The UNs Unaccountable Incursion into Britains Social Policy
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this Committee, like so much of the UN, is simply desperate to impose on the world its view of Scandinavian-style eco-Socialism, and quietly accepts that any excuse within reason is fair game.
About three weeks ago, an outside supranational body with no democratic mandate of any kind sent a list of fairly peremptory demands to the United Kingdom. These demands, all of a broadly leftish and progressive nature, concerned the policies to be adopted by the Government on highly delicate matters of social policy. Further, the communication clearly implied that the Government had little choice in the matter but to do as it was told. Rather oddly, no-one (as far as I know) has complained.
Welcome to the surreal world inhabited by – not the Eurocrats for once – but the comfortable apparatchiks who form the membership of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Never heard of this outfit? Now let me explain.
Thirty-three years ago the UK ratified a UN treaty, which you probably have not heard of, called the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, or CEDAW. Dating from 1979, many of the provisions of this treaty were actually quite sensible: equality before the law, equal rights to nationality, no exclusion from the professions, and so on. A few were more tendentious, for example the requirement for an anti-discrimination law and paid maternity leave, and provision for allowing positive discrimination to achieve equality.
There were also a few sections that looked more like pious exhortations than anything else, though on a close reading they might give a sensible government pause. These included a duty to take “in all fields, in particular in the political, social, economic and cultural fields, all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men”; and a requirement for measures to “modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women [sic], 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”.
Perhaps not surprisingly, states fell over themselves to take advantage of this opportunity for public virtue-signalling. Even the Thatcher government, desperate not to be seen to be left out of the general progress-fest, came into line in 1986. Today 189 of the world’s 195 countries are signed up.
Of course, what all the signatories and their assorted politicians paid less attention to was a further feature of CEDAW conveniently placed towards the end: namely, the establishment of the above-named Committee, to be composed of twenty-three “experts of high moral standing” (aka reliable feminist activists) paid by the UN. At present these include a professor of Gender, Social Change and Development; directors of a Gender Studies Centre and of a Women’s Human Rights Training Institute; and the Chairperson of the South Caucasus Women’s Congress (me neither); you get the picture. To this body every state has to report to every four years on progress, rather in the manner of a student on probation; in return the Committee is expected to “make suggestions and recommendations” to the state concerned. The report on the UK came out on 14 March, and the matters raised are telling.
The document cheers on Scottish legislation which comes close to requiring positive discrimination in favour of women on public bodies. It demands that the whole of CEDAW be legislated by the UK Parliament, whether or not the legislatures in Scotland and Northern Ireland like it; and that provisions requiring public authorities to aim at reducing socio-economic inequalities of outcome, introduced by Labour and quietly shelved by the Coalition, be immediately activated and extended so as to refer to “intersectional forms of discrimination” (a pretentious way of expressing the tendentious assertion that you must be doubly disadvantaged if you’re both female and black, triply if female, black and lesbian, and so on: the combinations, and possibilities, are endless). Not content with this, it goes further. Brexit must be thoroughly scrutinised, just in case it disadvantages women; the UK must in any case remain in lockstep with the EU and enact all the latter’s future provisions on women’s rights; and all trade agreements must lock in women’s rights as a central feature. There must be engagement with the media by government (i.e. pressure by another name) to eliminate stereotypical imaging and the objectification of women; and “positive and diverse gender portrayals” must be forced on schools. Women’s participation in prostitution (but apparently not men’s) must be decriminalised. “Temporary special measures” (more positive discrimination under another name) must be taken to achieve parity of representation in Parliament, the judiciary, the Foreign Service and embassies. Mandatory sex education at all ages, including gender relations, is predictably on the list, whatever parents may want; so is non-transferrable parental leave for men, no-fault divorce on demand, and abortion on demand in Northern Ireland. Oh, and in addition austerity must be reassessed; money-laundering and tax evasion tackled and company registers made public in overseas territories; the two-child tax credit limit must go; and fracking must be banned.
The precise legal status of reports of this sort is unclear, though there is a respectable view that they are a reliable guide to the interpretation of this convention. But whatever the legal niceties, developments like this are disturbing.
For one thing, it is hard to see what some of these recommendations have to do with discrimination at all. The Committee admittedly tries manfully here. Austerity or the two-child limit? Might affect women worse than men, just plausible. But fracking? It might lead to disempowerment of rural women, you see. Tax evasion and company publicity? Easy: the money would come in useful for women-empowering projects. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that here this Committee, like so much of the UN, is simply desperate to impose on the world its view of a Scandinavian-style eco-socialism, and quietly accepts that any excuse within reason is fair game.
For another, however widely you read CEDAW, a good number of these recommendations are fairly clearly outside it. Abortion is nowhere mentioned in CEDAW – understandably and deliberately so, since otherwise a number of Catholic states such as Poland, Lithuania or the Philippines would never have signed up – yet we have a demand for liberalised termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland. And where the obligation to remain in lockstep with the EU on women’s equality matters comes from is anyone’s guess.
But what is most unattractive is the attitude of this body to the democratic process. Many of its demands – abortion, no-fault divorce on demand, wall-to-wall sex education on a progressive template, and governmental leaning on the media – are matters of delicate social policy and extreme sensitivity: yet reference to what the electorate might think on such matters is curiously lacking. But then democracy, at least to this body seeking to impose a kind of top-down socialism on the lines of the Swedish Social Democratic Party of the 1960s and 1970s, has never been a particular worry: witness its open demand for special measures to ensure that Parliament itself is composed of those chosen, at least to some extent, by reference to gonads. You see, we poor electors might get things so wrong without their guidance.
One more thing makes this even worse. CEDAW, in case you haven’t noticed, is a one-way street. Unlike many other human rights conventions, including the European Convention on Human Rights (which allows any state to leave on six months’ notice), it has no provision at all for denunciation. So the effect of its ratification by the UK in a moment of self-righteous folly in 1986 is that we have apparently subjected ourselves for ever and a day to the supervision of a group of interfering international busybodies with political axes to grind. One country was sensible enough to see this. President Carter signed it for the US in 1979, but the Senate smelt a rat, realised that the treaty was likely to be a rod for Uncle Sam’s back, and declined to take the matter further. It has done so ever since; something for which it needs to be congratulated.
Nor for that matter do the UN and its minions stop at CEDAW. Tacked on to the end of the Committee’s recommendations is a proposal that the UK sign up to a raft of other conventions which the UN, rather like some ghastly international purveyor of an ever-burgeoning suite of professional software for doing not very much, has prepared for us. These include the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The second of these is a one-way street too. Readers may well think, or at least hope, that at least here the UK will be better aware of the risks and politely take a rain check.