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CEDAW Optional Protocol —"no option" for those who oppose radical agenda


Babette Francis

In July 1980 at the UN Mid-Decade for Women World Conference in Copenhagen, Australia signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This Convention, which has the status of an International Treaty, was signed by the Fraser Government without any consultation with Australian citizens. There was also totally inadequate consultation with State Governments, who were barely given two weeks notice to consider the Treaty’s implications. This was quite remarkable as many of the Articles of CEDAW relating to health and education come under State, not Federal responsibility.

Under the external affairs power of the Australian Constitution (Section 51 - xxix) this meant that any issue covered by CEDAW - and that could be virtually everything as CEDAW pertained to the totality of the lives of women and men - now came under the authority of the Federal, not State Govermnents. With a (possibly) unintended sleight of hand, the Federal Government had achieved an awesome seizure of power vis-a-vis the States, the Churches and ordinary citizens, without so much as an Act of Parliament, let alone a Referendum.

Although many of the Articles of CEDAW have some merit, notably Article 6 which calls for the elimination through legislation of the exploitation of prostitution of women, basically the Convention takes an androgynous view of society. In Copenhagen in 1980 some representatives specifically objected to the signing of the Treaty because of Article 5 which required Governments to eliminate the "stereotyped", i.e. traditional, roles of men and women. Article 10 of CEDAW required the elimination of "stereotyped" roles to be implemented through changes in education, revision of textbooks, school programs and teaching methods.

CEDAW was ratified by the Hawke Labor Government in 1983, and implemented in domestic Australian legislation through the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 and the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Act of 1986. The Affirmative Action legislation mandated targets and goals for the preferential employment and promotion of women, thus weakening the competitive ability of men in their role as the main providers for their wives and children.

The broad, vague language of CEDAW is a blueprint for tyrannical, intrusive government. Most Westerners understand that freedom requires keeping the government out of one’s life to the greatest degree possible. CEDAW does precisely the opposite. CEDAW requires governments to intrude in the most private relationships, in religions, in any arena, which displeases feminist ideologues.

Currently, states parties to CEDAW are required to submit periodic reports detailing their compliance with the treaty. The Committee of "experts" which administer CEDAW then pass judgment on whether the government has adequately complied. In interpreting CEDAW and applying it to the country reports, the CEDAW Committee has demonstrated its commitment to radical feminist ideology, interpreting the malleable language of CEDAW in the most extreme ways.

The Committee has taken the position that tiny children, less than three years old, are better off in day care than with their families. In a breathtaking display of arrogance, the Committee instructed Libya to reinterpret the Koran in ways that were "permissible" under CEDAW. Just this year, the Committee chastised the Algerian government for ‘‘using religion as an excuses for failure to comply strictly with the Committee’s interpretation of CEDAW. The Committee reproached Slovenia because less than 30% of children under three years of age were in formal day care. In 1999 the Committee instructed Kyrgysztan to legalize lesbianism.

Also in 1999 the CEDAW Committee instructed China to legalize prostitution - referring to prostitutes as "sex workers". This is a quite extraordinary interpretation of Article 6 of CEDAW which, requires countries to "take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women".

The CEDAW Committee also urged Armenia to "use the education system and the electronic media to combat the traditional stereotype of women ‘in the noble role of mother"’.

However it is in relation to the issue of abortion that CEDAW has the most serious implications for Australia. The CEDAW Committee has decided that abortion is a right of women and has, accordingly instructed numerous governments to legalize abortion -although abortion is never mentioned in CEDAW.

In March 1999 the UN Committee on the Status of Women accepted an agreed text for an Optional Protocol which is supposed to enforce greater compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Governments which are parties to CEDAW will soon be under pressure from feminist groups to adopt the Optional Protocol. Governments should resist that pressure. The Optional Protocol is a bad addition to a bad treaty.

The Optional Protocol, if adopted, will put another arrow into the quiver of the radical ideologues. The Optional Protocol will allow individuals or their "representative" NGOs to bring complaints about violation of their "rights" under CEDAW. It will open the way for radical feminist groups to target specific countries and specific issues, and in collusion with the CEDAW Committee, to seek to force an ever more radical interpretation of "rights" upon the sovereign countries of the world.

Additionally, the Optional Protocol contains an unprecedented provision, which purports to forbid any reservations to the document. It has always been the sovereign right of countries to decide whether, and on what terms, to enter into these international instruments. The right to make reservations is particularly important in relation to recent "human rights" pronouncements, which seek to remake all cultures along ideological lines.

Numerous conservative countries have entered reservations to CEDAW in order to protect their fundamental human rights relating to religion and determination. These reservations have drawn the ire of radical feminists, and have prompted the introduction of the "no reservation" clause into the Optional Protocol. The "no reservation" clause, if successful in this context, will undoubtedly be appended by ideologues to future international instruments.

It would be difficult to recommend adoption of the Optional Protocol to any government. Most Western countries have, through democratic processes, created adequate legal systems to address and correct sex discrimination. There is no need for an international complaint mechanism. Such an international mechanism, in Western countries, will only be used to advance an agenda, which cannot succeed within the national system because it is so far removed from the will of the people.

The effect of the Optional Protocol is likely to be even more harmful in the developing world. During negotiations on the Optional Protocol, it was poignant to hear from African delegates and NGOs who believed that the Optional Protocol would help eliminate truly oppressive economic and cultural practices which often leave women at the mercy of unmerciful men. However, it is far more likely that the complaint process will be commandeered by well-funded, international NGOs with narrow mandates to promote abortion or homosexual rights - both of which are offensive to most African cultures.

Ultimately, individual freedom - for both men and women - is better served by keeping power close to home. Sovereignty and rights to self-determination are as important to women as to men. The Optional Protocol to CEDAW attempts, more than any previous protocol, to limit sovereign rights, and will impinge on freedom and fundamental rights if applied as urged by the CEDAW Committee. For these reasons, among others, the Optional Protocol should be rejected by self- governments. In Australia the Office of the Status of Women in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs has held some consultations with feminist organisations on the Optional Protocol. Pro-life organisations are unlikely to be consulted. If Australia ratifies the Optional Protocol it will facilitate complaints to the UN by pro-abortion groups about the failure of some of our State governments to legalise abortion.

This article was written by Babette Francis, National & Overseas Coordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc. and Kathryn Balmforth, Director of the World Family Policy Centre, Brigham Young University, both of whom attended the 43rd Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women meetings in New York in March 1999.






Member Organisation, World Council for Life and Family

NGO in Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the UN