"Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Archive for April, 2012

In the week of March 5, 2012 Prof. Dr. Ingrid Detter de Frankopan attended sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women (“Commission”), part of the UN Economic and Social Council (“ECOSOC”).  The sessions took place in New York City where participants discussed CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination of Women) and the CRC (Convention for the Rights of Children).


The Commission is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and the advancement of women. Every year, representatives of Member States gather at the UN in New York to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards, and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.  The Commission was established by ECOSOC resolution 11(II) of 21 June 1946 with the aim to prepare recommendations and reports to ECOSOC for promoting women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social, and educational fields. The Commission also makes recommendations to the Council on urgent problems requiring immediate attention in the field of women’s rights.


Prof. Dr. Detter de Frankopan attended events on the 8th of March – the International Day of Women – when a number of NGOs, including C-Fam (Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute), arranged for her to attend and speak in various UN meetings on Gender Equality and on Working Mothers.  She spoke about the equality (or lack of equality) of women in academia and on the problems of being a professional woman, Professor, and Barrister with a large family with five children.


Some participants, e.g., REAL Women of Canada,[1] argued that the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women might not be in the interest of certain women.  These speakers argued that, by introducing government control over the division of household duties, CEDAW might infringe upon human rights to family life and privacy. According to CEDAW and the UN monitoring committee, women cannot be the only parent to take primary care of children.  Under CEDAW, States must ensure that fathers are engaged in the provision of primary care.  Some participants noted that religious beliefs, local customs, and local traditions might be discarded in order to introduce a universal regime under CEDAW.[2]  Stereotyped gender roles – although a part of some local cultures and beliefs – have been held to violate CEDAW.[3]


It was argued by some that the Convention for the Rights of Children might interfere with the rights of parents to the extent that a State migh replace parents with other care-givers in ordinary cases where there is no evidence that the parents have maltreated or abused their children.  These speakers felt that the State should intervene only if there are serious problems in the family.

Most of the concerns were rooted in the practices and interpretations of the UN monitoring committees rather than the plain language of the Conventions themselvs.[4]  The UN monitoring committee for CEDAW has an unsympathetic view of traditional religious beliefs or even cultures that prefer to raise 2-year-old or 3-year-old children at home.  The UN monitoring committee’s views seem quite different from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. vision of religion as a vehicle for progressive reform.


The UN sessions in New York in March were a platform to hear different points of view about the Conventions and the UN monitoring committee.  It was an honor for Prof. Dr. Detter de Frankopan to speak at those sessions at the invitation of C-Fam and other NGOs.



[1] http://www.realwomenca.com/

[2] See generally Stephen Baskerville, Sex and the Problem of Human Rights, The Independent Review, Vol. 16, No. 3, winter 2012, http://www.independent.org/pdf/tir/tir_16_03_2_baskerville.pdf, p. 357 (pointing out that CEDAW, Art. 10c requires signatories to eradicate “any stereotyped concept of the roles of men and women at all levels and in all forms”; that Art. 5a requires that “State Parties shall take all appropriate measures … [t]o 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 inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women”; and that the CEDAW monitoring committee asks States to introduce “public information and education programmes to change attitudes concerning the roles and status of men and women ”) (arguing that these provisions would require a State to “engineer … people’s thoughts” and to “propagate feminist ideology among their populations”).

s  Baskerville, p. 357 (noting UN monitoring committee expressed “great concern about [Indonesia’s] existing social, religious, and cultural norms that recognize men as head of the family and breadwinner and confine women to the roles of mother and wife” and asked Indonesia to explain “what steps the Government is proposing to take to modify such attitudes”).

[4] Baskerville, pp. 358-359 (noting that the UN monitoring committee criticized (a) New Zealand for having below average rates of participation in day care, (b) another country for having only 30% of its children under 3 in formal day care, and (c) Germany for having insufficient kindergarten places for children 0-3 years old) (noting committee blamed “the cultural framework of values and religious beliefs” for inhibiting women’s participation in public life), id. at 367 (noting CRC committee indicated it is unlawful for a State to spend more on national defense than on children’s welfare).