A last ditch effort by ambassadors and top UN officials failed last night to reach agreement on policies to end violence against women because powerful western developed countries want to scrap previous agreements that do not recognize abortion as a right.
After four weeks of intense negotiations, ambassadors were brought in to negotiate the late night session. The United States and European countries raised the stakes at this year’s Commission on the Status of Women, a UN body of 45 UN member states that formulates policies for women, making agreement more elusive.
By Friday morning, the last day of the meeting, the Commission had agreed to exclude “sexual and reproductive health services” from the final agreement. The term is associated with abortion-causing drugs.
Some countries are willing to accept other ambiguous terms included in earlier drafts if they are qualified with reference to the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), where UN member states famously declined to recognize a human right to abortion. The United States and Norway have been pressuring countries to scrap that agreement, saying times have changed. Peru, who previously clung to the Cairo agreement, has joined their ranks.
They want unqualified mentions of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, as well as references to sexual orientation and gender identity, language that is inherently ambiguous to nations that prohibit abortion and do not grant special rights to persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Negotiations for the final outcome were marred by unnamed officials and abortion groups blaming the Holy See and others over the possibility of a failure as happened last year when the U.S. insisted on abortion-related language.
Negotiations have not been helpful to diffuse tension. A representative of the UN Secretariat told delegates, “men’s sexual behavior can be a form of violence, since pregnancy is an outcome of it.” A delegate from El Salvador proposed sexual rights for 8-10 year old girls through language that acknowledges their “evolving capacity”. At one point the U.S. and European Union asked for the deletion of a reference to the right to life from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Contrary to reports by Reuters, the Associated Press, and an unsigned New York Times editorial, no delegation participating at the commission proposed that cultural, religious, or traditional values should be used to excuse violence against women. During the week over 400 organizations wrote in support of the Holy See and nations that protect life, the family, and acknowledge the important role of cultures and religions in ending violence against women.
Many nations want latitude in implementing UN policies. The commission did not adopt agreed conclusions last year over this disagreement.
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The commission is dominated every year by gender activists. Like all ideologies, it has a language all of its own, and it lends itself to misunderstandings. Luis Mora, from UNFPA, speaking on a panel on Tuesday, blamed the disparity between men and women in the workforce on “reproductive choices.”
The agreed conclusions, which have no binding effect, are a testing ground for future UN conferences on the subject of abortion, population control, and homosexual rights. Wealthy countries want to commit African leaders to spending billions of dollars on family planning programs. Efforts are underway to influence Islamic groups on gender issues and reproductive rights. But abortion and homosexual rights’ policies have not been welcome in traditional countries.