International Law, National Sovereignty, and Local Norms: What's to become of CEDAW in the U.S.?

Wednesday, January 1, 2003
Laura Roskos

This essay identifies the hermeneutic tradition of CEDAW, the international treaty on women's rights, as a potential resource for transforming the political culture of the United States. Grassroots organizers and community educators have often pointed to the inability of legislative initiatives, by themselves, to bring about the social changes they were drafted to foster. This is perhaps most evident in states where the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government are too closely aligned and insufficiently independent of each other. Even within the U.S. there is healthy disagreement about where change efforts and resources should be directed. What is lacking in U.S. political culture, however, is any substantive debate about the means by which the nation should begin to move toward recognizing and fulfilling the human rights of its residents. This essay argues that before domestic human rights activists can begin to address questions of leverage and sustainability, they must find ways to deepen and expand the public conversation about human rights altogether. The author recommends that activists link human rights to questions of national security, and, in keeping with the participatory traditions established by community educators in the field, that they do so in ways that stress the interpretive dimensions of the human rights traditions and the relationship between human rights guarantees and democratic practice. Because discussions of national security tend to rely on quite baldly gendered language and stereotypes, the
concepts elaborated in CEDAW offer a particularly clear (and attractive) alternative discourse.

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International Law, National Sovereignty and Local Norms: What's to become of CEDAW in the US?, Laura Roskos, 2002