Two main problems exist with the United Nations’ treaty on Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – what it says and what it does.
At first blush, some may believe the sweeping language and personal issues it addresses would benefit women. But it is, in fact, the broad language and intrusiveness – embodied in something as powerful as a treaty – that makes CEDAW a tool for mischief.
Family law, parental rights, religious exercise, education, abortion regulation, employment pay scales, quotas in educational institutions, workplaces and elected offices, and homosexual privileges – these are among the most controversial issues in America. But this treaty could essentially hand over our right to work out, compromise and decide them for ourselves to a Committee at the United Nations. As we can see from previous Committee rulings, this decree from on high would favor the most radical and unworkable viewpoints.
Countries that ratify CEDAW agree to subject themselves to a committee at the United Nations. This committee receives reports from these countries and non-government organizations on implementation of the treaty. The CEDAW Committee then releases its “Concluding Observations,” stating its opinion and rulings on what the country should do to be in compliance.
CEDAW must be carefully examined before Americans are committed to it and the CEDAW Committee’s demands.
Following is a review of CEDAW and responses to arguments in favor of U.S. ratification of this treaty.
CEDAW’s Two Problems
1. What CEDAW states
Treaties are intended to be agreements between countries. In fact, the United Nations’ Charter prohibits the U.N. from intervening “in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any” nation. However, CEDAW is focused on domestic issues, intruding into every aspect of life.
CEDAW forbids us to recognize – or celebrate – that men and women are fundamentally different. The treaty defines “discrimination” as:
Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.
This broad language goes beyond how government, employers or educational institutions behave. It includes individuals, families, private groups and religious organizations. How people relate or arrange duties within their marriage or social communities could be affected. Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and religious denominations are among those that could be challenged in lawsuits because their participants voluntarily choose to associate or organize according to preferences based on sex.
CEDAW’s preamble – the theme and purpose of the document – states:
A change in the traditional role of men as well as the role of women in society and in the family is needed to achieve full equality between men and women.
CEDAW, in Article 5a, requires countries to:
Modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices based on stereotyped roles for men and women.
This begs the questions -Whose culture will prevail? Who will determine what patterns of conduct must be modified?
The authority to answer these questions rests in the form of a committee of 23 “experts” drawn from nations that have ratified the treaty. Currently, China (which forcibly aborts women), Cuba (which kills women who attempt to flee its island), and Indonesia (identified by the U.S. State Department in 2006 as among the worst offenders of sexual trafficking of women and girls) have representatives sitting on the Committee.
Oddly, a review of the CEDAW Committee’s rulings reveal that the only stereotypes of women it considers a problem are Mother and homemaker. The committee is not concerned with the portrayal of women as sex objects or as intellectually inferior, but with a role that many women consider to make their life complete.
Many women in the United States choose to put their family first, staying home to raise their children, care for elderly relatives, and contribute to religious organizations, charities and communities. CEDAW and its Committee consider their work as subservient, not worthy of commendation, and, frankly, deserving to be outlawed.
CEDAW requires nations to indoctrinate children in gender neutrality. Article 10c calls for:
the elimination of any stereotyped concept of the roles of men and women at all levels and in all forms of education by encouraging coeducation and other types of education which will help to achieve this aim and, in particular, by the revision of textbooks and school programs and the adaptation of teaching methods.
Countries that ratify CEDAW agree to revise their textbooks, schools and teaching methods to abide by the treaty. Single-sex schools, in which some children thrive best, could be frowned upon. The CEDAW Committee would determine if textbooks are appropriate or must be changed to fit its interpretation of the treaty. Children and teachers are prohibited from recognizing there are fundamental differences between boys and girls and that some roles based purely on sex, such as motherhood, are noble.
