National Catholic Reporter, February 2, 2007
U.N. pledge of equality for women deserves U.S. support
By ROBERT F. DRINAN
Of the 192 members of the United Nations, 185 countries have ratified the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
There may be a chance the new Senate majority could ratify the convention and require the United States to fulfill its pledges to the equality of women.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has committed himself to do all that is necessary to get the 67 votes in the Senate to ratify this U.N. convention.
A Palestinian woman works as a beekeeper in a Catholic church-supported cooperative in the West Bank. Its provisions require that women have pay equal to that of men, that women have freedom to choose a marriage partner, and that women stand on a basis of equality with men in the areas of public, economic, social and cultural rights. Every signatory must report every four years on the status of women in their nation. The U.N. watchdog committee, comprised of 23 women from around the world, then responds with their own report of praise and criticism.
One can see the improvement in the status of women since the committee issued its first reports in the early 1980s. The most recent session of the committee was held last August. The watchdog group considered reports from 16 nations, including China. This committee acknowledged some progress in China since the last review, but expressed deep concern over the high birth rate of males compared to females.
In 1999 the U.N. General Assembly added an optional protocol that allows groups or individuals in various nations to file complaints about abuses of the rights of women. The optional protocol has now been ratified by 83 countries.
The vast network of nongovernmental organizations that are involved in improving human rights are enthusiastic about the women's convention, although they recognize there are many obstacles that remain.
President Carter signed the treaty on July 17, 1980, and urged the Senate to ratify it. The Reagan and the first Bush administrations did not support the ratification of this treaty. The Clinton administration favored it and in 1994 urged the Senate to approve it. The administration of George W. Bush has never urged its ratification.
In 2002 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, then chaired by Sen. Biden, voted to ratify the treaty by a vote of 12 to 7. Out of committee now, that measure is still theoretically pending before the Senate.
The American Bar Association and the whole world of nongovernmental groups devoted to human rights now insist vigorously that the women's convention finally be ratified. Opposition to it is mostly organized by some conservative religious groups and elements that are genuinely afraid of movements that they think threaten family stability. It should be noted however that most Catholic nations -- Brazil, Ireland, Spain, Argentina, Poland and the Philippines -- have voted for the treaty and participate actively in the watchdog committee's deliberations.
Resistance to the women's convention in the United States echoes rejection of the Equal Rights Amendment. That proposal would add equality of women to the U.S. Constitution. The Equal Rights Amendment was approved by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the U.S. Congress. But after years of deliberations and controversies, 35 of the 38 states necessary voted to approve the Amendment.
The religious right is the strongest force in the United States that has opposed both the Equal Rights Amendment and the U.N. women's convention. It seems clear that the political force of that group was weakened in the recent elections.
It will be wonderful if the new political atmosphere will bring ratification of the treaty. This would mean the United States becomes the 186th country in the world to sign the pledge that will give complete equality to all women.
Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan was a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.