Shocking relevations at U.N. about implementing CEDAW

Posted: Mar 01, 2007 10:32 PM

The new CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) strategy at the United Nations (U.N.) is to link the “women’s rights” treaty (CEDAW) with the “children’s rights” treaty (CRC – Convention on the Rights of the Child), calling the combination a “Double Dividend.” The underlying supposition is that when women’s rights are ensured, children’s well-being is enhanced.

In truth the strategy is, at a minimum, a public relations move. Linking children’s rights to “women’s rights” provides a softer image for CEDAW, which reassures those nations that are concerned about CEDAW’s anti-mother provisions and harsh enforcement rulings. By linking with the CRC, advocates of CEDAW hope to move the hearts and emotions of countries that have not signed; certainly they need a new, more positive patina for new activists coming on the U.N. scene.

But the best laid plans can come unraveled. That happened yesterday when a scheduled speaker had to be somewhere else. The substitute took off her gloves and, speaking extemporaneously, inadvertently exposed the CEDAW treaty’s iron hand. At a program about legal mechanisms for using both the CRC and CEDAW, the former President of the Commission for the Status of Women and a member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Dubravka Šimunovic, spoke off-the-cuff about CEDAW.

Ms. Šimunovic made shocking statements about the treaty’s ramifications:

Ms. Šimunovic argued that while it is important for women to have rights under the law, implementation of those laws is key. She said, “We must hold governments accountable to CEDAW when they pass it.” To that end, she said, Article 2 of CEDAW states that each and every country must have articles in their Constitution to ensure gender equality. Further, she opined that all countries must have lawyers to guarantee those constitutional rights to women (emphasis mine).

Ms. Šimunovic said, “Countries must draft laws in language that will actually pass in their nation.” In other words, she was encouraging states to craft rhetoric about CEDAW into national legislation that would make it palatable to citizens in that nation.

Ms. Šimunovic explained that all countries have national laws, but “international treaties are directly applicable as well.” She clarified that treaties are not merely applicable through national laws, but also through international laws, “though some countries don’t recognize this.” If “countries don’t take this seriously and respect their obligations” there must be means to hold them accountable. In other words, she indicated that international treaties, like CEDAW, can be brought in to take precedence over national laws that are ineffective in gaining gender equity.

Ms. Šimunovic defended the U.N. international oversight committee because “ongoing reform via treaty bodies requires the cooperation of individual states.” Thus, countries must see CEDAW and CRC together as a “body of law for human rights” (emphasis mine). The oversight committee, then, must ensure “not just overall human rights, but they must cite specific, direct and indirect discrimination against women.” If countries are not implementing CEDAW “systematically,” the committee has the responsibility to ask questions to discover the reality of the specific situation regarding implementation.

Ms. Šimunovic stressed the importance of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) in initiating inquiries about implementation of CEDAW at the national level. She said that the protocols are there to assist NGOs in making complaints and inquiries. The laws, she said, cannot change things; only implementation changes things. Essentially, she was tasking the NGOs to be “big brother” in their home countries so that CEDAW can be fully implemented.

Ms. Šimunovic cited 16 articles in CEDAW that are important for protecting children. She assured the audience that there would be other “interconnections in the future.”

During the Question and Answer period, a questioner asked (paraphrased), "If the US is such a champion of freedom in the world and won't ratify CEDAW, what's wrong with CEDAW? We should simplify it and shorten it. What is the hang-up?" The questioner specifically asked about the language regarding abortion and the necessity to take “appropriate measures.” Ms. Šimunovic replied that CEDAW is “flexible;” “appropriate measures” means that “each NGO has the responsibility to interpret for their country.” Ms. Šimunovic grudgingly admitted, “There is nothing about abortion in CEDAW; reproductive rights includes more than abortion.” The language, she said, is “intentionally vague” so that there is “leeway for countries to interpret the language however they want.” She told the questioner, “NGOs in this building can explain.” (All of the NGOs in the Church Center are pro-abortion and leftist in their ideology.)

Other speakers, too, revealed the iron hand within the soft glove of CEDAW.

In her opening remarks, Denise Scotto, Vice-Chair of the United Nations NGO, Committee on the Status of Women, expanded the reach of CEDAW to utopian fantasy when she said, “It is important to hold countries accountable for empowering women to the full and total extent of their abilities” (emphasis mine, though Ms. Scotto stressed these words).

In his remarks, Jonathan Todres, an Adjunct Professor of Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, New York, reinforced CEDAW as anti-motherhood when he made the startling statement that “to speak of ‘women and children’ as one group is to relegate women to the role of caretaker of the children and homemaker, a view that inhibits the full realization of women’s rights.”

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) booklet, Women and Children: The Double Dividend of Gender Equality, brings CEDAW implementation right into people’s homes. There is a whole section on “Equality in the Household” where women are asked to challenge and defy “discriminatory attitudes” by insisting on equality in “household decision-making” and equal power in the “bargaining between men and women” at home.

By linking CRC and CEDAW, the activists believe that they have new wrapping to hide the harsh realities of the old CEDAW package. But with speakers like Ms Šimunovic the truth comes through with astonishing specificity.