2. How CEDAW is applied
Ratifying CEDAW would lend the United States’ prestige and credibility, not only to the treaty, but also to the CEDAW Committee’s rulings. Here are snapshots of some of those rulings:
Told China to decriminalize prostitution. Criticized Mexico for a “lack of access to easy and swift abortion. Criticized Ireland for the Catholic Church’s influence of attitudes and state policy. Told Libya to re-interpret the Koran in the light of CEDAW. Derided Slovenia for having only 30 percent of children under age three in formal daycare (revealing the belief that children are better off being raised by strangers than mothers, and that women should not choose to stay at home with their kids). Told Romania and Austria to integrate gender studies in schools. Reprimanded Belarus for celebrating Mother’s Day. Told Armenia to “combat the traditional stereotype of women in the noble role of mother. Reprimanded Hong Kong for exempting “‘the affairs of religious denominations or orders’ from the scope of the Convention. Criticized Croatia for “the refusal, by some hospitals, to provide abortions on the basis of conscientious objection of doctors. The Committee considers this to be an infringement of women’s reproductive rights. Told numerous countries to mandate sex education and provide access to contraception. Told Vietnam to ” take urgent and wide-ranging measures, including targeted educational programmes, the revision of curricula and textbooks, and mass media campaigns, to overcome traditional stereotypes regarding the role of women and men in the society. Told Mexico it “would welcome a more equitable redistribution of wealth among the population. Told Italy to ” sensitize judges, lawyers and law enforcement personnel to Italy’s international obligations, in particular those outlined in the Convention. Praised Croatia ” on the fact that the Convention may be invoked before the courts by any citizen. Told numerous countries to implement the concept of comparable worth – that is, equal pay for unequal work, or wages to be determined by the government. Urged Belarus to reduce “protective standards which often have a discriminatory effect on women in general and pregnant women in particular. Told Kyrgyzstan “that lesbianism be reconceptualized as a sexual orientation.
The foundation of a healthy society is strong families, individual morality and freedom. CEDAW and its Committee view all these as hindrances to women achieving equality.
“The U.S. won’t have to enact new laws.”
Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and other proponents of CEDAW claim that ratifying the treaty will not force the United States to enact any new laws. Yet, according to the treaty itself, Article 2 requires nations:
To embody the principle of equality of men and women in their national constitution or other appropriate legislation.
The CEDAW Committee has told numerous countries that to comply with the treaty they must change their constitution or national laws, particularly by inserting language from CEDAW.
“CEDAW cannot be enforced.”
Article VI of the U.S. Constitution establishes that treaties, along with the Constitution and federal statutes, are the “supreme law of the land.” As such, they supersede state and local laws. Family law, parental rights and abortion regulations are among the many areas entrusted to the states.
The American Bar Association (ABA) produced a document to score countries that have ratified CEDAW. The CEDAW Assessment Tool is clearly meant to train activists on how to implement CEDAW within countries. Two of the questions it asks are: “Is CEDAW directly applied and given effect in courts as part of national law?” And, “What training programs exist to educate judges and other legal professionals about CEDAW’s precedence over national law?”
Some CEDAW proponents intend to use the courts to implement CEDAW by bringing lawsuits challenging U.S. laws or policies. Other CEDAW proponents look to the international arena to force compliance with the treaty.
A publication by The Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice explains “the creation of the world’s first permanent criminal court,” that is, the International Criminal Court, provides “an opportunity to codify as international law many of the strategic objectives outlined and committed to by Governments in [such documents as CEDAW and the Beijing] Platform for Action.”
Legal authorities debate whether these kinds of lawsuits – in national and international courts -would be successful. Yet, as we’ve seen too often, all it takes is a few zealous judges with bizarre interpretations to impose social agendas that would never be voted in by citizens.
“CEDAW won’t affect women in the U.S.”
Would CEDAW proponents go to such lengths to ratify the treaty if it were ineffective or purely political symbolism, to show solidarity with the women of the world? Julia Ernst, an attorney who organized a “Rally for CEDAW” at the American Bar Association’s national convention, stated she believed ratifying CEDAW would have no affect on U.S. citizens.
But Julia was also a plaintiff in a lawsuit against President George W. Bush. The suit argued that, due to international commitments the United States made by signing onto U.N. documents and treaties that refer to “reproductive rights,” the Mexico City Policy was illegal. This policy bans U.S. funding of international organizations that commit abortion or challenge abortion laws in other countries. She claims the United States must give money to organizations to overturn other nations’ laws regulating abortion. The lawsuit was dismissed.
A privilege of our American system is that we, the people, decide what our laws will be and who will represent us. Advocates of CEDAW intend to use the treaty, and its interpretations dreamed up by the CEDAW Committee, to formulate legislation and challenge existing laws. Rulings from a U.N. body, consisting of people from foreign countries and cultures, will be relied upon to attempt to direct the policies, culture and laws of America.
“Not ratifying CEDAW puts us in company with Iran and Sudan.”
Advocates for CEDAW make the strange assertion that by not ratifying it, the United States is in the same company as other countries that have not ratified it, such as Iran and Sudan.
But if the United States ratifies CEDAW, it would put us in the company of:
Saudi Arabia, which systemically treats women as second-class and refuses to return kidnapped American women to their families. China, which forcibly aborts its women and persecutes religious people. Cuba, which kills women who flee the country and jails dissidents. Libya, which practices female genital mutilation and murders political opponents.
Eight out of the 12 countries identified by the U.S. State Department in 2006 as having the worst records on sexual trafficking of women and girls have ratified CEDAW.
