Pelavin: The time has long passed for this nation to join the global community and stand clearly on the side of women and against oppression and injustice.
WASHINGTON, D.C., November 18, 2010 -- Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, submitted a statement to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, which held a hearing today on U.S. ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). His full submitted statement follows:
Dear Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Coburn, and Members of the Subcommittee:
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism whose more than 900 congregations encompass over 1.5 million Reform Jews across North America and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis, I am pleased to submit this statement in strong support of ratification of the Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women [CEDAW].
CEDAW unquestionably reflects American and Jewish values. It seeks to end violence against women and trafficking, promote equal educational opportunity, improve women's health, end discrimination in the workplace, and encourage women's political participation. These are values of human rights and respect for the dignity of each individual that are reflected in America's founding principles and in the Bible's ancient wisdom.
Jewish tradition teaches us that human life is sacred because all of humanity is created b'tselem elohim, in the image of God (Gen 1:26). From the beginning, the Torah makes clear that this divinity extends to men and women: "In the Divine image, male and female, God created them and blessed them" (Gen. 1:27). Sex-based discrimination -- whether in the form of limited access to health care, lack of educational opportunities or brutal acts of violence -- is an unacceptable denial of a woman's fundamental dignity.
For more than 70 years, the Reform Jewish Movement has spoken out in support of human rights and against apartheid, sweatshops and child labor, the genocide in Sudan, and other abhorrent human rights abuses. We have done so guided by the Torah's obligation imposed on us to preserve the sanctity of life by speaking out in response to oppression and brutality in our world. In the Holiness Code, we are told that we "may not stand idly by when [our] neighbor's blood is being shed" (Leviticus 19:16). This teaching inspires our belief that the United States must ratify CEDAW to ensure the preeminence of our nation's voice against the oppression of women worldwide. It is reflected in the Central Conference of American Rabbis' 1994 resolution urging the United States to ratify CEDAW and "unequivocally express[ing] our belief that women everywhere deserve the same rights and opportunities as their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons; that discrimination according to gender is unjust, and that women's rights are unquestionably human rights." The Union for Reform Judaism and Women of Reform Judaism, which represents more than 65,000 women in North America, have also passed resolutions calling for the ratification of CEDAW.
The United States has long been a leading voice for women's rights and human rights, which makes our decades-long failure to ratify CEDAW all the more troubling. We are one of only seven countries in the world that have failed to ratify this landmark international human rights agreement. (We share this unfortunate distinction with Iran, Sudan, Somalia, and three small Pacific Islands.) The United States' absence from this global consensus undermines both the ideals of opportunity and equality set out in CEDAW and our nation's own status as a global leader on the rights of women and girls. By ratifying CEDAW, we will strengthen our nation's voice to the benefit of women and girls around the world.
As Jews, we are intimately acquainted with what happens when otherwise good people are silent in the face of political oppression and violence. The time has long passed for this nation to join the global community and stand clearly on the side of women and against oppression and injustice. The Senate should ratify CEDAW now.