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Senate must not ratify CEDAW

By Wendy McElroy
web posted August 19, 2002

After more than two decades of the U.S. Senate refusing to ratify the United Nation's Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the treaty July 30, sending CEDAW once more to a full Senate vote.

What is CEDAW? The treaty requires all signatory nations to condemn sexism and to establish legal mechanisms, such as legislation, to protect women against discrimination.

Ratification of CEDAW could be disastrous for the United States. CEDAW would give an intrusive, corrupt, non-elected foreign body -- the U.N. -- the power to sculpt American laws and institutions into the image of gender feminism.

The treaty is objectionable on two grounds: the content and the method through which it would be applied.

First, the content. Article 1 defines sexism in an all-inclusive, yet vague manner as "any distinction, exclusion or restriction ... which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women ... of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field."

Article 7 emphasizes that signatory nations "shall ensure to women, on equal terms with men, the right ... to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government." This opens the door to quotas within governmental bodies, even "freely" elected ones, to ensure a "correct" balance. Thus, many political parties in Europe currently impose gender ratios for the selection of candidates for public office.

The U.N. has foreshadowed a call for political quota systems for years. For example, under the rules controlling the November 2001 elections in Kosovo -- rules virtually dictated by the U.N. -- every third candidate on party lists had to be a woman. In short, the selection of candidates was placed into the hands of social engineers and the government was rendered less responsive to pressure from the populace.

Second, the proposed application of the treaty would be a debacle.

Article 17 establishes a panel of 23 experts who would oversee the imposition of gender policy within the U.S. The 23 bureaucrats would be "elected" within the U.N. by secret ballot, with each signatory nation of CEDAW eligible to nominate one candidate. Special "consideration" would be given to "equitable geographical distribution and to the representation of the different forms of civilization as well as the principal legal systems" in establishing the panel. In short, the 23 experts would almost certainly consist of at least 22 foreign experts on gender politics from legal systems that may directly conflict with the common law and constitutional traditions that define much of North American law and institutions.

Article 5 describes what the 23 experts would oversee. Signatory nations "shall take all appropriate measures ... to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women" in order to eliminate "prejudices" and "stereotyped roles." Children are included for modification. "Family education" -- that is, schooling -- is to include a "proper understanding" of the "common responsibility of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children."

Yet advocates claim that CEDAW would not change a single law within the U.S. Has the treaty respected the laws and cultures of other signatory nations?

In February 2001 the Heritage Foundation released a report entitled "How U.N. Conventions on Women's and Children's Rights Undermine Family, Religion, and Sovereignty" by Patrick F. Fagan. According to this report, the U.N. demanded that Catholic hospitals in Italy offer abortions even if medical personnel have religious objections. It pressured China (unsuccessfully) to legalize prostitution. (The U.N.'s position on prostitution is that legalizing it, and recognizing it as a legitimate profession, will protect women from the exploitation and abuse of sex traffickers.) Belarus was publicly criticized for maintaining "such symbols as a Mothers' Day and a Mothers' Award" which promote female stereotypes. Libya was told "to reinterpret the Koran so that it falls within committee guidelines" on women. German "measures aimed at the reconciliation of family and work" were said to "entrench stereotypical expectations."

Behind its "recommendations," the U.N. flexes whatever muscle it can get away with. In 2000, at the Beijing+5 U.N. Women Conference, European development agencies threatened to withhold much-needed and promised funds from Nicaragua because Max Padilla, head of the Nicaraguan Ministry for the Family, insisted on defining gender by its common meaning of "male and female" instead of embedding U.N.-favored categories such as "transgendered" into the wording of Nicaraguan law. Padilla was fired from his cabinet-level government post.

Those who believe CEDAW aims at protecting women, rather than imposing ideology, should ask themselves why the U.N. is silent on China's one-child policy that forces abortions on pregnant and resisting women. They should speak to Kathryn Bolkovac, the former Nebraska policewoman who worked as an officer within the U.N.'s International Police Task Force. Bolkovac reported to her superiors that teenagers in Bosnia, coerced into prostitution, were being abused by the very U.N. police officers paid to protect them. She was fired: U.N. authorities turned a deaf ear to her reports and appeals. Earlier this month, Bolkovac's claim of "unfair dismissal" was upheld in court. Indeed, some U.N. representatives were involved in the sex trafficking. So much for the U.N.'s concern for women.

The Senate must not give an unelected panel of foreign experts on "gender politics" any power to determine the laws and policies of American society. The Senate must not ratify CEDAW.

Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.

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