Why Hasn’t the U.S. Ratified CEDAW?

By: Grainne Rhuad

A little while ago I received from an acquaintance of mine a chain-newsletter from Family Watch International alerting me to the shenanigans of a “last minute addition to a lame duck session.”  The shenanigan in question was the allowance of an argument on CEDAW.  Attached to it was the usual personal information meant to make one feel as if they knew somebody who knew something.  “My sister has a cousin who has been to the U.N. and has seen it in action!”  Gee!  It piqued my interest enough to go and see what the family protectors were up in arms about this week.

The Convention On the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has been ratified by most countries belonging to the U.N. since 1979.

“The Convention defines discrimination against women as “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

By accepting the Convention, States commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including:

  • to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;
  • to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and
  • To ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.”

All this sounds good and leaves one wondering why we haven’t joined in.  It is because of the following sentence:

“The Convention is the only human rights treaty which affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relations.”

The United States  however has continuously declined to ratify this Committee movement based on a single issue.  Abortion.  Which seems mean spirited as Abortion is legal in our country and until very recently women could pay for it with their medi-cal.

This is not however what Family Watch International likes to tell people up front instead they include messages like the following:

“We can already see the damage that ratifying CEDAW could cause in the U.S. simply by looking at the way the UN is treating those countries that have already ratified CEDAW.  Among other things, these countries have been pressured by the UN to legalize prostitution, eliminate Mother’s Day Observances, put more children in day care, and to liberalize their abortion laws.” (Voter voice.net)

Oh no! No Mother’s day in Botswana?  What the hell?  The Heathens!

In all seriousness what is being watched by Family Watch and Family Watch International has nothing to do with families.  The help provided by this agency to Orphanages and Women is minimal.  What they are mainly concerned with is abortion, its availability and reversing Roe v. Wade in our own country.

For many years organizations like this would be bothersome but not a huge concern however our political climate is changing in the States and Evangelicals are gaining a firm handle in most concerns here and worldwide.  Family Watch is an example.  It is the little sister of The Family. (See: http://subversify.com/2010/01/08/the-family-the-secret-fundamentalism-at-the-heart-of-american-power/)  A well documented behind the scenes financer and motivator of the Evangelical infiltration of politics, business and anything else they can get their hands on.

What is evidently not taken into account by Family Watch and other organizations and individuals interested in focusing on “traditional” families are the cultural differences from country to country and region to region.  In many of the countries served by the U.N. under CEDAW it is culturally acceptable to have the woman outside of the home being the main provider.  It is also in a lot of places culturally acceptable to limit the family through both birth control and abortion.  What proponents of the U.S.  are asking is for us as a country to nullify and dictate what should be acceptable in other cultures.

What people who are concerned with protecting man/woman families are missing in CEDAW is the fact that it actually is working to help women be in families with rights and safety.  In the long run it decreases the need for women to choose abortions as birth control.   A good example of this was given in an essay by and Afghan woman who states “A major success of our Afghan Women’s Network was in using CEDAW terms to develop and lobby for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law. In a country where violence and discrimination against women are an everyday reality, enactment was not easy. The law made rape a crime in Afghanistan for the first time, and nullified forced marriages and early marriages without consent of the girl, punishing the perpetrators with imprisonment. Such an arrangement was taken from CEDAW Article 16, which makes the state responsible for eliminating discrimination around issues of marriage and family matters.”

She goes on to say “The U.S. failure to ratify CEDAW is of huge international significance. Even in Afghanistan, thousands of miles away, conservative elements use this to attack women’s rights defenders. They say that if United States believes in women’s rights as a universal right, why haven’t they signed on to CEDAW?”

It is a good question that would likely get a roundabout answer from the Christian Conservatives that are against CEDAW in our country.  The answer would probably swing back around to “It is a part of their religion and culture to live this way, as long as they are married we must stay out of it. “

This is both asinine and hypocritical.  In not wanting to know too much about Islam and truly for many people not giving a damn, they are missing the fact that it is not part of their culture at all to treat women badly; in fact there are many religious laws against the poor treatment of women.   Also ignoring the need for stability in women’s lives goes against the stated goal of their organizations, to “preserve families”.   How is a family preserved when a woman is dead or a child is homeless?

The buzz line being sold by Family Watch International and others like them that is most effective is the idea that by ratifying CEDAW we will open up the U.S. to scrutiny and policing from the U.N.

In fact nothing is further from the case.  What CEDAW states is that countries ratifying it will agree to take concrete steps to improve the status of women and end discrimination and violence against women.  It gives no provision for enforcement and only provides for U.N. oversight of countries as voted on by the U.N. with reports to be given promptly.

The U.S. or any other country could conceivably be as hypocritical as they wanted in their own countries, there is nothing being agreed to that would necessitate more than a dressing down.  Yes we would look like Asses for saying one thing and doing another, not that we don’t already, but we would not lose our sovereignty as Family Watch International would like us to believe and we don’t “have” to provide legalized abortions or non-traditional marriages if we don’t want to.

This is such a non-issue to CEDAW that one wonders what is really behind such vehement denial -32 years of it, and what gain there is to not helping women.

The answer lies entirely in the modern American generated crusade of returning everyone to the middle ages.  What Family Watch International and other groups like them including Focus on Family and Women For Faith and Family want is for women to bear children, stay home and stay married at all costs.  They ultimately fear that women will cease to be important bargaining tools in a society and start to be important members.  They also dearly want to return America to the semi-remembered celluloid induced dream of a 1950’s happy home.  And not stated outright but implied over and over again they dearly want to kill any chance of homosexuality of any kind sullying their dreamscape.

Should we worry about this?  A few years ago it would have been easy to say no, now I’m not so sure.  With a lot of money being pushed at these types of causes from dark places only whispered about, some of it for 50 years or more, we are reaching a point where the improbable is easily probable and unless we as women want to be sold to our husband’s family for some goats or land or a treaty, we’d better pay attention.