This week the 49th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is meeting at the U.N. to review how Costa Rica, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Italy, Nepal, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, and Zambia have complied with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
In the recent issue of Policy Review, Christina Hoff Sommers’ Feminism by Treaty identifies the threats that U.S. ratification of the CEDAW treaty would pose to many of the freedoms that Americans enjoy today. As Sommers explains, longtime supporters of the treaty—including Senator Dick Durbin (D–IL), chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law that held a hearing on ratification last year, Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Barbara Boxer (D–CA), and State Department legal advisor Harold Koh—have been pushing anew for the U.S. Senate to ratify CEDAW. These supporters emphatically insist that joining the so-called Women’s Treaty would not affect the rights and liberties of American women at all:
CEDAW wouldn’t change U.S. law in any way,” said Durbin at the hearing. In a 2002 op-ed, Biden and Boxer reminded readers of the horrors of honor killings in Pakistan, bride burnings in India, and female genital mutilation in sub-Saharan Africa. By signing the treaty, they said, the United States would demonstrate its commitment to helping women secure basic rights and increase its leverage with oppressive nations. And, contrary to critics’ fears, “ratification . . . would not impose a single new requirement in our laws—because our Constitution and gender discrimination laws already comply with the treaty requirements.”
This assertion is misleading at best. As CEDAW opponents persuasively argue, American ratification would have little or no impact on the lives of women in truly oppressive societies—such as signatories North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen—that routinely ignore the admonishments of the CEDAW Committee. The United States, on the other hand, is serious when it commits itself to treaty obligations; ratifying CEDAW would necessitate incorporating its tenets into American laws and policies. Hardly an innocuous document, CEDAW’s prescriptions are antithetical to American values, and radical feminists know it. As Sommers writes:
… the treaty’s most engaged and knowledgeable proponents—activist women’s groups—disagree with the for-export-only argument emphasized by public officials…. NOW, the Feminist Majority Foundation, and their sister organizations actually agree with conservative critics that CEDAW would have a dramatic impact on American laws and practices.
Sommers examines the feminist literature and material in support of CEDAW and concludes that “treaty ratification will mean that women’s groups can litigate all areas of American life that fail to evince statistical parity between the sexes.” As she points out, “any country, no matter how free and democratic, is out of compliance with the treaty as long as significant gender roles are still discernible in its customs or institutions—both public and private.”
Sommers concludes with this ominous prediction that ought to make U.S. Senators pause in their endeavor to ratify the treaty:
If the United States ratifies CEDAW there will be a three-ring circus each time we come up for review. American laws, customs, and private behavior will be evaluated by 23 UN gender ministers to see whether they comply with a feminist ideal that is 30 years out of date. The Committee will pounce on all facets of American life that fail to achieve full gender integration. That many American mothers stay home with children or work part-time will be at the top of their list of “discriminatory practices.” Committee members… will want to know what our government has done to change our patterns of behavior. The American delegation will then enter a “consultative dialogue” with the Committee to develop appropriate remedies. … Gender quotas, comparable-worth pay policies, state-subsidized daycare, and other initiatives that have failed again and again to win democratic support would instantly be transformed into universal human rights.
When the CEDAW Committee reconvenes this month, its members will surely issue a number of recommendations to the countries under review that the United States would not welcome receiving itself. Perhaps some of them will dissuade those who continue to seek U.S. ratification of this menacing treaty.