Is ratification of the CEDAW necessary for Women’s Equality?
The first parallel event I attended at the CSW today was focused on the relationship between economic development and Human Rights, and was sponsored by the International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific). The foundational assumption articulated by the panelists was that there is no necessary relation between development and human rights. One of their major complaints was that it is difficult to work for women’s equality when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are seen as the Bible. While this was certainly a valid and important point, the thing that interested me was another part of the discussion.
Several members of the panel talked at length about the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW. While on its face, the convention seems harmless or even beneficial, abortion advocates around the world have used the CEDAW convention in an attempt to create an international right to abortion, despite the absence of any language in officially negotiated UN documents (including the CEDAW) that support such a right.
In addition to this, one of the panelists (an 8-year member of the CEDAW committee) gave a disturbing answer to a question asked by a Canadian audience member. The question was whether or not there could be transparency in the CEDAW committee when they chose suggestions from NGOs to help hold parties to the convention accountable. The panelist gave a long answer to the question, but essentially the answer was no. The CEDAW committee, and the committee alone, would decide which issues were “important” enough to address with the signatories, without explaining their reasoning if they didn’t feel like it.
The same panelist also spoke on several of the “General Recommendations” that would be soon published by the committee, including: ‘The economic consequences of marriage and its dissolution’ and ‘Harmful practices’. Again, the meaning and scope of these recommendations is left to the sole discretion of the committee.
As they discussed the CEDAW, they made it clear that, in their opinion, the universal ratification of the CEDAW was necessary for human equality and women’s equality. Here are some quotations from the presenters:
“We must use concrete references to CEDAW. . . when advancing women’s rights”
“Whatever agenda comes next, it must be made in conjunction with the objectives of the CEDAW”
“To ensure women’s equality, it is crucial to implement the CEDAW”
The obvious inference from these statements is that without the CEDAW you cannot have equality for women. Much like the argument that you cannot be in favor of women’s equality unless you are a feminist, this statement is flawed. The goal of equality for women is not and will never be contingent on the ratification of any governmental or intergovernmental document. If the entire United Nations system were to disappear tomorrow, the goal of achieving the equal treatment of men and women would not be a lost and unachievable goal. That is the job of each and every man, each and every woman, each and every family, and each and every parish. And as long as there is a man, woman, family, or parish that believes that women and men are equal in worth, then the movement for women’s equality will succeed.
But it will be more difficult to advance women’s equality if the CEDAW is seen as the Bible.