Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
| It doesn't stop|
at the water's edge
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, for short) is a United Nations outfit set up to enforce the U.N. treaty called the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, also abbreviated CEDAW. Nearly all the countries of the world, except for a few Islamic theocracies and the United States, have ratified the treaty.
The Committee includes 23 women, each representing a different country and appointed by the government of her country. The Committee members are required to be "experts of high moral standing and competence in the field covered by the convention."
To this end, the Committee has wisely excluded people from countries featuring highly patriarchal and totalitarian societies, such as Canada, the Scandinavian countries, New Zealand, etc., instead admitting only members appointed by governments with pristine records in civil rights and gender equality, such as those of Bangladesh, Cuba, China, Egypt, and Malaysia.
It has gone to great pains to avoid being perceived as having a "Western" bias. This is rather difficult, as the stated purpose of the Convention is to ensure that not only laws but also cultural and social conventions across the world are, by State action, altered to be in conformance with an ideology that originated in the West. Hence, these efforts have been ill-received by actual non-Westerners (as evidenced by the Islamic theocracies' refusal to ratify and several other Islamic countries' noted reservations when signing).
The government of each country that has signed the Convention is charged to "take in all fields, in particular in the political, social, economic and cultural fields, all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men."
It is important to note, however, that the Convention's proposal to "eliminate discrimination against women" actually entails a much broader political agenda, because it says:
“”[T]he eradication of apartheid, all forms of racism, racial discrimination, colonialism, neo-colonialism, aggression, foreign occupation and domination and interference in the internal affairs of States is essential to the full enjoyment of the rights of men and women.
Obviously, it is not "interference in the internal affairs of states" to have a committee whose raison d'être is to tell said states that they have to change their laws and the cultural customs of their citizens, in ways to which they never agreed, lest they be sued in the World Court. Nope. Not at all.
In aid of "eliminating discrimination against women," each signatory is required to present a quadrennial report to one of the Committee's semi-annual meetings, detailing the status of the country, whereupon this status will be found not to be to the particular pleasure of all Committee members and the country's government will promptly get a smack on the wrist. The only country that can even hope to be cut a little slack is Cuba, because any gender-oppression happening down there is obviously the Americans' fault.
The following actions and/or policies have gotten countries wrist-slapped by the Committee. We will let the reader decide whether these actions and/or policies are impediments to women's rights.
- Introducing democratic government. Armenia, coming off some 70 years of Soviet occupation, was promptly blasted by the Committee, which believed that the introduction of democracy there was a setback for women's advancement. (So much for "foreign occupation" being an obstacle to women's rights.)
- Having freedom of the press. The Romanian government was criticized for permitting "the continuing sexist portrayal of women in the media, especially in advertising," and told to browbeat the media's "self-regulatory" bodies into lessening it.
- Having laws against prostitution, even though the Convention specifically says that there should be laws against it and efforts made to stamp it out.
- Celebrating Mothers' Day, which is a "sex-role stereotype" that is "encouraging women's traditional roles" and must be counteracted by more diversity training and State monitoring of Women's Studies programs.
- Approving of motherhood in general. This got Armenia in hot water as they had failed to use the schools to challenge this "traditional stereotype" and to "raise awareness of the role of men in caring and their responsibility for parenting."
- Permitting women to refuse jobs in management, such refusal being per se evidence of "indirect and hidden discrimination against women."
- Failing to doctor school textbooks to the Committee's line. Although the Committee seems to thumb its nose at the actual letter of the Convention, the treaty calls for "family education [that] includes a proper understanding of maternity as a social function and the recognition of the common responsibility of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children."This might read like a mere shot at "deadbeat dads," but it is not, as the Committee clearly does not mean that a man can fulfill his responsibility by earning bread and a woman by baking it, or even vice versa; they have a particular sort of "responsibility" in mind, as evidenced by the aforementioned recommendation to Armenia.
- Failing to dump all children in daycare just as soon as they exit the womb. Germany got a smack on account of its government not providing daycare facilities for all children under 3 years of age. Slovenia was criticized for having less than 30% of its under-threes in State-provided daycare programs; the Committee recommended that specific action be taken to get the other 70% in there as well, as toddlers who were cared for by their families or "private individuals" would "miss out on educational and social opportunities."
- Failing to pump State money into the coffers of political parties in exchange for a commitment to push the Committee's agenda.
- Deregulating or privatizing anything at all, which is a "regressive trend" of the same caliber as fundamentalism and "right-wing extremism." In their report on Armenia, the Committee complained that "the process of transition to a market economy appeared to have resulted in the economic marginalization of women," and panicked at the mere suggestion that any part of the health system there would be privatized.
Right-wingers and the CEDAW
The Committee has become a target for right-wing conspiracy theorists, particularly Beverly LaHaye's Concerned Women for America, who believe that the Committee is heading a super-secret conspiracy to >gasp!< pass the Equal Rights Amendment and give equal rights to gay people. Phyllis Schlafly has, of course, also chipped in, objecting to the Committee on the grounds that its members are feminists, that Bill Clinton approved of the Convention, and that mothers ought to stick to the kitchen.
- Convention, article 3 p.1.
- Convention, introduction.
- Convention, article 29 p. 1.
- CEDAW session 36 report on Cuba, p.1
- Report on Armenia, 1997, paragraph 51.
- Report on Romania, 2000, paragraphs 26 and 27.
- Report on China, 1999, p.32, paragraph 289.
- Convention, article 6.
- Report on Belarus, 2000, p.45, paragraph 361.
- Report on Armenia, 1997, paragraph 65.
- "The Committee is concerned that there are many instances of indirect and hidden discrimination against women, as evidenced by the fact that women do not choose to take on management positions." – Report on North Korea, 2005, paragraph 27.
- Report on Armenia, 1997, paragraph 65.
- Report on Belarus, 2000, p.45, paragraph 362.
- Report on Romania, 2000, paragraph 25.
- Convention, article 5(b).
- Report on Germany, 2000, p.40, paragraph 313.
- Report on Slovenia, 1997, p. 28, paragraph 104.
- Report on Austria, 2000, paragraphs 32–33.
- Report on Austria, 2000, p.4.
- Report on Armenia, 1997, paragraph 52.
- Report on Armenia, 1997, paragraph 60.
- Concerned Women for America, "Exposing CEDAW"
- Phyllis Schlafly, "Time to UNsign CEDAW"