Today, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) chaired a hearing of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law on whether the U.S. should ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Adopted in 1979 by the U.N. General Assembly, CEDAW affirms the political, civil, economic, and social rights of women. Currently, 186 countries have ratified the convention, but the U.S., Iran, Sudan, and Syria are among a handful of nations that have yet to do so. President Jimmy Carter signed CEDAW in 1979, and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations later approved it, but it has never been officially ratified by the U.S. By ratifying the convention, the U.S. would thereby agree to undertake measures to end discrimination against women. Respected voices have urged the U.S. to ratify CEDAW, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
What's not to admire about a convention that affirms the full human rights of women? Who wouldn't want to condemn discrimination and human rights violations against half of humanity? Unfortunately, key organizations among the Religious Right think otherwise.
CitizenLink, a Focus on the Family affiliate, published an article condemning CEDAW as a supposed threat to national sovereignty, religious freedom, and the family. Christians, the article says, should scorn CEDAW because it will supposedly harm children, destroy "healthy roles" for men and women, promote abortion, and lead to the legalization of prostitution.
How does affirming the basic human rights of women and girls harm children, exactly? How does allowing women access to education, employment, medical care, and the political realm destroy "healthy roles"? Why wouldn't any rational person want to eliminate senseless discrimination?
There's more. An article at OneNewsNow quotes Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America ridiculing CEDAW as an attempt by liberal senators to pacify "liberal, radical elitists". The convention, Wright insists, ignores alleged differences between men and women. The Concerned Women for America website scorns the convention as supposedly anti-constitutional, anti-woman, and inimical to "God's calling" to women to raise children with "Biblical values." An article at LifeSite describes CEDAW as a "pro-abortion" treaty supposedly used to "pressure" nations into legalizing abortion. Finally, the Heritage Foundation website features archived commentaries from the last decade that condemn CEDAW, available here, here, here and here. Not surprisingly, the Heritage Foundation testified against CEDAW at Thursday's Senate hearing.
Is it any surprise that figures from the Religious Right would resist CEDAW? It affirms the intrinsic humanity of both sexes, flying in the face of the fundamentalist Christian sexism. It encourages women's empowerment in countless spheres of society, making it more difficult for men to control women's labor, sexuality, and reproduction. Fundamentalists will recoil from this vision because it threatens patriarchal power.
As usual, the Religious Right relies on its stale fear-mongering to demonize CEDAW, claiming that it will endanger religious freedom, destroy the family, and harm kids. When you hear these same baseless claims recycled over and over again to demonize everything from LGBT rights to comprehensive sex education, they get old fast.
Our world will be stronger and happier if we honor the rights of all its inhabitants, encouraging them to participate in society and use their abundant talents. Discrimination against women and girls is not only a grave injustice to half the population, but a waste of human potential. The Religious Right fails to understand this, clinging to a rigid worldview instead of working toward a just future.
I'll take a just future for everyone over that toxic worldview any day!
For more information on CEDAW, visit the following links:
Amnesty International: A Fact Sheet on CEDAW: Treaty for the Rights of Women
United Nations: Short History of CEDAW Convention
Michigan Journal of International Law: Migration, Development, and the Promise of CEDAW for Rural Women
Ms. Magazine: CEDAW Hearing Standing Room Only -- Sandra Day O'Connor for CEDAW