“CEDAW would empower women around the world.”
If the United States ratified CEDAW, it would cause other countries to obey it, say its advocates. But, this is a wish, with no foundation or evidence to back it up. The countries that are the worst abusers of women are also anti-American.
The best thing to help women in other countries is to promote free and democratic societies. This is what ensures human rights and economic prosperity.
Ironically, ratifying CEDAW would condemn women in America and around the world to destructive social policies that devastate the foundation for stable societies – motherhood, marriage and family. Note how the treaty is used by the Committee to promote the very ideology that leads to a loss of freedom, such as redistributing wealth, and quotas on how many women and men can be in certain academic programs, professions, or elected offices.
“CEDAW’s opponents say it will do too much, and not do enough.”
This is true – CEDAW will be used in the United States to harm our democratic system, national sovereignty, and protection of women, families and religious institutions. But in the countries that truly need reform to bring dignity to women, it has done too little.
Dictators and totalitarian regimes will sign treaties with no intention of honoring them. Yet it allows them to have a representative sitting on U.N. committees in judgment over other countries that ratify the treaty. Hence, we have China and Cuba telling democratic societies to implement socialist policies.
“Diplomats are embarrassed that the United States hasn’t ratified CEDAW.”
Diplomats testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that they were “embarrassed” when delegates from other countries accused the United States of having no authority to speak on human rights – since we have not ratified CEDAW.
The embarrassment is that some of our diplomats are incapable of responding to this ridiculous charge.
The United States has done more to promote human rights – within its borders and in other countries – than arguably any other country in the history of the world. Other nations have gained by observing our system, based on the belief of the dignity of individuals, conditioned by checks and balances that ensure too much power cannot rest in one branch or person, with the right of citizens to participate in government by running for office, advancing legislation, and challenging unjust laws or court decisions.
The United States provides aid and development support to the poor in virtually every country of the world. This is a living example of our compassion for others. We’ve fought wars, sending our soldiers in harm’s way, to protect countries from regimes that kill its own people as well as threaten the security of others.
Women in Afghanistan were rescued from the terror of the Taliban by a country that has not ratified CEDAW. America’s actions do more to help women around the world than other countries’ signatures on a treaty.
“The U.S. could influence CEDAW’s rulings if it sits on the Committee.”
If the United States ratifies CEDAW, there is no guarantee it will be on the Committee. The Committee has 23 seats, with representatives elected from among the company of nations that ratified CEDAW.
Representation is restricted to reflect “equitable geographical distribution [and] different forms of civilization as well as the principal legal systems.” This ensures that totalitarian or incompetent regimes have representation along with democracies, since countries gain moral equivalence by signing CEDAW. At any time, the United States may not get elected onto the Committee.
If an American representative were on the Committee, it would be one voice out of 23.
“Problems with CEDAW can be handled with reservations.”
Reservations are like amendments – countries file reservations to clarify their understanding or to state their exemption from provisions or interpretations of the treaty. During the CEDAW debate in the United States, reservations were adopted; however, legal experts warn they are weak, ineffectual and will likely be ignored.
Article 28 of CEDAW states:
A reservation incompatible with the object and purpose of the present Convention shall not be permitted.
As the official body for overseeing CEDAW and its application, recognized as such by countries that ratify CEDAW, it would be up to the Committee to decide if a reservation was “incompatible” and thus null and void.
The CEDAW Committee pressures countries to withdraw reservations. For example, it told Hong Kong (China) “to review regularly the reservations entered to the Convention. It urges the Government to amend all laws that are incompatible with the Convention, with a view to removing the relevant reservations. Of particular concern is the reservation exempting ‘the affairs of religious denominations or orders’ from the scope of the Convention.””
In at least some cases, the CEDAW Committee views reservations as temporary measures, until countries actively change their culture with the goal to remove their reservations to CEDAW. For example, the CEDAW Committee told Luxembourg “to undertake awareness-raising and education campaigns to overcome traditional and stereotypical images of women and men so as to enable it to withdraw its reservation to article 16.” Article 16 deals with marriage and family.
The Committee encourages countries to pressure other countries to remove reservations. It praised the Netherlands and Sweden for their “willingness to place objections to reservations entered by other States parties that it considers incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention.”
Judges who decide that reservations conflict with the object or purpose of the treaty could nullify them. It has been suggested that future presidents who favor establishing CEDAW could ignore or withdraw reservations.
CEDAW is fundamentally flawed. No reservations could protect our laws and culture from its skewed belief that there is no difference between men and women. The United States should not give our prestige, nor subject our citizens, to CEDAW.