The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an international treaty adopted by the United States and ratified by almost every country in the world. If you have not heard of it, that may be because the United States is only one of seven countries that has failed to sign on to this treaty.
However, last year, President Obama invited members of the United Nations Working Group on the Issue of Discrimination Against Women in Law and in Practice to evaluate the state of women’s rights in the United States. In December, the group issued a scathing preliminary report, noting that “in the US, women fall behind international standards as regards their public and political representation, their economic and social rights, and their health and safety protections.”
While the report elaborated on each of these areas, including discussion of the dearth of women in political office (the U.S. ranks 72nd globally), the lack of universal healthcare which disproportionately affects women, and the detention of migrant women, I’ll focus on the workplace issues. The report noted that “the U.S. is one of only two countries in the world without a mandatory paid maternity leave for all women workers.” The investigators were also “shocked by the lack of mandatory standards for workplace accommodation for pregnant women, post-natal mothers, and persons with care responsibilities, which are required in international human rights law.” They noted that women, and women of color in particular, do not receive equal pay for equal work, which is required by human rights law and remarked that the “United States, as economic leader of the world, lags behind in providing a safety net and a decent life for those of its women who do not have access to independent wealth, high salaries or economic support from a partner or family.”
The whole report is worth reading (you can find it here). While Americans typically think of the struggle for justice in the national context, the report illustrates how it can be helpful to think of our issues in an international human rights context, and consider how we stack up globally. We clearly have some ways to go.