Testimony of Representative Carolyn B. Maloney U.S. House of Representatives 14th District of New York to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

Jun 13, 2002
Press Release

Senator Boxer, Chairman Biden, and members of the committee: On behalf of the U.S. House of Representatives, and especially on behalf of its women members and supporters of the rights of women worldwide, I commend you for holding this hearing on the CEDAW Treaty for the Rights of Women. A public discussion is an important step toward ratification of the treaty and a step toward equality for women worldwide. These hearings are long overdue - more than 22 years overdue.

This week is an historic one for women. We are here considering a step in which the United States would officially join the world community in supporting the rights of women. Meanwhile, across the globe in Kabul, Afghanistan, women are taking part for the first time in the Loya Jirga, the assembly of leaders who will determine the future of that shattered country. I hope that future will include ratification of the CEDAW Treaty for the Rights of Women. I would hope that in the year 2002, both the United States of America and the newly reconstituted country of Afghanistan will join the 169 other countries that have already ratified the Treaty for the Rights of Women. Let's face it - 169 countries in agreement cannot be wrong.

Why is the Treaty for the Rights of Women so important? It is a Bill of Rights for women worldwide. It sets up standards for the treatment of women. It is a framework from which a country can build programs that can save women's lives and bring women into the economic mai nstream of development.

If we as a country are serious about helping women in Afghanistan, we will ratify the CEDAW treaty. If we are serious about making sure that the atrocities against women that occurred in Afghanistan will never, ever happen again anywhere in the world, we will ratify the CEDAW treaty. If we are serious about saving women's lives from needless deaths and human rights violations, we will ratify the CEDAW treaty.

How does the treaty work? It outlines what equal treatment for women looks like in everyday areas of life-in legal rights, education, health care, employment, politics and finance. The United States is already among the world's leaders in advancing rights for women. But the situation is different in other countries. It is the year 2002 and still there are too many women who cannot speak out for fear of being beaten, too many women who are sold as sex slaves, too many who are raped as a weapon of war. Too many girls still cannot go to school, and too many women are not allowed even to inherit property.

In places like that, women and their governments have used the terms of the CEDAW treaty to set up primary school and health care programs for girls, for example, and to get women the right to vote and to inherit property. Organizations have used it for guidance in setting up programs to keep women from being beaten or killed by husbands in dowry disputes, or to provide micro-loans that can make women self-sufficient in small businesses, or to provide safe motherhood kits. It turns out that something as simple as giving women a clean plastic sheet to give birth on can combat high rates of maternal mortality.

But the United States needs to ratify the treaty too in order to give strength to these movements. I have had the privilege of traveling around the world to take part in events related to implementing the CEDAW Treaty. I was a member of the U.S. delegation to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in 1995. I am an active member of several global groups of parliamentarians who represent hundreds of countries. Often I am asked, why hasn't the United States ratified CEDAW? Doesn't your government know how important the treaty is for women around the world? Don't you care enough about the rights of women to join the CEDAW advisory committee? On that committee the United States could share with the rest of the world some of the ways we have already reached most of the CEDAW goals. It could help press other leaders for action where it is really needed. Our counterparts in other parliaments ask, why isn't the United States willing to be a partner in these efforts to save women's lives worldwide?

Senator Boxer, it is embarrassing as a member of the U.S. Congress to have to explain why our government has failed to ratify the CEDAW treaty, especially when President and Mrs. Bush have spoken so forcefully about the need to help women in Afghanistan.

As this committee knows, the United Nations adopted the CEDAW treaty in 1979. The United States took a major role in drafting it and signed the treaty in 1980. Over the twenty-two years since then, CEDAW has proved to be an important tool for women to use in partnership with their governments to end discrimination and build a foundation for achieving full partnership with men. So what is our problem? I can only tell people that the reason we have delayed so long is that too many Senators have serious misunderstandings about what the treaty really does.

Let me discuss some of those misunderstandings for a moment.

Opponents of this treaty have called it a radical version of the Equal Rights Amendment. I have to say: I only wish it were true. I wish this treaty did have the power to require Afghanistan and other countries to treat women fairly. But the truth is that it has no true enforcement mechanisms. It does not impose any new legal requirements. Its greatest power is the power of public opinion. Critics say the treaty will let the United Nations meddle in U.S. family life, or that it will generate a flood of lawsuits. Not true-it authorizes nothing that isn't already possible here.

Senator Helms, I believe has said this treaty has a "radical anti-family agenda" that opponents claim denigrates motherhood and seeks to level out all distinctions between men and women. With respect, this is just not right, and I ask you to look carefully at the facts. The CEDAW Committee's words on these matters have been twisted and taken out of context by treaty critics. For example, the critics say the committee wants all children to be in day care rather than at home with their mothers. This is a distortion of a comment the committee made about the situation in Slovenia, where only 30 percent of young children of working parents were in day care. The committee noted that the other 70 percent were missing out on possible education while their mothers were at work.

Critics say the treaty would promote abortion because it endorses family planning and that's a code word for abortion. But family planning is no code word. President Bush says he supports family planning, the right of every couple to plan the number and spacing of their children. The CEDAW Treaty has been certified abortion-neutral by the State Department. And Senator Helms led the way in making this explicit back in 1994, adding a formal understanding to the treaty that notes it does not guarantee any right to abortion. This should help to make it less controversial.

In a number of cases, critics say the CEDAW committee came out against motherhood. In truth, the committee was lamenting the persistence of stereotypes about women that some countries use to justify laws discriminating against them, or to let men avoid sharing family and household responsibilities. This was the case in Belarus and Armenia and even in Denmark and Luxembourg. The committee rightly said that honoring "the noble role of the mother" and setting up Mother's Day observances is no excuse for laws that keep pregnant women from working or deny them job or pension benefits.

The vast majority of American women would agree with that. In fact, an overwhelming majority of American women and men support U.S. ratification of CEDAW, just as they support full human rights for women. Already, 16 states and several dozen cities and counties have passed resolutions calling for ratification, including Los Angeles and Boston and New York. And in fact it is not just women in other countries who would benefit if the United States ratified this treaty. American women have full legal equality, but they still lag behind men in some important areas.

In January, my colleague Representative John Dingell and I released a report based on data from the General Accounting Office that compared the salaries of U.S. men and women in management. It found that men's pay remains higher than women's in virtually every field, and that in seven fields the gap has actually gotten worse since 1995. Other studies have found that the percentage of women in newspaper newsrooms has declined recently; that women scientists earn a third less than their male counterparts; and that large majorities of American women think the glass ceiling is very strong in their companies. Men seem to think it's only women's lack of experience that keeps them out of the executive suite, or that women prefer it that way. Women know better.

If we ratified the CEDAW treaty, none of these things would change overnight. But it would be a signal that the U.S. government is commited to promoting and protecting equality of opportunity for its own citizens. And it would set the stage for U.S. leadership in ensuring that women are fairly treated here and around the world.

Members of the committee, I urge you to take the first step in approving the CEDAW Treaty for the Rights of Women by sending it right away to the full Senate for deliberation. We are in bad company in failing to ratify it-with Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria and Somalia, among others-and it is time the United States resumed its rightful role as a leader in promoting full rights for women. Your action is long overdue.

I very much appreciate this opportunity to present to you the views of myself and my colleagues in the House, and I would be happy to answer any further questions you may have.

Thank you.