The U.S. is one of seven states yet to ratify CEDAW. This puts us in good company with Iran, North Korea, and Sudan. President Jimmy Carter signed the treaty in 1980, and since then it has come up for ratification several times in the Senate, but the session always ends before the time comes to vote on it. In addition, there are many groups that are vehemently opposed to the treaty, and work hard to ensure that it will not come before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and be voted on.
I never understood this, but I also never before tried to understand their view. A few months ago someone emailed me at the Parity account questioning the Church’s view on feminism and women’s rights, specifically stating that the Church has come out against CEDAW. I looked into this further, and there has never been any official statements about the treaty. On the other hand though, there have been individual Church leaders who are outspoken against it. I actually had a run-in with one such Church leader here in DC; he never really gave me a satisfying answer though as to why the treaty was so threatening and would ruin America if signed. I wanted to find out more, so I started with reading all the way through the treaty. Although I have coded many different country reports, I never deliberately and thoroughly read through the document looking specifically for articles that may be offensive to LDS individuals or others. I was sure I would find a statement on access to abortion, perhaps one on contraception? I was sure these issues might be the controversial ones I was after. CEDAW does discuss family planning in the context of allowing women to “to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to hove access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights” (article 16.e). I don’t find that too controversial in my opinion. It protects women from forced sterilization, forced abortion, rape, marital rape and forced pregnancy. I’m pretty sure I’m pretty opposed to all of those things.
If it’s not abortion and contraception that are the big controversial items on the agenda, what are they then? I did a little Googling and found a group called the “Concerned Women for America.” They put out a document delineating all of their reasons for opposing CEDAW. I won’t go into all of them here in this blogpost, but you can find the entire article athttp://www.cwfa.org/articles/1971/CWA/nation/index.htm. It’s from 2000, but I imagine they still have the same views on most of the issues. I also don’t imagine these are the reasons that all the anti-CEDAW groups give, but it’s the only one I could really find and I’m at a loss to think of reasons on my own.
Their big issue they address first is the altering of gender-stereotyped roles in a society and especially within the family. CEDAW requires states take all appropriate measures “to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women” (Article 5.a). Um, is there a problem here? Even in the United States, we could stand to change our cultural patterns a little bit as to not marginalize women and mothers. For example, even though women work as many hours as their husbands in the formal sector, they are still expected to come home and maintain the household in what is known as a “second shift.” CEDAW urges men to assume more family responsibility and share equally in household labor. CEDAW to the opponents disrupt the traditional family life that America places so much value in. But when that traditional family life discriminates against and marginalizes women, how can we support such an institution? I’m all for marriage and family, but I’m not for this “traditional” perspective that grants authority to the husband and father and forces the mother into subordination. Men and women are equal partners, I believe, that work together in a family to seek the best outcomes for all members. They both should have the same opportunity for education, employment, and the chance to impact the world and their communities.
I don’t how much we can actually apply what the CWFA’s views on CEDAW are to what the views in the LDS Church are. The CWFA insist that women should not get equal pay as men because they don’t have the same qualifications, education, and experience; the free market to them regulates wages and thus there is no problem with a wage gap as it would accurately reflect how much men and women really deserve. On the contrary, a study done at a business school somewhere placed two identical resumes in front of employers and asked them how likely they are to hire the person and at what wage. Consistently, with an IDENTICAL RESUME, the employers would be less likely to hire women, even less likely to hire a mother while paying the woman less and the mother even less. On the other hand, they would hire the father more often and at a higher wage than a fatherless man, woman, or mother. As women close the gap in university degrees and experience in the workplace, we cannot justify a wage gap using the free market argument.
CEDAW ensures so many wonderful rights and privileges that women are lacking both in our country and elsewhere. If you don’t want to believe me, read the text of the document yourself
(http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/cedaw.htm). Although if the treaty ever gets ratified, the U.S. will surely put in stipulations (reservations) that it is not bound my most of the provisions and laws
will probably not really change, it’s a step in the right direction. Imagine our country with better protection from rape and domestic violence, access to family planning and education, re-written textbooks with a gender perspective, more women in our legislative bodies, access to appropriate health care with choices, maternity leave! There are so, so many areas where we are lacking. CEDAW addresses this issues and seeks to provide solutions. The U.S. needs to ratify CEDAW and find some better company among the other nations of the world that do not include dictatorships and failed states. Only then can we be a force to improve women’s rights worldwide.