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WFF Statement on the
United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women [CEDAW]

May 25, 2000
Click here to see update 6/20/02
here to view Action Alert updated 8/20/02
here to view Senator Christopher S. Bond's response to our Statement updated 1/17/03

Women for Faith and Family [WFF], a US-based organization of 50,000 Catholic women, strongly opposes the ratification by the United States of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women [CEDAW].

The provisions of CEDAW seek to overcome injustices towards women by mandating sweeping social changes which embody the narrow ideological opinions and social analysis of militant feminism on a spectrum of issues concerning fundamental rights of women and of all human beings, social institutions, nations, cultures and, indeed, human nature and human history. CEDAW is fundamentally flawed in its radical social analysis and totalitarian in its methods.

In the name of "rights" for women, CEDAW is destructive of rights basic to every human being and the rights of cultural self-determination of nations.

WFF urges governments and all people of good will to reject this proposal for social manipulation, and supports the actions of Senator Jesse Helms of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Congressman Chris Smith in their opposition to CEDAW and for their defense of the American family.

Some specific concerns:

1. The dignity and value of women as persons and in their role as mothers and caregivers must be respected

2. The nature of the family as the fundamental social structure must be recognized, and the rights of the family must be protected, not "modified".

3. Legitimate rights of sovereign nations to self-determination of cultural and religious beliefs and practices must be protected.

4. Terms must be adequately and acceptably defined, minimizing "penumbra" interpretations.

5. Coercive ideological agendas are embedded in the provisions of the Convention.

Advocacy in Action

Background information on CEDAW

1. The dignity and value of women as persons and in their role as mothers and caregivers must be respected.

a) The CEDAW preamble demands that "a change in the traditional role of men as well as the role of women in society and in the family is needed to achieve full equality between men and women." Article 5(a) of CEDAW requires that states parties to the treaty will "take all appropriate action" necessary "to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women." (Emphasis added.)

b) CEDAW does not permit nations freely to determine what shall be interpreted as "prejudices" or "stereotypes". Instead, all such decisions and determinations are reserved to the United Nations' CEDAW Implementation Committee. This Committee has already faulted Belarus for initiating observance of Mother's Day because it would contribute to a "negative stereotype" of women.

2. The nature of the family as the fundamental social structure must be recognized, and the rights of the family must be protected, not "modified".

Deliberately vague language and undefined terms in the Convention treaty permit interpretations that are destructive of the social order and harmful to individuals, e.g., defining same sex unions as "families" entitled to all legal rights accorded to families, including the right to adopt children.

a) WFF accepts the historic understanding that the structure of society is based on the family as society's "fundamental cell"; thus WFF agrees with those who characterize the Convention as "anti-family".

b) WFF urges free people to recognize that it is not the province of the United Nations to "modify the social and cultural patterns" of the world's citizens, nor may the United Nations mandate changes in customs or religious beliefs. It is not the province of the United Nations either to define roles for men and women in society, nor is the United Nations equipped to judge whether a nation or a culture's beliefs and practices constitute unfair "stereotypes" or are based on natural distinctions among peoples.

c) If ratified, CEDAW would force Americans to redefine the family based on a negative and culturally revolutionary view of the family, rather than on deeply-embedded cultural, religious or moral precepts and "customary practices".

d) CEDAW's destructive effect on the integrity of the family is also evident in Article 16 (d) "in all cases the interests of the children shall be paramount". The rights of parents are not protected from capricious or malicious definitions or interpretations of "interests of the children". This is especially pertinent in reference to the UN's own World Health Organization's definition of an adolescent as 10-18 years old. Other UN documents and provisions, particularly those of the Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing, in 1995 and in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, call for "health and reproductive rights" for adolescents. Such "rights" do not adequately acknowledge parental rights. Additionally, proposed UN documents have included the "rights" of children to decline religious training.

3. Legitimate rights of sovereign nations to self-determination of cultural and religious beliefs and practices must be protected.

CEDAW not only intrudes further into individual and family rights, but usurps the sovereignty of nations.

a) Concerning "Reproductive rights", CEDAW Article 16 (e) states, "The same rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights". This provision can and will be interpreted as requiring the state to legalize and/or to provide abortion as the "means." This is so particularly in conjunction with Article 2 (b) "To adopt appropriate legislative and other measures, including sanctions where appropriate, prohibiting all discrimination against women," and (f) "To take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women". (Emphasis added.)

b) International law equates the terms "convention" and "treaty"; and the provisions of Article VI, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution assume that treaties supersede all federal and state laws. Therefore, if ratified, CEDAW can be imposed upon US citizens without recourse to state or federal courts.

e) Not all definitions and provisions of CEDAW are in accord with the U.S. Constitution. Lacking sovereignty over our own national cultural patrimony and legal traditions, Americans could find themselves without a mediator before the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) or answerable to the International Criminal Court (ICC). For example, this year the Chilean government's annual progress report to the Committee indicated it had not repealed laws and policies deemed in violation of the Convention. The CEDAW Committee found Chile in violation. The CEDAW Committee judged Chile had made insufficient progress in changing the law. Thus, according to the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy:

Abortion [in Chile] remains illegal under all circumstances, including to save the life of the woman. Women who wish to have an abortion must resort to illegal, often unsafe, procedures and risk being jailed if they are reported.


