During a short recess, delegates rise to stretch their legs and chat with colleagues. The break comes after many hours grappling with a packed agenda in a windowless room at UN headquarters.
But even now not everyone is relaxing.
A striking woman with long curly dark hair still works poring over a document with two delegates from Africa. She is a familiar face at the United Nations. Salma Hamid represents the UN Population Fund, the UN agency critics accuse of pushing a right to abortion and even facilitating the Chinese one-child policy. Hamid often sits in on official negotiations typically restricted to government delegates, even though Hamid is not a delegate and UNFPA not a UN delegation.
Hamid knows all of the delegates and they all know her. She used to be one of them, one of the few former delegates now shaping policy through UN agencies. When she was a delegate for Saudi Arabia, Hamid actually worked to promote pro-life and pro-family policies. As the population fund’s representative, Hamid pushes sexual and reproductive health. A number of delegates greet her with smiles and hugs as she makes her way about the conference room, but others know to be wary.
Critics of the population fund argue the agency should only provide technical assistance at the invitation of delegations. But Hamid has been known to play a bigger role as a backer of UN family planning policies — and some hardball, suggesting the fund would pull its money from countries whose delegates don’t go along with its program.
The resolution Hamid has pushed this fall is on “Supporting Efforts to End Obstetric Fistula.” Obstetric fistula, a devastating but treatable condition caused when pregnant women experience obstructed labor, is an issue the UN population fund has undertaken “as part of its commitment to sexual and reproductive health.” As a measure of Hamid’s influence some delegates have pointed out that edits for the text do not come from the sponsoring Africa group but from Hamid’s UNFPA email.
Some 120 countries sponsored a 2008 version of the obstetric fistula resolution. It passed without a vote, but several states took the extra step to say that terms relating to “sexual and reproductive health” could not be interpreted to mean support for the right to abortion, or the endorsement of funding for abortion.
The population fund’s attempt to tie the condition to “sexual and reproductive health” has drawn criticism from Dr. Robert Walley, who has worked to combat maternal mortality and obstetric fistula in Africa since 1995. Walley blasted the UN agency for using the problem of obstetric fistula to “whitewash” their reproductive health agenda and make it more palatable to the public.
But the criticism hasn’t stopped the push behind the resolution, led by the seemingly tireless Hamid with the weight of the population fund behind her. Delegates expect her back again next week, when the committee is expected to wrap up its work with final action on the obstetric fistula resolution.
LifeNews.com Note: Samantha Singson writes for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. This article originally appeared in the pro-life group’s Friday Fax publication and is used with permission.