THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 122, May 21, 2001
Happy NC Secession Day!
A Sexual War Within the United Nations
by Wendy McElroy
Special to TLE
The radical feminist agenda has gone global and the United Nations is leading an attack on both family values and the traditional role of women. For example, the UN now recommends that Catholic hospitals, such as those in Italy, offer abortions even if medical personnel have religious objections. Specific nations have been reprimanded. Belarus has been publicly criticized for maintaining "such symbols as a Mothers' Day and a Mothers' Award" which promote female stereotypes. Libya has been asked "to reinterpret the Koran so that it falls within Committee guidelines" on women.
The Committee being referenced is CEDAW, which regularly reviews the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, adopted by the UN in 1979. Signatory nations agreed to abide by CEDAW and to attempt implementation of the Committee's recommendations. (The United States has yet to ratify CEDAW.) Austin Ruse—President of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute— described how the Committee has assumed broad powers to reinterpret the original Convention. For example, it "ordered the government of China to legalize prostitution even though the Convention expressly forbids the trafficing [sic] and prostitution of women."
The UN itself evolved from the Declaration of United Nations (1942) through which twenty-six nations pledged to support the Allies during World War II and to work toward peace thereafter. For those who still think of the UN as a peacekeeper, it may seem unbelievable that the agency is trying to restructure "the family" and impact such personal decisions as birth control and abortion. To those who view the UN as want-to-be global government, it comes as no surprise.
Today, conservative groups are openly attacking the UN's politically correct policies. The Family Research Council recently published an anthology entitled "Fifty Years after the Declaration" in which nearly two dozen experts condemned the UN's social polices. The Heritage Foundation has issued a report entitled "How U.N. Conventions on Women's and Children's Rights Undermine Family, Religion, and Sovereignty" by Patrick F. Fagan, a former Bush administration official. Fagan accuses committees such as CEDAW "and the special-interest groups assisting them" of being anti-family and pro-feminist.
It has taken years for the UN's anti-family agenda to receive public attention, partly because the shift toward PC policies has been gradual. Moreover, the policies are often embedded in thick and tedious documents. They are described in "UN speak"—phrases that sound innocuous but are politically charged. But conservatives are now casting a spotlight on these policies and radical feminists are responding. A report entitled "Right-Wing Anti-Feminist Groups at the United Nations"—written by Anick Druelle and funded by the Canadian government—was a response to the presence of conservatives at the 44th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (March 2000). In a blatant distortion, the report accuses critics of believing "that the traditional patriarchal family be the only type of family to be recognized..." Yet much of the criticism I have read says only that the UN has no business influencing personal relationships within a family, traditional or not.
To understand this sexual war, it is necessary translate another piece of UN Speak: the word "gender." For CEDAW, gender is a social construct. That is, gender does not refer to biological difference of male and female. Rather, it refers to the sex roles that have been artificially constructed by the institutions of society, such as the family or government. Such social institutions impose gender roles— e.g. maleness, heterosexuality—upon individuals. Thus, according to the UN Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, gender is defined as "the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female...These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned throughsocialization processes."
This is opposite of what has been called "sexual essentialism," a theory which roots sexuality and sex roles in biology, rather than culture. Sexual essentialism argues that such phenomena as motherhood and heterosexuality are biologically driven. By contrast, radical feminists maintain that these phenomena results from cultural indoctrination. The main theorist of this view in America, Catharine MacKinnon, has praised radical feminism for exposing "marriage and family as institutional crucibles of male privilege" and has defined "the institution of intercourse, as a strategy and practice in subordination."
Radical feminism seeks to deconstruct gender and put it back together according to a PC design. The key to doing so lies in controlling the institutions of society, especially the law and the administration of law. This is what CEDAW aims at doing through its reinterpretation of the original Convention and the monitoring of how their recommendations are implemented.
Thus CEDAW told Armenia to combat the stereotype of motherhood. Azerbaijan was encouraged to establish a national plan "to enhance gender awareness and...to combat traditional stereotypes." Colombia was urged to eliminate all sexist stereotypes in the media. German "measures aimed at the reconciliation of family and work" were said to "entrench stereotypical expectations." The list of CEDAW's attempts to redefine social norms scrolls on. Although the recommendations do not carry the force of law, nations that signed CEDAW are pledged to enforce its provisions. Moreover, they understand that UN funding and other assistance may rest on their co-operation with UN policies.
Fagan concludes his critique with the only reasonable explanation of the UN's recent PC policies. He writes, "If the objective is to increase state control of all functions of society, then the U.N. approach makes sense."