States’ parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) convened at United Nations headquarters in New York this week to elect new members to the 23-member CEDAW Committee. Nineteen nominees vied for eleven vacancies. In a secret ballot, private citizens from Cuba, India, France, Finland, China, Brazil, Romania, Jamaica, Kenya, Spain and Afghanistan were selected to fill the slots.
The CEDAW committee is charged with monitoring governments on their compliance with the treaty. According to the convention, committee members are elected by States’ Parties from among their nationals, but serve in their personal capacity. Members of the committee should be “independent” and “of high moral standing and competence.”
CEDAW critics have become increasingly concerned about the work and composition of the committee. The committee has taken it upon itself to question nations on their abortion laws, even though the abortion is not mentioned in the treaty. The CEDAW Committee created their own “general recommendation” that reads abortion into the text, and in recent years CEDAW committee members have pressured more than 60 nations on their abortion legislation.
Prior to this week’s election, a survey of the committee revealed that half of the CEDAW committee members are direct employees of such radical non-governmental organizations as the Latin America and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights, the International Council of Women, the Global Fund for Women and the and the International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW).
Radical feminists also ran campaigns to get their colleagues elected to the committee.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) urged its members to help reelect some of the CEDAW Committee’s most outspoken pro-abortion members, Silvia Pimentel of Brazil and Malaysia’s Maria Shanthi Dairiam. IGLHRC’s action alert stated, “There is some concern that conservative states might do their best to ensure that partial experts are elected to the Committee because they do not want the CEDAW Committee to be too progressive, particularly regarding issues around culture, religion and reproductive and sexual rights.”
While Shanthi Dairiam was denied another term on the committee, Silvia Pimentel will continue on for another four years. During the last CEDAW committee session alone, Pimentel questioned a number of states on the abortion laws, pushed wider access to contraception, pressed Finland on “women of sexual minorities’ access to health services,” took issue with Slovakia’s concordat with the Holy See that protects the right of health care workers to conscientiously object to taking part in abortions, and complained that heterosexual marriage perpetuated the stereotype of women as childbearers.
The CEDAW Committee will next meet again in Geneva in October to review the reports from Bahrain, Belgium, Cameroon, Canada, Ecuador, El Salvador, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Mongolia, Myanmar, Portugal, Slovenia and Uruguay.
The new members will fill the vacancies that expire in December and they will serve a four-year term beginning January 2009. Other members on the CEDAW Committee include individuals from Bangladesh, Algeria, Thailand, Ghana, Netherlands, Egypt, Israel, Slovenia, Mauritius, Japan and Croatia.