John Leo
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Once again the push is on for the Senate to ratify CEDAW, the U.N.'s women's rights treaty that has been hanging around since 1979. CEDAW is the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

There's a good reason why the Senate has ignored it for a generation: It's an incredibly toxic document, the work of international bureaucrats determined to impose a worldwide makeover of family relations and "gender roles." CEDAW is a blueprint for foisting the West's radical feminism on every nation gullible enough to sign on. (Talk about cultural imperialism.) Some 167 nations have signed the treaty, many with no intention of observing it. But the CEDAW ferociously monitors every nation's compliance. It has a few enforcement mechanisms and plans more. The idea is that someday, nations may not be able to resist.

CEDAW is a more perverse version of American radical feminism, circa 1975: It bristles with contempt for family, motherhood, religion and tradition. Parents and the family don't count. The state will watch out for children's rights. The treaty extends access to contraception and abortion to very young girls, and imposes "gender studies" on the schools and feminist-approved textbooks on students.

The committee enforcing CEDAW criticized Belarus for reintroducing Mother's Day ("a sex-role stereotype") and strongly urged Armenia to combat the image of "the noble role of mother." It complained that voters in Ireland seem to reflect Catholic values and warned Libya that the Quran can only be followed within "permissible" limits set by CEDAW. Feminists will decide what religions may teach.

CEDAW busybodies are always eager to intrude. Recently they leaned on Denmark for not providing data on whether Danish fathers are doing their share of chores around the house.

One of the CEDAW committee's techniques is to use broad language, which is then tightened and given a radical interpretation after signatories have accepted it. CEDAW did not announce that women's "right to free choice of profession and employment" would turn out to mean (as the committee now says) that prostitution must be decriminalized around the world. Similarly, CEDAW'S ban on "any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex" seems to make legal approval of homosexual marriage mandatory. Some analysts think CEDAW'S ban on "orientation" bias will make pedophile sex legal, since some people are "oriented" toward children. Linguistic sinkholes are so common that Muslim women wanted assurance that the term "sexual slavery" would not be defined later as including marriage.

CEDAW reflects the rising importance of international conferences and the United Nations' nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). CEDAW bureacrats constantly monitor and hector the world's nations to comply. The World Bank now seems primed to serve as an enforcer for CEDAW. One World Bank document is titled "Integrating Gender into the World's Bank's Work: a Strategy for Action." The feminists talk about the World Bank's "accountability mechanisms." Translation: No CEDAW compliance, no loan.

Worse, CEDAW backers intend to use the new International Criminal Court as an enforcement tool. Patrick Fagan of the Heritage Foundation, who follows CEDAW closely, predicts that the CEDAW committee will bring an ICC case against Catholic hospitals to break the hospitals' refusal to perform abortions. Language setting up the court is so vague that radical prosecutors and judges might be able to jail clerics who refuse to perform same-sex marriages or who decline to ordain women.

The lesson here is that small groups of dedicated bureaucrats, out of the public eye, can make rules affecting the domestic affairs of countries that would be difficult or impossible to achieve democratically. The trick is to create "customary international law" out of marginal views, constantly repeated on the world stage. Rita Joseph, an Australian human rights specialist, says: "The basic plan is ingeniously simple. The idea is to couch the feminist agenda in language of human rights" and then assert the ascendancy of human rights over the sovereign rights of nations.

Still, over the past five or six years, as awareness of the radicalization of the United Nations has set in, nonradical American NGOs have mounted resistance, often with the help of the Vatican and Muslim nations. This alliance has had some success in exposing the language and parliamentary games played by the radicals.

CEDAW is coming up again now because of a fumble in the State Department. Someone listed CEDAW as a treaty the administration considered low-level but acceptable. President Bush now has to choose between antagonizing his base by calling for Senate ratification or antagonizing female voters by seeming to come out against women's rights. But if he can't dodge the issue, he will have to oppose the treaty. CEDAW is dangerous as well as stupid.

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John Leo

John Leo is editor of MindingTheCampus.com and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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