coalition attended the annual National Organization for Women Conference in Seneca Falls, New York November 7-9. The conference also marked the 160th Anniversary of the first organized women’s rights conference in America. The experience left us in awe.

We heard dynamic speeches of the great feminists present, including Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney,

Ellie Smeal, Executive Director of the Feminist Majority and Past President of NOW, Olga Vives, National NOW Executive Vice President and Originator of NOW’s Merchant of Shame Campaign that exposed the discriminatory business practices of Wal-Mart, and Martha Burk, Author of Your Money or Your Life, and Former Chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations.

We felt great Hunter pride being the largest college group present, as well as having one of the only male feminists there, our very own Steven Beard, Secretary of HWRC.

There were many highlights of the weekend, including a trip to the First Presbyterian Church in Seneca Falls, the place where Alice Paul first proposed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Moving speeches by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Eleanor Smeal strengthened our commitment to feminism. We sang along with singer Sandy Rapp, especially during the songs about reproductive justice. Even after returning to Hunter, we were humming the tune and repeating the lyrics, “Get your laws off me … I’m not your property.”

We had goose bumps when the Seneca Falls mayor reminded us that Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton may have walked or sat where we were. We laughed as I kept trying to channel the great feminists, who are important figures not just for feminists, but also for all Americans.

Another treat was the Susan B. Anthony impersonator, who had a wealth of knowledge about the icon. Renee Muza, treasurer of Hunter Women’s Rights Coalition, had a lovely conversation with her during dinner, delighted by her insight about the American leader.

After dinner, it was a testament that the “f” in feminism also stands for fun, because many of us let loose on the dance floor. It was a bonding experience with the male and female feminists, all working toward a common goal.

I was honored to be a co-presenter in one of the workshops, “Young Feminists Working for Equality: Keep the Movement in the Fast Lane: A How to on Young Feminists Mobilizing.” My co-presenter, Susan Stanton, spoke about her experience as an intern in Washington, D.C.; she gave useful advice on how to work with local and national politicians to further our agenda, especially on lobbying the government for equal pay issues.

One very useful tip was sending unique letters to our representatives to garner attention. Diane Zuniga spoke about young feminists on campus mobilizing around LGBT issues. Rachelle Suissa, CUNY graduate student and Vice President of Brooklyn-Queens NOW, spoke about mobilizing young feminists in the community for fundraising.

My presentation centered on getting funding from one’s own home campus and developing strategies and tactics to combat violence against women, including the difficulty in getting people interested in this difficult topic. It was a lively event, and I walked away learning from my co-presenters and the attendees.

After returning to New York City, we all discussed the play Keep Your Eyes Open, a Best of Fringe Most Outstanding Ensemble award-winner; it gave us hope and reminded us why we fight this battle. Feminism can often seem lonely and isolating, with the popular portrayals of feminists as man-hating, angry crazies. Being surrounded by feminists felt validating and energizing; meeting the 11 year olds who produced and put on the play reminded us why this fight is so important.

These youths have insights that some 30-year-old people do not. It was incredible to watch these young feminists perform, describing their difficulties not being able to eat as much as the boys, being judged for their clothing, misogynistic lyrics in popular music, and a host of other problems both girls and women can relate to. Avigal Nisim, a HWRC member, commented on feeling envious of the young girls, impressed by the knowledge and insight they possess at such a young age.

Apart from the amazing experience, the conference reaffirmed my belief that feminists need to be committed to bridging the gap and working together, even when our viewpoints diverge. One issue that divides feminists and the rest of America is the question of reproductive rights. I am strongly pro-choice, but HWRC has had success working with pro-life feminists on issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. The feminist movement would be much stronger if we tried to focus on common ground, instead of allowing the opposition to divide us on diversity of opinion.

The entire Hunter group felt the seven-hour car ride was well worth the trip. Apart from the speeches made by down-to-earth feminist icons, the camaraderie we felt has continued long after the event; we were able to bond together as Hunterites. The trip made me confident there will be many people to continue the feminist work needed here at Hunter in the years to come. Some of the members who attended have become more involved with feminism as a result, and the active members brought back many ideas, including working to push the ERA.

We have to thank NOW-NYS President Marcia Pappas for all her help getting us to the conference. The biggest treat for us was the complimentary membership to NOW, thanks to Marcia and the others involved. From the financial help to her hospitality to her help in organizing the conference, we cannot thank her enough.

We also have to thank Trudy Mason, who helped bring Keep Your Eyes Open to the event and helped us Hunterites by trying to schedule a private tour for us to the historic places nearby. We cannot forget the Hunterites who made the trip possible, including Undergraduate Student Government, Student Activities, Dean Michael Escott, and Vice President Eija Ayravainen and her office. Without their financial and administrative support, the trip would be canceled.

I would recommend everyone to get involved with NOW and attend the NOW-NYS conference next year. I can guarantee an unforgettable experience, filled with hope and activism.