First and foremost…Happy International Women’s Day! In a world in which women are so frequently marginalized or just plain forgotten, I think it’s a victory to have a day that recognizes the tremendous contributions that we make to society through our many roles as mothers, workers, students, sisters, friends, caregivers, and more. Of course, this recognition, this celebration of women, is a somewhat hollow victory when it seems like it’s just for show. If the world really and truly appreciated our participation and began to understand how the world would be without us, we would have more than one day of celebration per year. Every day will be a celebration when we are no longer the subject of a spate of insulting and off-base attacks about our fertility and sexuality, when we aren’t fighting for our lives against numerous forms of violence against women, and when we have convinced the United States to ratify an international treaty that recognizes our full dignity and equality.
There is no shortage of examples of attacks on women’s decision-making about if or when to have children. We recently saw the reintroduction of funding for abstinence-only sex education–an inadequate alternative to comprehensive sex education that has failed millions of young people over the past quarter century. And there have continued to be numerous–mostly insulting and unconstitutional–attempts to cut back access to legal abortions. Meanwhile, immigrant women are sometimes accused of having too many children or of seeking abortion based on the race of the fetus. For many of us, though, the most shocking battle has been over no-copay contraception under healthcare reform. The men leading the offensive on this rule have purposely excluded women’s voices from discussions about it. Female advocates of contraception have been personally attacked, and considering that an overwhelming majority of Latinas use contraception and support the no-copay contraception rule, these attacks were a show of disrespect to practically all of us. And ultimately, it has been made clear not only that a woman’s preferences and choices about what to do with her body don’t matter, but that her health doesn’t either.
This message has also come through loud and clear given the treatment of violence against women. Intimate partner violence (IPV) is also a real yet consistently under-addressed problem in the United States. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) still has not been reauthorized, despite supposedly enjoying bipartisan support. In fact, 16 legislators voted against an amendment to an offensive anti-abortion bill that would have prevented it from going into effect until VAWA is fully funded for two years. IPV affects individuals of races, ethnicities, nationalities, socioeconomic backgrounds, gender identities, and sexual orientations, but immigrant women, namely of Latina and Asian descent, are overrepresented among IPV-related homicide victims. Furthermore, IPV has been tied to the transmission of sexually transmitted infections and HIV: approximately 12% of HIV/AIDS infections of women aged 20-65+ and in relationships are attributable to IPV.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) codifies many of this country’s stated values around recognizing the equal citizenship of women. It contains provisions that mirror provisions in domestic law addressing issues including violence against women, cultural practices that discriminate against women, and pay differences. So the mystery is not why would the U.S. ratify CEDAW, but rather why has the U.S. not ratified CEDAW? Why is the U.S. one of only seven countries, including Somalia, Sudan, and Iran, that haven’t ratified this international treaty?
Today is a day for celebration but also for hope—hope that someday women in the U.S. and all over the world will live with health, dignity, and justice. When that’s the case, International Women’s Day, but also every other day, will really be cause for us to celebrate! By reaffirming the United States’ recognition of and commitment to women at home and abroad, ratifying CEDAW would help end the War on Women and bring us into a new period of prosperity for all.