Global Rights Treaty Cloaks Feminist Agenda, Critics Charge

By Jessica Cantelon | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

( - A Senate committee is preparing to take action on an international women's rights treaty, with some analysts concerned that the treaty obscures a controversial feminist agenda and puts President Bush in a difficult position on women's issues in a mid-term election year.

The "Treaty for the Rights of Women" is scheduled for a vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday.

Created in 1979 as the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the treaty has since been ratified by 170 countries around the world.

While the treaty was tentatively approved in the U.S. more than 20 years ago, it has rattled around in the Senate since without action.

Broad Support From Feminists

"Virtually all the developed world and industrialized democracies except us and a couple of places like Iran and North Korea and some others [have ratified CEDAW]," said Amy Caiazza, study director for the Institute for Women's Policy Research. "The company that we're in is not great."

The fact that the U.S. has not ratified the treaty has been dubbed by National Organization for Women officer Karen Johnson as an "embarrassment" to the American feminist movement.

Theresa Y. Hwang, a communications associate for the Global Fund for Women, said that by ratifying CEDAW, "the U.S. Senate will stand with courageous women worldwide who battle violence and poverty in their daily lives."

Running counter to the feminist rhetoric is the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. IRPP President Joseph K. Grieboski said he agrees with the treaty's concepts, but is urging the Senate committee to vote against ratification of what he sees as "a political tool" that can be used by Democrats to "score points against the Republicans and against the Republican president."

"Ideally, nations must be moving more progressively toward the rights of women," said Grieboski, a former Democratic congressional candidate from Pennsylvania. "My concern comes out of the interpretation of the treaty, the exceptionally broad language, and the issues of authority that the CEDAW committee have granted to themselves in the monitoring of the interpretation of the treaty itself."

A Radical Agenda?

Grieboski points to past examples of involvement by the CEDAW committee, which has global oversight of the treaty, including its criticism of Belarus for reintroducing Mother's Day.

The CEDAW committee opposed Mother's Day in Belarus for perpetuating "a sex-role stereotype," which illustrates what Grieboski called a "technique of utilizing broad language in the early stages, which is then virtually radicalized after ratification."

But Hwang said the broad language of CEDAW is preferable to more narrow language, saying objections to specific CEDAW actions could be addressed individually.

"It would be much better to have a broader policy to be instated and then have each of the specific things that might come out of it be contended in terms of public policy - legalization of prostitution [and] legalization of homosexual marriage," Hwang said.

Sharing some of Grieboski's concerns is Concerned Women for America, the nation's largest women's group.

"The gender feminist movement, in its plan to restructure society and enact its legislation - gender re-education, comparable worth, the destruction of traditional family definitions, and a federal ERA - is using a U.N. treaty to mandate its agenda," argues the CWA.

An issue briefing on the CWA Internet website claims CEDAW and many of those who advocate it are exploiting the fate of poor women in developing nations, who struggle daily with the basics of existence.

"Radical feminists in Western nations are using these women's disadvantages to push an agenda of sexual and reproductive rights for females as young as age 10. Hiding under the guise of 'human rights,' and veiling their intentions with appeals for needy women in developing nations, they insist CEDAW is necessary," the CWA states.

According to CEDAW's official website, the 30-article treaty "defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination."

Political Ramifications in an Election Year

Former President Jimmy Carter approved CEDAW in 1980, but the treaty never came up for a full Senate vote and has remained bottled up for more than two decades.

If voted out of the Foreign Relations Committee, the treaty will head to the Senate floor, where 67 votes are necessary for ratification. As an international treaty, CEDAW can be ratified without a vote by the House of Representatives.

If CEDAW receives the requisite two-thirds majority in the Senate, it's then up to President Bush to accept or reject the treaty, raising the specter of creating a mid-term election year foil for Democrats.

"[If] the president vetoes it in an election year, then the Democrats run with the concept that the president is against women's rights and they increase the gender gap within the Republican Party," Grieboski explained. "[If] the president signs it, then he loses his usual base."

In spite of Grieboski's lobbying against the treaty, he said his "Washington cynicism" leads him to believe the Senate will indeed vote to ratify the pact.

"Why would somebody want to press for CEDAW in an election year?" Grieboski asked. "Because anyone who votes against CEDAW in the Senate is essentially voting against women's rights. At least that's the interpretation that's being sold."

E-mail a news tip to Jessica Cantelon.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.