May 13, 2002 | Commentary on Family and Marriage
Who could object to motherhood? Or to Mother's Day, when we
honor the sacrifices made by all mothers?
The United Nations, that's who.
Using a treaty known as the Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the United Nations
for years has been urging nations worldwide to, among other things,
discourage full-time motherhood and scrap observances of Mother's
And thanks in part to an action taken by the Bush
administration, it may not be long before the United States is
fielding similar criticisms.
Supporters make CEDAW sound harmless enough. It does contain
many noble goals, including the equal treatment of girls and women
before the law. It advocates their participation in politics and
the workplace and seeks to expand their access to health care and
All this is laudable. But liberal U.N. members -- and their
partners in the "non-governmental organizations" that support their
efforts -- are using the treaty to advance a troubling agenda.
Consider how one CEDAW committee report scolded Belarus:
"The Committee is concerned by the continuing prevalence of
sex-role stereotypes and by the reintroduction of such symbols as a
Mother's Day and a Mother's Award, which it sees as encouraging
women's traditional roles. It is also concerned whether the
introduction of human rights and gender education aimed at
countering such stereotyping is being effectively
While the committee says motherhood is a harmful "stereotype,"
it considers prostitution a respectable profession to be
encouraged. A CEDAW committee report to China expresses "concern
that prostitution … is illegal" and "recommends the
decriminalization of prostitution in China." In Germany, where the
practice is legal, the committee says the real problem is equity:
"Although they are legally obliged to pay taxes, prostitutes still
do not enjoy the protection of labor and social law."
Just as disturbing is the committee's disdain for dissenting
opinions on abortion. A report to Croatia finds that "the refusal,
by some hospitals, to provide abortions on the basis of
conscientious objection of doctors … [constitutes] an
infringement of women's reproductive rights."
The CEDAW committee also has instructed Libya to "reinterpret
the Koran" to conform with the treaty and criticized Slovenia
because "less than 30 percent of children under three years of age
… were in formal day care."
People of good will can disagree on these issues, but should the
United Nations be dictating how a sovereign nation conducts its own
It may seem hard to imagine that such a treaty could be approved
by the United States. But there's only one reason CEDAW -- which
was signed by the United States in 1980 -- isn't already the law of
the land: It never has been ratified by the U.S. Senate.
The chances of this happening on President Bush's watch would
seem slim. But earlier this year, with the White House's approval,
the State Department updated CEDAW's status to "Category 3" -- low
priority, but acceptable and recommended for ratification.
Congressional supporters, such as Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who
says it's "insulting that such a simple, straightforward bill of
rights for women would languish in the greatest democracy in the
world," are delighted.
Career bureaucrats in the State Department have operated largely
without oversight in pushing this treaty and appear to have set the
president up. By listing ratification of CEDAW as "acceptable," the
State Department has placed the president in a position strongly
opposed by many of his supporters.
So don't be surprised if CEDAW supporters in the Senate force a vote on the treaty before next November. Those who oppose the treaty are over a barrel: Either vote it down because of the objectionable agenda behind it and be tagged in an election year as insensitive to "women's rights" -- or vote for a bad treaty.
Actually, no one wins if the Senate approves CEDAW. In the long
run, it could seriously undermine the family and the institution of
marriage -- and even religious freedom. It might well take years to
recapture what will be lost if the treaty goes forward.
Fortunately, a treaty can't be ratified unless at least
two-thirds of the Senate vote in favor of it. That seems unlikely,
but a lot turns on what President Bush does now. Let's hope he
takes a hard look at CEDAW and realizes that the only "category"
it's suitable for is the dustbin of history.
Patrick Fagan is the FitzGerald research fellow in family and cultural issues and Brett D. Schaefer is the Kingham fellow in international regulatory affairs at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire