U.N. treaty on women's rights gains priority

Accord had languished for years in Senate panel


The U.S. government is closer to Sudan than it is to the United Kingdom as far as its international recognition of women's rights - at least according to the United Nations.

For 23 years, the United States has not ratified a U.N. treaty that seeks to establish protection for women's rights and to promote gender equality.

In not signing the treaty, the United States joins the ranks of Sudan, Afghanistan, Egypt and Iraq. More than 169 nations, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, have approved the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination.

The treaty had languished in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for years under the influence of then-Chairman Jesse Helms, a North Carolina Republican.

But with Democrats in control of the Senate, Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware said the treaty is one of his top priorities.

"Our voice on women's rights will be enhanced by becoming a party because we will be empowered to call nations to account on their compliance with the treaty," Biden said in a committee hearing last month. "For the U.S., the treaty can be a powerful tool to support women around the world in the fight for equal rights."

Helms resisted giving the document a hearing, saying it infringes on the rights and customs of individual nations. He has also called the measure's language vague and ripe for misinterpretation.

"There's no question that it's a moribund treaty written back during the dark days of the Cold War by a bunch of lefties in the United Nations that comes up with all kinds of wacky recommendations to reorganize countries' social lives," said Lester Munson, a spokesman for Foreign Relations Committee Republicans.

When Biden decided to hold a hearing on the accord, he gave it the best fighting chance since its creation in 1979, although the document faces tremendous hurdles before it can reach the Senate floor.

The proposal must pass through a legal review by the Justice Department and withstand opposition in the Senate.

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