J. Michael Smith, President Michael P. Farris, Chairman


July 17, 2002

Committee Vote on U.N. Women's Treaty

Home School Legal Defense Association has learned that the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a vote on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) this Thursday, July 18, 2002.

CEDAW is an international treaty drafted by the United Nations and signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. We believe this treaty would break down natural jurisdictional distinctions between the individual, the family and the state. We have several problems with this treaty:

  1. CEDAW devotes major attention to women's reproductive rights. The preamble sets the tone by stating, "the role of women in procreation should not be a basis for discrimination." The link between discrimination and women's reproductive role is a matter of recurrent concern in CEDAW. For example, it advocates, in Article 5, "a proper understanding of maternity as a social function," demanding fully shared responsibility for child rearing by both sexes. Accordingly, provisions for maternity protection and child-care are proclaimed as essential rights and are incorporated into all areas of CEDAW, whether dealing with employment, family law, health care or education. Society's obligation extends to offering social services, especially child-care facilities, which allow individuals to combine family responsibilities with work and participation in public life. Special measures for maternity protection are recommended and "shall not be considered discriminatory". (Article 4).

  2. CEDAW is the only human rights treaty to mention family planning. Signatory nations are obliged to include advice on family planning in the education process (Article l) and to guarantee women's rights "to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights" (Article 16).

  3. Article 10 of CEDAW requires all signatory countries to enact legislation concerning "all forms of education." We are concerned with the implications of this provision as it is so broad that in the name of prohibiting discrimination, many institutions, such as single sex colleges, may fall victim to its reach.

  4. Ultimately, it seems this treaty targets the traditional American family rights and attempts to "liberate" mothers from their nurturing role in the family. Consider how one CEDAW committee report scolded the nation 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 implemented."

On June 13, 2002, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing to address whether the United States should ratify the controversial United Nations women's rights treaty: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). U.S. Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE), the chairman of the committee, and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), organized the hearing. Senator Biden stated that he was "concerned by the casual attitude of the Executive Branch toward the treaty process and the legitimate requests of this Committee for testimony on a significant treaty pending before it."

HSLDA believes that there will be more efforts in the coming year to ratify this treaty by Senators Biden, Boxer and others. The Constitution requires a 2/3 majority of the Senate for the United States to enter into such a treaty.

Both Senators Boxer and Biden asserted that the current failure to ratify CEDAW damages U.S. credibility worldwide, and has limited US leadership on broader human rights issues. The individuals testifying in favor of CEDAW, many of whom called the current U.S. stance an "embarrassment" within the world community, echoed these sentiments.

The United Nations does provide a process by which signatory nations can ratify the treaty but indicate they have problems with certain sections of it. CEDAW supporters say that the United States should sign the treaty (to show general support for the rights of women) while expressing its concern by noting what the UN calls "declarations, reservations or understandings."

Unfortunately, no amount of declarations, reservations or understandings can reform the CEDAW. While the treaty is laced with questionable policy objectives, American freedoms should not hinge on the interpretations of legal technicalities found in reservations attached to the treaty and subject to U.N. approval. The United States Senate should not try to reform a document whose very premise is fatally unsound. Nor should it allow an international organization like the United Nations to have any say over American domestic policy. Whatever the international trends, U.S. sovereignty is not something to be frittered away as a means of appeasing a radically feminist agenda.

Article 6 Sec. 2 of the U.S. Constitution holds that all treaties ratified by the Senate are the supreme law of the land. In other words, no matter what reservations may be expressed by the Senate, a ratified CEDAW would be equal with the constitution.

For a more detailed analysis on CEDAW please visit: