The Home Side of Global Feminism: Why Hasn't the Global Found a Home in the U.S.?

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Abstract: Despite recent moves by Congress to ratify international treaties that protect women's human rights globally, little consideration has been given to the impact of such treaties in the U.S. Not only government agencies, but women's advocacy groups, human rights organizations and even academic feminists tend to define women's human rights abuses as occurring abroad, and not in the U.S. This essay addresses reasons why domestic advocacy groups have failed to recognize the significance of addressing women's concerns in the U.S. from the perspective of women's human rights, and, more importantly, why it is vital that they do so.


In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the attention of the country and the world turned to efforts by the U.S. to pursue and destroy al-Queda and topple its supporter, the Taliban regime controlling most of Afghanistan. As part of its campaign to generate domestic and international support for its military actions in Afghanistan, the administration used references to the harsh treatment of women by the Taliban. Extensive media coverage and remarks by the President and First Lady outlined how the Taliban had effectively undermined women's human rights by banning them from political organizations and the public sphere and subjecting them to torture and violence for such simple violations as not being fully veiled or for going to work or to school. (1) The administration's statements about the Taliban's brutality towards women brought attention to the worldwide movement to link women's rights with human rights, a movement that largely began as a way to provide a framework for responding to the global phenomenon of violence against women.

The movement to bring international attention to the unique rights violations endured by women gained momentum during the last decade, and "women's rights are human rights" became one of the key encompassing themes of the Platform for Action that emerged from the Beijing Women's conference in 1995 (see "Bejing Platform for Action," 1996). But, over the past two decades, the United States has made little effort to join the United Nations in supporting international treaties and agreements that were established specifically to extend the protections of existing human rights documents to women. Ironically, as of 2002, the United States, along with Afghanistan and Sao Tome and Principe, is one of three countries to have signed, but not yet ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), (2) a Treaty that was recently signed by Saudi Arabia (Human Rights Watch, 2001). According to Zoelle (2000), CEDAW is "the first international treaty to provide comprehensive protection of women's human rights" (p. 2). CEDAW defines discrimination against women as

   ... any distinction, exclusion or restriction made
   on the basis of sex which has the effect or
   purpose of impairing or nullifying the
   recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women,
   irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of
   equality of men and women, of human rights
   and fundamental freedoms in the political,
   economic, social, cultural, civil or any other
   field (Convention on the elimination, 1979)

The treaty recognizes that existing human rights documents fail to account for the unique abuses faced by women and reflects the growing international movement to place the protection of women's human rights at the forefront of both human rights discourse and feminist discourse in the international public sphere. The heightened awareness of the ways that the women of Afghanistan suffered under the Taliban have reinvigorated efforts for the United States to ratify the treaty, which had been signed by Jimmy Carter in 1980, but had languished in the Senate whose approval is needed for ratification. In the Fall of 2001, President Bush indicated that he saw no reason to block renewed efforts to ratify the treaty, and on July 30, 2002, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to send the Treaty to the Senate Floor for Ratification (Davis, 2002). …