- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Feminist groups calling for U.S. ratification of a U.N. women's rights treaty are stepping up their lobbying as the Senate prepares for hearings on the pact.
A task force of the National Organization for Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund last week sent out an "important action alert" to feminist groups nationwide, urging them to "call the White House switchboard" with a scripted message calling on President Bush to support the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
"Given what Mrs. Bush has been doing on Afghanistan, there is a possibility that the administration could decide to support or at least not oppose ratification of the CEDAW treaty," said the action alert from NOW's National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women.
At issue is U.S. refusal so far to sign and ratify the 1981 U.N. treaty, which pro-family opponents contend is being used to force signatory countries to change their laws relating to families, employment and abortion.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has not officially announced hearings, has told the State Department to be prepared to testify June 13 on the administration's position on CEDAW, sources involved in discussions with the State Department told The Washington Times.
The committee's chairman, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, are spearheading the hearings, the sources said.
CEDAW requires countries to change their constitutions and laws to give women total equality with men in all matters involving marriage, family income and responsibilities, property rights, employment opportunities and promotions, and many other matters.
The treaty states that any "distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex" that impairs women's equality with men in economic, political, social and cultural arenas is viewed as "discrimination against women."
"This treaty is anti-motherhood and pro-prostitution," said Wendy Wright, policy director for Concerned Women of America.
She pointed to 1999 reports of the U.N. committee implementing CEDAW, which said that laws of Ireland and Belarus should be changed because in the committee's view they "reflect a stereotypical view of the role of women in the home and as mothers."
The U.N. report criticized Belarus for the "prevalence of sex-role stereotypes, as also exemplified by such symbols as Mothers' Day and a Mothers' Award, which it sees as encouraging women's traditional roles."
The U.N. committee, comprising representatives from 23 member states, also criticized China for prohibiting prostitution and Germany, where prostitution is legal, for not giving prostitutes the same workplace protections as all other workers. "Although they are legally obliged to pay taxes, prostitutes still do not enjoy the protection of labor and social law," the committee's 2000 report on Germany stated.
Abortion has become a hot point in the CEDAW debate. The treaty requires signatory countries to ensure that all women and girls "have access to adequate health care facilities, including information, counseling and services in family planning."
The United Nation's CEDAW implementing committee has interpreted the requirement for family-planning services to include contraceptives and abortion.
The U.N. panel told Ireland in 1999 to "improve family planning services and the availability of contraception, including for teen-agers and young adults." From 1998 to 2000, the committee issued the same challenge in CEDAW compliance reports for Peru, Russia, the Maldives, Yemen and Macedonia.
Ireland's constitution forbids abortion, but the U.N. panel, in its 1999 CEDAW compliance report, urged Ireland's government "to facilitate a national dialogue on women's reproductive rights, including on the restrictive abortion laws."
The U.N. panel also criticized Irish voters for rejecting two referendums that sought to legalize abortion. "Although Ireland is a secular state, the influence of the church is strongly felt not only in attitudes and stereotypes, but also in official state policy. In particular, women's right to health, including reproductive health, is compromised by this influence," the report stated.
In the 1998 compliance report for Croatia, the U.N. committee attacked the country's freedom-of-conscience law for doctors and nurses who refuse to perform abortions. "The refusal, by some hospitals, to provide abortions on the basis of conscientious objection of doctors [constitutes] an infringement of women's reproductive rights," it stated.
The U.N. panel similarly criticized Italy's government in its 1997 CEDAW compliance report, expressing "particular concern with regard to the limited availability of abortion services for women in southern Italy, as a result of the high incidence of conscientious objection among doctors and hospital personnel."


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