Tuesday, January 22, 2013

CEDAW And The Concerned Women For America

That's the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

What the actual powers of CEDAW are can be debated, given that the ratifiers include several countries with very bad records on the treatment of women.  But not ratifying this convention still gives an interesting message about the United States of America:

The seven UN member states that have not ratified or acceded to the convention are Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Tonga, and the United States. The United States and Palau have signed it, but not yet ratified it.
I went looking for the reason the United States decided to agree with Iran on something! 

What I found comes from The Concerned Women for America, a group which seems to consist of the Aunties of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.  Their arguments are, first, that the US doesn't need the CEDAW because everything is already peachy for Murkan women who can be whatever they wish as long as they also take care of The Family, and, second, that if the US ratified the CEDAW then the UN would rule over this country.  

The Concerned Women for America are also worried about some uses of the CEDAW,  listed without  referencing their sources, including its use to kill Mother's Day.  This bit in the list of worrisome rulings (bolded by me below),  really does put The Concerned Women for America into weird company:

Ratifying CEDAW would lend the United States' prestige and credibility, not only to the treaty, but also to the CEDAW Committee's rulings. Here are snapshots of some of those rulings:
Told China to decriminalize prostitution.
Criticized Mexico for a "lack of access … to easy and swift abortion.
Criticized Ireland for the Catholic Church's influence of attitudes and state policy.
Told Libya to re-interpret the Koran in the light of CEDAW.

All the "snapshots" that are listed are viewed as bad, as far as I can tell.  This suggests that the Concerned Women for America are on the side of what their brethren-on-the-right call Islamofascists, right?

I don't mind reading about any of the possibly bad CEDAW rulings but I do mind reading about them when no links to them are provided.  Still, the stuff is fun to wade through and if I had a few more lives I'd fish for all the original sources.  But this is the conclusion of the Aunties:

CEDAW is fundamentally flawed. No reservations could protect our laws and culture from its skewed belief that there is no difference between men and women. The United States should not give our prestige, nor subject our citizens, to CEDAW.

Now that IS fun, because it's pretty much what Iran would argue, I think, though perhaps with a more explicit assertion of the rank-order the guy god(s) has given human beings. 

Still, I think the Concerned Women for America have fallen into some quicksand here.  What if the fundamental differences between men and women mean that women should be silent about matters such as CEDAW?  Leave public matters to men?  In other words, who decides what the relevant differences are?

Or if equality is only feasible when there are no differences at all between individuals, how could any distinguishable groups of human beings receive fair and equal treatment?  Men, for instance, vary quite a bit in temperament and talents and many other characteristics.  Should we ignore those individual differences but honor group differences?  And if the latter, why focus on only gender as the determinant of the relevant group?

In any case, the assertion that CEDAW is based on no difference between men and women is a red herring.  I bet you anything that CEDAW doesn't require that men becoming fathers give birth, for instance, or that women must have prostate examinations. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I'm not sure how influential CEDAW can really be.  But not ratifying it sends a message.
This post was inspired by some people suggesting that perhaps this would be a good time for the US to ratify CEDAW.