President Biden Has a Chance to Help Women Everywhere. Will He Take It? | Opinion

International treaties outlaw torture and chemical weapons. They hold nations accountable to legal standards around landmines and mandate disability rights.

And yet no international treaty explicitly bans violence against women and girls—the single most widespread human rights violation on Earth.

As a collective of engaged philanthropists and advocates for women’s rights we have between, us, given $150 million to support gender equity. We have spent decades understanding the root causes of violence against women and funding national and international efforts to combat it.

Stop the violence
Demonstrators take part in a national rally against violence against women on April 27, in Sydney, Australia.

Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Every person freed from the cycle of violence—every girl who avoids a coercive underage marriage, every woman spared rape as a weapon of war, every mother supported as she and her children safely escape a violent home—is worth celebrating. Yet addressing the epidemic of violence at its core requires a complete paradigm shift. We must change norms around the way women and girls are treated worldwide.

This is why we sent a letter to President Biden last week, asking him to support the creation of a global treaty dedicated to ending violence against women and girls. This treaty would take the form of a new optional protocol to CEDAW, the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and bring about the necessary systemic change.

An optional protocol to CEDAW—a binding treaty added onto an existing treaty—would mandate that nations implement interventions repeatedly proven to lower rates of violence. These include legal reforms to hold perpetrators accountable; training for police, judges, nurses, and doctors; violence-prevention education; and comprehensive survivor services like shelters and hotlines. With the majority of nations across the world implementing these strategies, rates of violence against women and girls would drop dramatically.

The ratification of CEDAW—one of the most widely ratified treaties in the world—has led to countless changes to laws and policies in nations around the world, driving global norms on women’s rights. A new optional protocol to CEDAW would do the same for violence against women and girls, bringing about a sea change in the global system on a woman’s right to a life free from violence.

The movement to launch such a treaty is gaining momentum at a critical time. Four nations have taken the lead in championing this new law—Costa Rica, Sierra Leone, Antigua and Barbuda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These nations are working to bring more UN member nations on board. Just last month, four current and former UN special rapporteurs on violence against women issued a collective call for the treaty.

This progress is encouraging. But major players, chief among them the United States, need to get off the sidelines and voice support in order to move the effort forward.

The formal ratification of CEDAW by the United States is itself an essential step. But whether or not this ratification occurs, the Biden administration has an opportunity to declare its own support and put the immense influence of the U.S. behind this effort. With the backing of the U.S., more nations are likely to join the effort and move the creation of the treaty to the drafting phase.

We know that the cause of ending violence against women and girls is of deep concern to the administration. President Joe Biden championed the Violence Against Women Act and reached across a vast political divide to get it reauthorized and strengthened. He issued an executive order to establish the White House Gender Policy Council, which led to the nation’s first-ever National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence, among many other initiatives.

Globally and nationally, women’s rights are being rolled back at an alarming pace, including here in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated rates of violence against women, and advancements in technology enable new forms of sexual abuse.

A strong statement from the Biden administration on violence against women and girls—throwing its weight behind an international movement—not only advances the cause, but sends a powerful signal of support in a climate where women’s rights are ever more in jeopardy. And while the movement behind this treaty is currently gathering strength, the 2024 election and all its inherent uncertainties loom ahead. The time for action is now.

With all their imperfections, international treaties remain an essential vehicle for codifying global priorities, changing domestic laws and policies, and establishing international norms. The idea for a globally binding law on violence against women and girls began 30 years ago. It is long past time to bring it to life.

Together, the signatories of this letter are deeply invested—and have deeply invested—in a world free from violence against women. We call on the president to do the same.

Indrani Goradia is a women’s rights advocate and the founder of Indrani’s Light Foundation. Anna Lind-Guzik is a writer, former attorney, human rights scholar and the founder of The Conversationalist. Carey Jones is a writer and women’s rights advocate.

The views expressed in this article are the writers’ own.

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