UN Women Flagship Report: Reasonable Economics or Radical Feminism?

By | April 30, 2015

NEW YORK, May 1 (C-Fam) The newly released annual report of the UN women’s agency points up a basic disconnect between the Member States of the UN and the UN bureaucracy.

The report calls attention to the need for social safety nets for vulnerable women including widows, retirees, and those providing paid or unpaid care for others, all issues that have wide support in the General Assembly.

But, it also calls for social policies that have been repeatedly rejected by UN member states, such as “comprehensive sexuality education,” abortion not only legalized but subsidized by government funding, and an outcomes-based definition of equality that seeks to eliminate the effects of differences between the sexes through intrusive government actions.

The introduction states “the Report’s central and guiding concept: substantive equality for women.” The notion of substantive equality, which is embedded in the UN’s women’s rights treaty (CEDAW), is that equal treatment of the sexes under the law is not sufficient, but countries must have equal representation of women and men in all public and private spheres.

The report acknowledges the importance of unpaid care and domestic work – of the sick, elderly, and children – and calls it the “foundation for all economic activity.” It briefly calls for reducing the burdens of this work through local and national initiatives, such as access to water, electricity and social support systems.

Far more attention is paid to the idea of redistributing care work equally between men and women, both within the home and in the traditional “caring” professions such as teaching, nursing, and social work.

This work-redistribution has been unsuccessful even in the most progressive countries famed for their egalitarianism, such as Norway. “Encouraging men to take up feminized occupations” by instituting subsidies or quotas has been ineffective, UN Women admits.

Substantive equality requires transforming not only institutions but also “the beliefs, norms and attitudes that shape them, at every level of society.” UN Women insists on such radical changes despite being unable to cite a country that has fully implemented them.

The idea of substantive equality has been advanced primarily by feminist scholars including members of the CEDAW committee, which routinely lecture countries to liberalize their abortion laws in the name of ensuring women’s equality.

The theory underpins the work of pro-abortion groups such as the Center for Reproductive Rights, which argues that “substantive equality for women is commonly linked to reproductive rights and the autonomy of women to determine the course of their lives,” positing that without abortion, women will not be able to realize their full potential.

The substantive equality framework is also at odds with the laws of countries like the U.S. where it is a major reason the CEDAW treaty has not been ratified. Testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2010, C-Fam’s Dr. Susan Yoshihara argued against ratifying CEDAW because “the style of gender equality in the treaty is based upon outcomes and not opportunities, and thus is incompatible with American law.”

The report makes compelling observations about the plight of women who are denied social services and legal protection due to widowhood, advanced age, disability, or having devoted much of their lives to serving their loved ones. But it does not envision any way to meet their needs without radical governmental intrusion into personal decisions, reimagining the nature of the sexes that is both unprecedented and unproven, and that reflects views of elite feminist experts at the UN rather than the world’s diverse communities.