Why has the United States declined to ratify a treaty on “women’s rights”? Most of the countries of the world have ratified the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – even the worst abusers of women. Ironically, this treaty has not improved the standing or conditions of women in the countries that need it most – yet, if adopted, it would deny women basic freedoms and rights in America. Advocates for CEDAW criticize the U.S. for not adopting this treaty. Americans can respond with confidence on why our country has not – and should not – ratify CEDAW.
I. CEDAW is contrary to America’s constitutional system
CEDAW’s sweeping language covers nations’ laws, culture, political systems, schooling, family life, personal relationships, and professional choices. Its all-encompassing scope is contrary to the U.S. Constitution’s limits on government and respect for state governments to handle matters such as family law. CEDAW – especially how it has been interpreted by the CEDAW Committee – also violates our Constitutional rights of freedom of religion and association.
Ironically, CEDAW would limit American women’s freedom. Ratifying CEDAW would subject American women to the supervision of a U.N. committee, thereby infringing on our liberty.
II. The U.S. already provides legal protection for women
The U.S. Constitution already covers women, and this is dramatically illustrated by the 14th Amendment. Buckley v Valeo stated that, “The term ‘person’ in the Fourteenth Amendment has never been limited to men, and fully protects women against denials of ‘equal protection.'”
The notorious case Roe v Wade was decided on the understanding that the Fourteenth Amendment includes women in its jurisdiction. If those who favor CEDAW claim the U.S. Constitution does not embrace women, then they must conclude that Roe must fall.
Notable among federal statutes, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects women from discrimination.
If discrimination occurs, women have recourse to state and federal courts, commissions, and a culture of shame. Recently a court ruled that the world’s largest private employer, Wal-Mart, could be sued for discrimination by female employees. Even the most powerful man in the country, the president of the United States, is accountable – and can be sued for sexually harassing women.
Women flee to the U.S. when they face horrific discrimination. Recently, the U.S. extended asylum to Rodi Alvarado, a woman who fled from Guatemala and the brutal abuse of her husband.
III. The U.S. has done more to help women internationally than CEDAW has accomplished
The U.S. exerts international influence, spends billions of dollars, and provides innumerable resources – government and private – to advance women’s well-being and rights around the world. Development programs, micro credit loans, building schools, providing teachers and curriculum specifically for girls, democracy-promotion – in a myriad of ways, America nurtures women and girls’ status.
In the 1990s, it was universally known that the most intractable abuser of women’s rights was the Taliban in Afghanistan, a country that had signed CEDAW. The freedom, education, and political promise that Afghan women experience today is wholly thanks to America’s military and commitment. America’s actions do more to help women around the world than any country that has signed this irreparably flawed treaty.
In 2010, Secretary of State Clinton announced the “Secretary’s International Fund for Women and Girls.” It is a public-private venture “to meet the critical needs of women and girls around the world.” While it remains to be seen what it accomplishes, its existence proves that the U.S. does not need to ratify CEDAW to continue its commitment to helping women around the world.
IV. CEDAW would deny American women freedom
Women in the U.S. are free to decide their profession, education, education for their children, political representation – or run for office themselves. Women are free to negotiate their roles as wives, mothers, and care-givers. Yet CEDAW would infringe on all these freedoms, and more so, if the U.S. were subject to the irrational views of the “gender experts” on the CEDAW Committee.
CEDAW was crafted during the turbulent times of the 1970s and was divisive from the beginning. Feminists from the developed world alienated feminists from the developing world where women are most in need of equal rights. Western feminists’ description of themselves as members of an inferior “caste” offended women from the Third World who faced violence, enslavement, and less-than-human status for being female.
Women from developing countries complained of Westerners “denigrating woman’s maternal role” and weakening marriage. Even women from the Soviet Union – who had been forced into the workplace and denied the respect owed to femininity and motherhood – distanced themselves from the Westerners.
One Indian journalist stated, “Female chauvinism is the last thing we want.”
This same divide exists today between gender feminists – whose views are reflected in CEDAW – and social feminists, who expect the same rights as men and value the unique traits of women and the noble role of mothers.
CEDAW does not reflect the views of the majority of American women, and the CEDAW Committee, which oversees implementation of the Convention, makes the treaty even more repulsive to Americans.
In fact, the CEDAW Committee has made the best case for why the U.S. should not ratify CEDAW.
It told China to decriminalize prostitution, which degrades women as objects to be bought and sold, and destroys the health and marriages of women whose husbands buy prostitutes.
It criticized Ireland for the Catholic Church’s influence on attitudes and state policy. It told Italy to revise school textbooks to reflect non-stereotypical gender roles.
Singapore, which reported that its system is based on merit, was told to impose “minimum quotas for women political candidates.” It told Austria to increase women’s appointment to academic posts. Slovenia reported “there were clear differences in what women and men preferred to study.” The Committee told the country to institute quotas to limit women’s choices of what field they may study.
If political, educational, or professional slots are filled based on sex, it reduces respect for women who actually qualify based on merit. It reduces the ability of women to vote for or hire the candidate of their choice, and harms the wives of men who lose positions to women who are not as qualified.
Most famously, the Committee criticized Belarus for celebrating Mother’s Day. It told Armenia to “combat the traditional stereotype of women in the noble role of mother.” It has pressured countries to provide abortions, which, at least half the time, kill unborn girls and can cause serious and sometimes fatal, medical and psychological damage to women. It criticized Slovenia because an insufficient number of infants and toddlers were in government daycare, revealing their prejudice that no woman should choose to raise her own children. Ironically, it would be fine for women to work in daycare institutions raising other women’s children.
These are issues that Americans – and not an unaccountable U.N. committee – should decide for themselves.
The U.S. vigorously provides protection for women from discrimination and promotes respect for women worldwide. Ratifying CEDAW would not be a benign act. It would deny Americans our freedoms and be used to promote an extreme worldview that is rejected by women worldwide.