The funny thing about moving back home after living abroad for years is that nothing ever feels quite the same. What was once home now feels foreign. Your old haunts and old friends are now strangely unfamiliar; leaving you wondering if the home you remember is simply an elaborate story you dreamt up over the years. In grasping for the familiar, you find yourself questioning what you once took for granted and hoping to discover how exactly it all changed while you were gone.
This process of transitioning back to the United States has led me not only to question my own history in this country, but also the recent history of our politics and foreign policy. There is so much we gloss over when we are regularly inundated with information about U.S. actions around the globe. We take for granted the importance of understanding what is going on in the world around us, and paying attention to our own country's role in all of it. Admittedly, I am guilty of this myself.
Over the past week, I have been looking over a selection of United Nations Conventions and international treaties. Specifically, I took an in-depth look at the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). According to UN Women, this convention is seen by many to be a sort of "international bill of rights for women." Amnesty International explains it as, "the only international instrument that comprehensively addresses women's rights within political, civil, cultural, economic, and social life."
The convention has had a profound impact over the years by empowering women and enabling them to live in a world where discrimination based on gender is no longer acceptable. While there have been reservations, CEDAW has currently been ratified by 187 UN member states. The seven member states not party to the convention include: Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Palau, Tonga, and the United States.
That's right. The U.S. is not party to the convention aimed at eliminating gender discrimination. This is a fact I have known, but seem to have forgotten over the years. However, those who have been following gender politics in the U.S. are probably less than shocked. You will find there are actually quite a few conventions and treaties to which the U.S. is not a party. Here are a few of them:
Adopted: July 17, 1998
Entered into Force: July 1, 2002
States Party: 122
United States: Signed, later revoked our signature, never ratified.
Adopted: November 20, 1989
Entered into Force: September 2, 1990
States Party: 192
United States: Signed, never ratified. May soon be the only hold out.
Adopted: December 13, 2006
Entered into Force: May 3, 2008
States Party: 145
United States: Signed, never ratified.
Adopted: December 20, 2006
Entered into Force: December 23, 2010
States Party: 42
United States: Did not sign or ratify.
In looking at these conventions, and more broadly at the state of U.S. foreign policy as a whole, I can't help but wonder how we got here. At what point did our highly touted "American values" lead us to being one of the only hold outs on a convention focused on protecting children? Worse yet, is this the country we have always been? Have we always been the state that values politics over humanity?
As I make my way through the reverse culture shock brought about my this move back to the states, I can't help but be grateful for the opportunity to look at this country and our politics with fresh eyes. That said, I don't think one needs to leave the country in order to take a fresh look at the state of our foreign policy. In fact, I would suggest this is something we all ought to do from time to time. There is great value in taking a step back to consider what sort of leadership role the U.S. actually plays within the international community.
Gender, United Nations, US Foreign Policy, Women's Rights