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.

http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/

http://www.votervoice.net/core.aspx?Screen=Alert&APP=GAC&AID=994&IssueID=23084&SiteID=-1&VV_CULTURE=en-us

http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/civil-rights/129753-cedaw-ratification-would-be-a-triumph-for-afghan-women

http://www.wf-f.org/CEDAW.html

http://www.c-fam.org/publications/id.747/pub_detail.asp

10 Comments on “Why Hasn’t the U.S. Ratified CEDAW?”

  1. What the author doesn’t seem to get is this – the treaty, in and of itself, is meaningless: what really matters is who holds power. Even if the CEDAW treaty is accepted the party with power can still simply withdraw from it later if it serves the interests of that party to do so; these treaties are just a ruse to make the common person believe that the federal government stands for the benefit of the common man (a thought I find laughable) – the goal of which is to make the common man reliant of government to protect his “rights” (newsflash: you have no “rights” – only powers that *you,* as an individual, fight for and hold onto for yourself; “rights” are delusions promoted by the established social order).

    The real problem here is centralized government – “laws” and treaties won’t do shit to keep them honest (they always find ways around them eventually), therefore the only real solution to the problem is to slay the beast once and for all.

  2. @Christopher the author does “get this”. Which is why it is so mind boggling that the dumb ad campaigns going out from the Christian right work so well. Like “No Mother’s Day in Undeveloped countries”. As if.

    Although the author shouldn’t be shocked. (and really isn’t) The concern for the author really is the big money being pushed into this and the continued very real attack on anyone stepping outside of the fantasy of a “traditional family”. Indeed a well funded and orgainized attack. It’s not something to ignore, it should be watched…In the opinion of the author.

  3. Many thanks for a thoughtful posting. Remember — lame ducks can still quack and after 30 years, many of us believe it is time CEDAW is ratified by the United States. Facts on CEDAW are posted on http://www.RatifyCEDAW.org along with action steps urgently needed in the next few days.

  4. [quote=grainnerhuad]@Christopher the author does “get this”. Which is why it is so mind boggling that the dumb ad campaigns going out from the Christian right work so well. [/quote]

    The answer is quite simple – the Evangelical Christian Right is made up of the stereotypical True Believers: the True Believer is absolutely convinced that his ideology must be fought for at any cost and also that the establishment he was raised in is *the* establishment that matters (that model for which all other societies *must* be based on or face destruction). In short, these people have been duped into believing that things like “law” and “god” are immutible realities rather than the social fictions they are.

    [quote=grainnerhuad]Although the author shouldn’t be shocked. (and really isn’t) The concern for the author really is the big money being pushed into this and the continued very real attack on anyone stepping outside of the fantasy of a “traditional family”. Indeed a well funded and orgainized attack. It’s not something to ignore, it should be watched…In the opinion of the author.[/quote]

    I’ll admit that this is a looming threat, but it’s not *the* threat – “law” itself the real threat here: as long as the establishment has the power to define the concept of “family” into the “law,” it has the power to engineer the realities people experiences in their home life. And this is a power I absolutely *refuse* to recognize in my own home! Thus the reason I refuse to acknowledge the “legitimacy” of institutions like marraige, compulsory “education” (which is more about control that actual learning today) or any other artificial institution that takes sovereignty away from the individual and places it in the hands of the state.

    Whether or not one agrees with the principles outlined in CEDAW, the fact that such a thing exists at all is disturbing to anyone who takes his sovereignty seriously – as the sovereignty of the individual is not something that “law” is fit to comment on in the first place: the moment the “law” offers its input is the moment it takes power over the individual – and I refuse to let it have that power.

  5. If this were to be considered for vote by the Congress, they would have to address the constituional due process and equal protections issues concerning an amendment only designed for one group of people (women). The ERA came close to ratification, and being that it is gender neutral, should be the preferred course of action to address gender discrimination.

    Furthermore, an amendment of this nature in America may be a tough sell, not because of some phantom religious entity but the fact that in many significant social categories women and girls have a distinct advantage over men and boys including but not limited to reproductive rights, education, divorce, child custody,social services, and many more.

    If we really want to address discrimination in any meaningul way we must address the problem as a social issue not a gender issue. The Equal Rights Amendment is better suited to address such an issue.

  6. I refuse to take part in gender related issues for one primary purpose; it assumes to be the voice of all those belonging to that gender. While the initial ratification of woman’s rights was a united effort, subsequent efforts, defined in splinter groups, have not. As Christopher pointed out, choices should be defined by the individual’s rights to self-determination, not by a fabricated mandate of how all persons belonging to X-chromosome dominant feature should behave. There are women who are pleased with marriage; women who are not. There are women who wish to stand on their abilities alone; and women who would exploit her sex to achieve her desires. There are always women who are willing to have abortions if the consequences of allowing new life into the world are too rigid, too socially handicapping or too economically burdening.

    Although i’m not an advocate of force-fed education either, i do believe accurate education is the only great liberator. The person who has in front of him/her the availability of truthful documentation, alternate recourse, and reliable evidence is the one who has the most freedom in making choices. This can only be achieved through an educational support system. Ratifying any documentation that would narrow the scope of cultural, religious or social entities to make educated choices or choices derived from need and desperation, is both denying their individual rights as human beings and insulting their intelligence by assuming they are no more capable of making wise decisions for themselves than children.

  7. I just wanted to clarify, that ratifying CEDAW does not make it law in the U.S. What it means is we agree to work with the U.N. to eliminate the abuse of women. It seems that the discussion is veering towards the idea that this would be a law we have to uphold. In this way it is nothing like ERA which would have been law had it passed.

    CEDAW is not an ammendment on our Constitution it is a “Congress” think of it as an Think Tank on how best to help Women globally. Other such measures that we have ratified are the Nuclear non-proliferation act., nobody seems upset about our sovreignity in that case.

  8. [Quote=grainnerhuad]I just wanted to clarify, that ratifying CEDAW does not make it law in the U.S.[/quote]

    Any treaty ratified by Congree becomes the “law” by default – this should have been covered in polisci 101. Whether or not that “law” is enforced consistantly (if at all), however, depends on the will and interests of the political class (who I have no faith in whatsoever).

    [Quote=grainnerhuad]What it means is we agree to work with the U.N. to eliminate the abuse of women.[/quote]

    I don’t believe that the U.N. (or any other organization peddling political influence, for that matter) gives a shit about the plight of common persons – be they women or anyone else. At best, these treaties amount to lip service to ideals and causes that hide the real purpose of the organization that creates them: to form power blocks for states to project influence over other states for their own purposes – its all one giant ruse.

    [Quote=grainnerhuad]Other such measures that we have ratified are the Nuclear non-proliferation act., nobody seems upset about our sovreignity in that case.[/quote]

    “Non-proliferation” is a joke – states that can benefit from the export of nuclear technology do so at will to other states (often those seeking atom bombs or who already have “undeclared” nuclear arsenals). The point of this treaty was to ensure that the major powers (U.S.A. China and Russia in particular) have some justification for going after smaller states that deal in nukes without their permission: it the ultimate form of “do as I say, not as I do” hypocracy that has ever been dreamed up – intended to keep the powerful unchallenged by potential upstarts in the nuke game.

  9. your husband’s family would get a lot of goats for you … (you know, resale incase you became a widow) Religion as a political position will, or has, destroyed much of what America once stood for …

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