April 2011Volume 16Number 4PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)

Mid-Year Assembly votes to support CEDAW

At Issue for vote before the ISBA Assembly at this past December 2010 Mid-Year Meeting was whether the ISBA should take a position on whether the United States should ratify the international agreement entitled the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). A fairly lengthy discussion period occurred after a motion for a vote for the ISBA to support CEDAW ratification by the United States. In the end, the ISBA voted overwhelmingly, but not unanimously, to stand in support of the US ratification of CEDAW.

CEDAW was first adopted by the United Nations in 1979. Its purpose was to specifically define discrimination against women as it occurs worldwide and to create an opportunity for sovereign states to take a unified stand against such discrimination by making the promise to create systemic change through statutory and social policy change.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the treaty, but in order for the international law to become the law of the land, the state must ratify the treaty by a two-thirds majority favorable vote in the Senate. Sadly, thirty years later, the United States remains the only industrialized country that has not yet ratified CEDAW.

For decades, the treaty has languished in the Foreign Relations Committee and failed to become ratified, mostly through strategic and subtle, but deliberate attempts by a minority of our leaders to thwart occasional resurgences of support for ratification that have occurred over the last 30 years.

However, Senator Dick Durbin from our great State of Illinois held the first ever Judiciary Committee hearing on CEDAW ratification in November 2010 and now it is in the hands of Senator John Kerry in his leadership of the Foreign Relationship Committee to bring the issue to vote. Only then will it be set on Motion for vote before the entire Senate.

The Internet is wrought with a bitter verbal battle over CEDAW. There are numerous arguments that ratification of CEDAW is dangerous for America. Really, there is no slippery slope here. There is no hidden agenda. CEDAW is, simply, a promise; a promise to continue the legacy that our great women leaders began over a century ago, to promote the sustainment of the premise that women and men are fundamentally equal and that gender discrimination in social policy and law is intolerable.

While the United States has lead the world in many policy and legal changes that have narrowed the equality gap between women and men, there is still progress to be made. Until no woman is beaten by her husband, until rape is universally prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, until a foolproof child support enforcement system is implemented into law, until women and men are paid equally for equal work, until women and children do not constitute the greatest percentage of the homeless and impoverished, and countless other inequalities are no more, we will need a reminder of the path to follow. CEDAW is that reminder.

Kudos to the ISBA for seeing through the rhetoric and standing up for this long-over-due promise. However, our work is not done. CEDAW will not be ratified unless our Senators get the message that the time is now. In Illinois, we have a champion in Dick Durbin. We can support and bolster the efforts of our Senator, as individual members of the Bar or collectively as Section Councils and Committees of the ISBA by contacting Mr. Durbin to voice our support for U.S. ratification of CEDAW.

In closing, let me reiterate my sentiments I shared in my turn at the microphone at the Mid-Year Meeting. Any example of integrity always begins with a promise and ends with action consistent with that promise. The ISBA has pledged its promise to support the U.S. ratification of CEDAW. Let us now act accordingly. ■


Julie Neubauer is a member of the ISBA Assembly and a member of the Standing Committee on Women & the Law. She may be contacted at julieneu19@gmail.com.

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