On December 3rd, the United Nations as part of the “30th Anniversary Celebration Event” will hold a global celebration recognizing the adoption of “Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women”(CEDAW) in 1979. I don’t know if you recall, but the United States, in it’s “great” role as a women’s rights advocate, still hasn’t ratified this UN measure.
Briefly, CEDAW treaty signers seek to:
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.
Here is the most recent list of States (countries) who have ratified. I emphasize, the United States has had the signed treaty sitting in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since 1980, the Jimmy Carter era.
When last we discussed the treaty, it was languishing in the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations during the presidential campaign. Both Joe Biden and Barack Obama were members of the committee at the time. This was the committee that Obama failed to attend and where Biden had to defend him. Biden, in 2002 did make an attempt to get the treaty ratified where abortion would not be included, but birthers were having none of it. After the Elections, John Kerry was assigned to be the head of the committee. Barbara Boxer, an advocate, is also part of the committee. However, as Senate committees are, it’s also filled with notable conservatives and blue dog democrats.
If you want to think about how this affects our foreign policy, take this simple example. SOS HRC goes to Afghanistan, Iraq or Pakistan and asks them to treat women better. After all, they DID sign and ratify the CEDAW Treaty. If we can’t even get the ERA or CEDAW ratified, what as a country are we going to include in our negotiations? What example do we provide?
We present the same face to the world as Iran and Somalia. Our negotiations can be no better. As the League of Women’s Voters says, the US should strive to be a leader in women’s rights. Currently we are the ONLY democracy that does not lead or follow. On the home front, this intractability toward women’s rights reflects even in our current efforts to pass a health care bill that includes the needs of 50% of the population. It prevents relatively simple things like the confirmation of Patricia Smith for the Labor’s Solicitor General, Her nomination was clear back in March. Her confirmation has been now held up by Senator Enzi since October.
What prevents ratification by the US? The Treaty has a provision to allow reservations by the States. Therefore if we have them, we could ratify with reservations. The treaty does not specially discuss abortion. Biden’s fruitless attempt to satisfy birthers objections elucidate a larger issue.
The National Right to Life Committee letter in March of this year throws a lot of light on the Subject. After slinging around all the same old tired hash of right wing women’s issues, it appears the main reason is they just don’t want anything to do with the UN. Under the guise of abortion rights, they say:
The 2002 resolution also contained an “understanding” that the UN compliance committee “has no authority to compel actions” by nations that ratify the treaty. This was just another dodge. Even without the power to directly compel action by state parties, the numerous pro-abortion decrees of the CEDAW Committee will be regarded as far more authoritative constructions of the legal obligations imposed by the treaty than any contrary “understanding” by a single party.
Already, two justices of the U.S. Supreme Court (Justice Ginsberg, joined by Justice Breyer) have cited CEDAW to buttress a legal point, even though the Senate has never ratified CEDAW. [Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 344-346 (2003)] If the Senate ratifies CEDAW, litigants will employ CEDAW in future legal challenges to federal and state enactments that touch on abortion, and they are likely to find a greater number of jurists who will give legal weight to such arguments. It is noteworthy that in 2006 Colombia’s Constitutional Court relied in part on CEDAW to liberalize Colombia’s abortion law.
Never mind the fact that we have all kind of treaties that we manage sucessfully, and that the world community and the UN influence our decisions every day.
You may recall the brief tenure of John Bolton as Interim US Representative to the UN.
Click on his name to remind you of the calamity he was. Quoting from Wiki, when he famously said in 1994:
There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States.” He also stated that “The Secretariat Building in New York has 38 stories. If you lost ten stories today, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.
The world was aghast at the arrogance of the United States. What kind of signal did Bush’s subsequent nomination of him then, to the UN, send? The conservative right is still hanging on to control in important places. Women’s equality here is simply a pawn in the right’s struggle to get us out of the UN, to remove us from the international community and isolate us.
So we have: control, diminishment, isolation, reduced legal remedies, resulting pain and suffering. Come to think of it, this whole situation sounds a lot like living with your average abuser.
List of Senators in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland
Robert P. Casey Jr., Pennsylvania
Jim Webb, Virginia
Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire
Edward E. Kaufman, Delaware
Kirsten E. Gillibrand, New York
Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut
Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin
Barbara Boxer, California
Robert Menendez, New Jersey
Bob Corker, Tennessee
Johnny Isakson, Georgia
James E. Risch, Idaho
Jim DeMint, South Carolina
John Barrasso, Wyoming
Roger F. Wicker, Mississippi
James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma