For a country that prides itself of being ahead of the curve as far as human rights are concerned, the US still has a ton of work to do – and it should start with women’s rights. It’s really shocking and even insulting that we don’t have some sort of agreement that protects all women from unfair violence and abuse – you would think this is a no-brainer in 2013. We could all benefit from granting women equal protection and rights…here’s a great article with tons of facts by Emily Martin and Arjun Sethi for USA Today. One of the distinguishing features of American foreign policy is its claim of moral authority in the field of human rights. Our politicians regularly cite America as a beacon of freedom and as a champion of the cause of human dignity across the globe. Yet, in at least one important instance, America lags behind. The United States remains the only industrialized democracy not to have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, a watershed international agreement that protects women and girls from unfair treatment and abuse. In fact, only six other states in the United Nations — Iran, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and two Pacific Islands — have failed to approve the treaty. Last week, a coalition of more than 100 organizations co-signed a letter urging the Senate to ratify the treaty in the 113th Congress. President Obama endorses ratification, and has identified the Convention as a multilateral treaty priority. The Senate must seize this moment, and ratify the women’s rights convention. It must not play the same shameful partisan politics that it did with the disability rights convention, which it rejected just one month ago. The international bill of rights for women, as it’s often called, was drafted in 1979 to help curb worldwide gender discrimination. A decade later, the economist Amartya Sen described the problem best when he noted in an article that more than 100 million women were missing from the world. Sen concluded that men outnumbered women because of disparate access to education, health care and economic opportunity. There was also mounting evidence at the time that gender equality was correlated positively with economic development and democratic reform — a principle now espoused by economists worldwide. The treaty recognizes that women’s rights are human rights and, like genocide and racial discrimination before it, merit their own international commitment. Countries that ratify the treaty agree to take “all appropriate measures” to ensure that women receive equal and fair treatment. They commit to providing periodic reports documenting their efforts to a 23-member committee, which makes recommendations regarding best practices. The committee has no enforcement authority and its recommendations are non-binding. Its power is persuasive and rests on an unwavering belief that self-evaluation and international dialogue leads to positive change for women and girls. Public reports make states accountable to the world, and empower NGO’s and citizens, both at home and abroad, to take action. Success stories from those countries that have already ratified the treaty abound. In 2005, Kenya ended inheritance discrimination against widows and daughters based on guidance from the committee. In the same year, Kuwait gave women the right to vote following the committee’s recommendation. By 2009, each of Mexico’s 32 states had adopted language from the Convention in legislation to end violence against women. Bangladesh has committed to eliminating gender disparities in secondary education because of the public dialogue emanating from its periodic reports. Ratification will allow the U.S. to participate in this international dialogue, and stand up for women’s rights. U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, testified last year that U.S. ratification “would lend much needed validation” to women seeking greater political and economic expression in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab uprisings. As it stands, major human rights violators cite America’s failure to ratify the treaty as evidence that women’s rights aren’t universal. Approval of the treaty will also aid our own continued progress. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Gender Gap Report, the U.S. ranks 22nd in the world in gender equity. Domestic violence persists, pay discrimination lingers and the U.S. ranks last among all industrialized nations in maternal health. San Francisco has already profited from the Convention’s time-tested processes. The city recently reduced gender discrimination in hiring and retention after passing an ordinance implementing the treaty’s self-evaluation process on a local level. Critics have charged that the agreement undermines national sovereignty. Yet, the Convention relies entirely on voluntary cooperation and advisory recommendations. Should the U.S. ratify the treaty, our elected officials would be responsible for determining what measures are appropriate to advance its goals. The women’s rights treaty affirms fundamental American values of fairness and opportunity for all. In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, President Obama declared that “America cannot insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves.” The time for rhetoric is over. If America seeks to promote the cause of women’s rights, the Senate must take action and ratify the international bill of rights for women. Emily Martin is vice president and general counsel at the National Women’s Law Center. Arjun Sethi is an attorney based in Washington, D.C., and a frequent commentator on civil rights and social justice-related issues. By the way, don’t forget to check out our Women’s Issue magazine for Women’s History Month!