Moving Leadership by Addressing Equality

Approximately two weeks ago, I attended a brown-baglunch discussion hosted by the Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues on “Gender Equality: United Nations and US Federal Support”. At the event, I felt I was in the midst of change makers and leaders. The attendees were from various organizations including Gender Action, Amnesty International, Council of Women Leaders, and Empowered Women International. They ranged in age and experience, from interns to retired advocates. Sitting amidst a group of strong ladiesprepared to stir change; these women had the qualities and skills of leaders and I was fortunate to see it in practice and be a part of it. They were clear in their points, passionate, unwilling to back down, pushy, and were personal.

The event was framed around the United Nation’s organizational role in gender equality, a topic close and dear to all women, and US federal support for global gender equality. The discussions were very lively and made me think of how far the world had come in treating women with theequal respect, manner, and demeanor as men. I’ve decided the answer is not far enough, by any means! Why? Well let’s consider the United States. CEDAW, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. CEDAW guarantees gender equality and is also an effort to form a stronger women’s agency at the United Nations. In its 31st year, the United States still has not ratified CEDAW.

There is no argument that women in the U.S. are far better off in terms of rights and everything the constitutionpromises; however, the U.S. is now lagging behind many developing and third-world countries in meeting international law standards set by CEDAW. Signing on to CEDAW would show the world that U.S. is devoted to ending inequity, discrimination, and violence against women globally and to enhancing the status of women everywhere. The status quo may leave people (especially men, most of whom still set national policy) happy – but it is not good enough. In the past,there have been several various social and women’s movements. Some, very small and other large, but all have resulted in some form of change, at a local, community, state, or federal level. We must continue the efforts of our past leaders, stir controversy, and address the needs of women everywhere.

As I find myself on the tips of developing the skills to become a leader, I have many women leaders to look up to and learn from. A great advocate for CEDAW, Susan Rice, Americanforeign policy advisor and United States Ambassador to the United Nations, has been very involved in making sure CEDAW is a priority to the government. Again, amidst the leaders at the brown bag lunch, I felt compelled to move my careeras a leader along in the right direction. In 1994 and 2002, CEDAW was considered in the Senate Foreign Committee, and received a bipartisan vote, but never reached the floor. I encourage everyone to do whatever they can, littleor large, to enhance the opportunities for other women to lead, and in the process lead others. Start a movement, call your representative, educate them, tell you friends, or simply tell women they can!

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  • gwmchstudents

    U.S. leaders claim that the U.S. is so ahead on gender equality that we don’t need to sign a statement supporting it. It shows such ethnocentricity that U.S. leaders refuse to sign on to this global initiative due to our own misconceptions that gender equality as been fully achieved within our own borders.

  • mollyrose

    I completely agree that the status quo is not good enough. It is absolutely appalling that the US has yet to sign on to CEDAW. One of the most unique features of the Convention is the recognition of discrimination that exists both inside and outside of the public sphere, including issues like domestic violence. By failing to ratify CEDAW, the US is sitting idly by and failing to address issues that continue to affect women all over the world, (including the US!) every day. We have yet to grant women equal pay in the work place, and the fear of not being taken seriously in cases of sexual/domestic assault looms today just as much as it did ten years ago. By putting CEDAW on the back-burner, the US is speaking more loudly through actions (or lack-there-of) than through words, and showing us that even in the age of 3rd-wave feminism, we are going to have to put up more than a fight to be granted basic human respect and to have our civil rights taken seriously.The United States is among a small minority of countries that have not yet ratified CEDAW, including Iran and Sudan. The United States has the unfortunate distinction of being the only country in the Western Hemisphere and the only industrialized democracy that has not ratified the treaty. The Convention is indeed one of the most effective ways to advance women’s rights on a global level since it provides a universal definition of discrimination against women and offers a means for review and encouragement for complying with it. It would not only bolster the effort of the United States to improve the status of women around the world, it would also show America’s dedication to women’s rights, thus affirming the role of the US as a true advocate and leader for human rights.

  • carab

    Thank you for such an interesting comment on women, leadership and equality. Not only does the U.S. lag behind with signing the CEDAW, but in many other fronts when it comes to women’s rights and equality. Just look at the gender gap in pay, lack of women in corporate leadership positions, and even gender rating for women to pay higher insurance premiums. While progress has been made, there is still a lot of work to be done!

  • ndreisbach

    Thank you so much for sharing your reactions to the Gender Equality brown bag lunch! I agree it would be wonderful to see the US to sign on to CEDAW, and I agree it would send a strong international message: that the US recognizes gender inequality.
    However, in thinking about CEDAW, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act came to mind. Through the tireless efforts of Lilly Ledbetter, we (and not just women!) are no longer restricted to filing a pay discrimination lawsuit within 180 days after the first paycheck is issued. This Act recognizes that in cases of pay discrimination, each and every paycheck represents pay discrimination. As Americans, we are a litigious group, and this Act makes it easier to say to the boss, "I’ll see you in court!" in cases of pay discrimination.
    While signing onto CEDAW would send a strong message, my fear is that it would have no legal standing in any US court–therefore, leaving no recourse to women. However, I feel, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act sends a stronger message: that another obstacle to exposing unfair pay has been removed. But as other posters have noted, there is still a lot of work to be done!

  • drsowole

    Thank you for this interesting reaction to your experience. The U.S. has not moved forward significantly on gender equality. By opposing to ratify CEDAW, the U.S. is ignoring the issues that affect each female! This does not only affect women globally, but right women right here in our own backyard! When will women every or will women every gain equal rights!!! Human rights are definitely being infringed upon! We have a long road ahead of us!!! We must stand up!!!

  • mphandpsych

    I love the passion in this! However, I think it’s important to highlight that change is always hard when people are resistant- and I believe that is the case with women’s rights in the U.S. The government and society at large do not want women to have the same rights and opportunities as men- because if they did, then we would see that social norm shift. Gender is used in such a way that giving equal rights to women would mean changing how women are viewed in society- and that would take A LOT of changing.

    So I think as women leaders, we need to look at the broader picture of how can we change gender norms, society views of women as “less than men” and change the locus of attention to woman as a powerful, independent identity.


  • tysanchez

    Not only am I happy that you were exposed to such discussion among leaders, but thank you for bringing this topic up. I agree with most in saying that I strongly believe the U.S., as a leading industrialized nation, should highly consider signing onto this cause. I think that by signing onto CEDAW, the U.S. would be taking the much-needed stand to end discrimination against women everywhere. It is shameful that to this day not much attention has been paid to end discrimination against women in this country.

  • sheresej

    As a leader in democracy, I definitely think it’s important for the U.S. to sign onto this cause. It’s a bit hypocritical for us to acknowledge how much we support equal rights for women and ensuring women have better opportunities but yet we haven’t ratified the CEDAW. There are millions of women across the globe who are counting on initiatives like this to give them a voice and a chance to be a productive citizen of their country. I am still astonished when I hear of stories where women are killed because they took a stand on an issue or they have to give up their daughters in countries where they’re not considered as valuable to a family as a boy. Women need a voice, and I commend all those around the world who work tirelessly to improve gender equality and keep issues like the ratification of the CEDAW on the political agenda! Controversy incites debate and debate encourages change! Let’s keep the controversy going for women around the world!

  • cristenbates

    It sometimes makes me wonder about the definition of "devloped" and "underdevloped". Maybe instead of categorizing countries by indstry, GDP, and number of cars in every garage we should consider more social issues. It seems to me that the US has a very underdeveloped sense of equality!