Members of the U.S. Senate are renewing efforts to ratify an international women's rights treaty which has been ratified in nearly all other countries. The only other exceptions are Iran, Sudan, Somalia, and several small Pacific Island nations.
Then President Jimmy Carter signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1980, but the full U.S. Senate has never taken a vote.
Ratification of the 1979 United Nations convention would require 67 votes in the 100-member Senate.
Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin explained why he was holding the first Senate hearing on the issue in eight years. "Throughout history, we have tried to be a leader in the world to advance human rights. But many times we have lost our credibility, when other countries have challenged us," he said.
One of those giving testimony, Wazhma Frogh, from the Afghan Women's Network in Afghanistan, agreed the United States needs to ratify the treaty known by its acronym CEDAW to help women in other countries. "Conservative elements use this fact that America has not ratified CEDAW to attack us. They ask us why hasn't the United States ratified CEDAW. Today we do not have an answer. Perhaps one day soon, if the Senate ratifies, we can answer them back," he said.
Also testifying, Hollywood movie star Geena Davis brought some media attention to Thursday's proceedings.
First, she explained she should be called an actor, rather than an actress. "The dictionary definition of actor is a person who acts, so we do not actually need actress. It is going to sound soon as quaint as doctoress, or poetess, or authoress," she said.
Davis also emphasized the theme the United States should set an international example, even if it already is a leader in evolving women's rights. "It is critically urgent now for the United States to stand with the 186 countries that have ratified the treaty rather than with the company we are currently keeping. That is an image of America we cannot allow to continue for one more day," she said.
But the lone dissenter testifying explained why it will be difficult for the treaty to be ratified. "The United States should only ratify those treaties that advance U.S. national interests. And it does not advance our interests, I submit, to submit ourselves to scrutiny by a committee of so-called gender experts that has repeatedly demonstrated its divergence with American legal, social and cultural norms," said Steven Groves, a fellow at the conservative institute The Heritage Foundation.
Lawmakers opposed to expanded abortion rights have accused the body which oversees the women's anti-discrimination convention of pressuring countries to rescind laws against abortion.
With three anti-abortion Republicans on Senator Durbin's Human Rights and the Law Subcommittee, as well as huge conservative gains by the Republican Party in the most recent U.S. legislative elections, Senate analysts predict the latest effort to ratify the convention will be very difficult.