4. Terms must be adequately and acceptably defined, minimizing "penumbra" interpretations.

WFF notes with grave concern the diverse meanings that can be imputed to terminology left undefined. Article 1 of CEDAW reads:

"For the purposes of the present Convention, the term "discrimination against women" shall mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field".

a) In the above citation the term "restriction mode" can and will be understood as failure to provide abortion and/or child care for women who would then be "impaired" from the "enjoyment" of their "fundamental freedoms" in the "economic" and "social field."

b) Similarly, the term "any other field" can and will be interpreted as the religious field; thus, particular faith traditions within a nation that ratifies CEDAW could be forced to permit women to assume roles alien to the culture and traditions of any religion whatsoever. This latter concern is underscored by Article 2 (e) "To take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise;" where "organization or enterprise" could be ruled as encompassing a woman's religious affiliation.

c) CEDAW fails to define what constitutes "discrimination". There are legitimate distinctions intrinsic to each sex based on physiological and psychological elements. Recognizing such distinctions does not constitute discrimination or prejudice, except in feminist ideology. WFF points out that the United States already has laws and treaties which provides for citizens' political rights irrespective of sex or race.

5. Coercive ideological agendas are embedded in the provisions of the Convention.

a) WFF observes radical feminist platforms embedded in the provisions of CEDAW. Of special note is the call for gender re-education in Article 10(c):

"The elimination of any stereotyped concept of the roles of men and women at all levels and in all forms of education by encouraging co-education and other types of education which will help to achieve this aim and, in particular, by the revision of textbooks and school programs and the adaptation of teaching methods". (Emphasis added.)

The CEDAW Committee's demand that Belarus rescind its adoption of Mother's Day because it was a "stereotype" demonstrates the coercive and manipulative nature in interpreting "any stereotypical concept."

b) The feminist demand for abortion to be made universally available is thinly disguised in Article 12:

"States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning".

Advocacy in Action

WFF strongly defends the rights of nations to determine for themselves matters of family law within the confines of human dignity and respect for all life, including that of the unborn girl child who is so often the victim of sex selection abortions.

WFF emphatically rejects the feminist proposition that abortion is the key to women's empowerment and equality. Freedom is never found in destruction of human life. Coercive measures should never be permitted to force women to destroy their children through abortion or any other means.

WFF affirms the human rights of all persons, regardless of age, sex, or state in life. In particular, we advocate a recovery of the dignity of motherhood and the irreplaceable worth of mothers to the development of a just social order, respect and protection for all women who are entrusted with care for others, and the importance of the legal protection of the family in society.

We ask all men and women concerned for the integrity of the family and the defense of true femininity to urge political and religious leaders, and especially congressional representatives, to oppose any consideration of CEDAW.


Women for Faith and Family is an organization which supports the teachings of the Catholic Church representing approximately 50,000 Catholic women. WFF was organized in 1984, and it is based in St. Louis, Missouri.

Contact: Helen Hull Hitchcock, Director

Address: PO Box 300411, St. Louis, MO, 63130

Phone: 314 863 8385; FAX 314 863 5858

Background information on CEDAW:

The House International Relations Committee held a hearing May 3rd on CEDAW. So far Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) and Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), have successfully blocked its ratification.

Helms said, "CEDAW ratification is about furthering an agenda which seeks to ensure abortion on demand, and which refuses to recognize any legitimate distinctions between men and women." (full text of Helms' speech:

Rep. Chris Smith observed that, "as a party to CEDAW, the US would subject itself to the jurisdiction of a UN committee that was established to enforce compliance with CEDAW".

CEDAW was the outcome of the First World Conference on Women, held in Mexico City. The United States was active in drafting the Convention, and President Carter signed it on July 17, 1980. It was forwarded to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in November 1980. During the intervening years the treaty was ignored. New interest in the treaty has been spearheaded by President Clinton and Hillary Clinton as part of their commitment to the Beijing Conference. Reps. Lynn Woolsey (CA), Corrine Brown (FL), Nancy Pelosi (CA), and Stephanie Tubbs Jones (OH) have led the US-UN coalition that has pushed for ratification.

The Committee on the Convention for Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was set up in 1982 to monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. The Committee is composed of 23 experts, who are elected by those countries that have ratified the Convention.

The Committee meets yearly for a three-week period to assess the reports of States parties on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The committee makes its recommendations based on these reports. Additionally, it solicits UN agencies to submit their own reports for consideration and receives feedback from non-governmental organizations closely allied with its programs.

The Committee reports annually to the United Nations General Assembly via the Economic and Social Council [ECOSOC], which then forwards the reports to the Commission on the Status of Women. The Commission on the Status on Women [CSW] monitors the "progress of women" and promotes its Convention [CEDAW] worldwide through NGOs (Non-governmental organizations), the World Bank, and various UN inter-agency bodies. The Commission can call for international action to address situations it views as violations of women's rights.

Some US organizations that have endorsed the Convention [CEDAW] include:
American Association of University Women
American Bar Association
Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith
National Audubon Society
League of Women Voters of the United States
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
United Methodist Church (GBCS)
United Nations Association of the United States
Women of Reform Judaism
World Federalist Association

Feminist Catholic organizations who support CEDAW include:
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Maryknoll Society Justice and Peace Office
Massachusetts Women-Church
National Coalition of American Nuns
Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace
Women's Ordination Conference

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