Your Ignorant Lady Ostrich Report

So, CEDAW, the little piece of politics that we should know about, but we don’t.  Like the Hyde Ammendment (which removes funding for abortion from federally funded healthcare), it’s one of those that I’d never heard of, and when I did, I felt like a chump, jerk and ignorant lady ostrich.  Why? Well, CEDAW is full of good intentions, and the United States, our grand nation, wants none of it.

CEDAW is the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and it’s considered to be an international bill of rights for women.   The US, which has signed the treaty, is the only developed nation to not have ratified it.  Only six other members of the UN are not on board: Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Tonga, Palau, Nauru.  The Vatican City hasn’t signed, either.

According to the UN site, if we ratify, the US is legally bound to

undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including:

  • to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;
  • to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and
  • to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.
That all sounds decentish and overall very nice, no?
The Senate is responsible for ratifying international treaties, and needs a 2/3 vote.  So far, 5 states have endorsed ratification in their state legislature, but what I find most telling are the Reservations, Understandings and Declarations (RDUs) (and by the way, can we start using RDUs in more casual transactions, like weddings and fights with parents?) that the US is trying to make conditional for participation in the treaty.  These are things we are asking to be excused from and to not be held by if we actually do go ahead and commit ourselves by ratifying:
  • Assigning women to all parts of military service
  • mandating paid maternity leave
  • legislating equality in the private sector (does this mean it can’t be illegal to discriminate gender outside of government?)
  • No restrictions will be made on freedom of speech because of the Convention
  • Free health services for women will be determined by the state and not mandated by the fed
  • “nothing in this convention shall be construed to reflect or create any right to abortion and in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning,” (added by the late Jessie Helms R-NC)

Other chafing at the treaty has come from anti-feminist groups worried that the treaty seeks to promote radical feminism and subvert traditional gender roles and family values.  Countries that practice Shariah law also find that the treaty has a Western bias, and does not account for other cultural practices.

Countries that participate in the treaty have to submit a report every four years, and the treaty has been around since 1979.  The General Recommendations from the sessions and review of these reports cover everything from divorce law to migrant workers, equal pay, and violence against women.  It has given, at the least, a pulse of global status of women.  The American resistance to even the gesture of moving towards equality is unsettling.  I can easily sink into the idea that in general, we’re doing just fine, and that at least in my home, equality is a luxury that I have.  Not so.
Onto the public option?

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