November 10 2010
Freedom is the Only Fairness
My colleague at IWF, Romina Boccia, just finished a policy paper on the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA), legislation that the Senate plans to consider soon. This bill seeks to close the infamous wage gap between men and women in the United States, which to the legislation's proponents, is evidence of basic unfairness in the U.S. economy.
"Fairness" in pay is one issue at the center of the U.N. treaty entitled "The Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women" (CEDAW). As I mentioned in a previous blog, I was just in Turkey at a conference on women's issues, and Turkey is one of the 186 countries that have ratified CEDAW.
But guess who's not on that list? The U.S.A.
International groups (like the U.N) push for government-mandated changes in the treatment of women worldwide (in legally binding treaties such as CEDAW). But CEDAW doesn't just protect women's human rights, it also requires countries to pass laws on equal pay for women, quotas for the representation of women in the legislature, and even mandates on issues such as sex education and abortion.
CEDAW would undermine our government's authority to decide what's best for American women. The U.S. is one of the best and most free places in the world for women (and men), but it is not because we have designed mandates and quotas to advance women. It is because women have been given the freedom to participate in the marketplace as laborers, producers, and consumers. It is also because our civil society and cultural norms have developed (and will continue to develop, I hope) in a way that values women as equals to men. Women have equal protection under law, and our law enforcement and justice systems seek to punish criminals that would intimidate or commit violence against women.
Meanwhile, many other countries that might have signed CEDAW do not actually honor the policy prescriptions it requires, but are only signatories of the treaty in name and not in practice. On top of that, the mandates and quotas in CEDAW might actually do more harm than good in some countries because, much like the Paycheck Fairness Act that is being proposed in Congress presently, it would limit the flexibility women enjoy in the workplace or make job creation and hiring for female employees more difficult because of onerous regulations.
Ultimately, the legal groundwork should be laid in every nation to give women the same basic freedoms as men (the right to work, the right to own property, the right to vote, etc.), and we should encourage individuals to see women and men as equals. But requiring by law equal representation in government or equal pay will not change bad attitudes about women or provide the solution to sexism. Not in the U.S., not in Turkey, not anywhere.
I encourage women's movements all over the world to seek the basic freedoms that will allow women the same opportunities as men, but I remind them that equal opportunities do not always mean equal results. If a movement goes beyond the fight for basic rights and instead seeks special advantages, it does women more harm than good. That's why CEDAW is not a good choice for the U.S., and why other countries, like Turkey, should be wary of its implementation.