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Friday, June 09, 2000

Motherhood, Bibles on feminist blacklist at UN
Federal agency provides $98,000 for survey of rightists
Luiza Chwialkowska
National Post

UNITED NATIONS - A federal funding agency has paid for a study aimed at helping feminist organizations strategize against "pro-life and pro-family" lobbyists at the Beijing +5 conference on women's equality under way this week at the United Nations.

Among the transgressions of the targeted groups are not following proper procedures at a meeting, wearing buttons reading "Motherhood," lobbying governments and carrying Bibles.

A 40-page paper entitled "Right-Wing Anti-Feminist Groups at the United Nations," produced by some academics at the Institute of Feminist Studies at the University of Quebec in Montreal, describes lobbying tactics of conservative groups and recommends to women's organizations "ways and means for responding."

"This information should support a more adequate response to anti-feminist groups and their anti-democratic strategies during the upcoming United Nations meetings on women's rights," states the paper.

The paper is part of an ongoing project "designed to analyze the discourse and strategies of a number of national governments and groups that claim religion as their authority when they address the rights of women at the United Nations."

The project received a three-year, $98,000 grant from the Humanities and Social Sciences Research Council of Canada.

"Right-wing anti-feminist groups have developed multiple strategies for participating in United Nations meetings," the study states. "These groups seem to have made important gains on the international scene."

The paper came about because feminist groups had expressed unease at the presence of "right-wing anti-feminist groups" at the United Nations, the introduction states.

The paper accuses the groups of not following UN rules of procedure during preparatory meetings for the conference held in March.

"They targeted the work of particular caucuses, intimidated selected delegates, spread false information in their information leaflets, and lobbied national governments," the paper states.

"The representatives of right-wing anti-feminist groups made themselves quite visible, wearing red buttons reading 'Motherhood' or blue ones that said 'Family;' by walking about with Bibles in their hands, as was the case during the panel organized by the Lesbian Caucus; by marking their foreheads with ashen crosses on Ash Wednesday; or, in the case of the Franciscan Brothers, by wearing their robes.

"In addition to being visible, they committed acts of intimidation aimed at representatives of progressive groups. For example, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal encircled a woman by joining hands and praying aloud," the paper states.

The paper urges women's groups to learn about their opponents "in order to demystify them," and provides "fact sheets" on participating anti-abortion groups, including Campaign Life Coalition of Canada, the American Life League, and the Family Life Counselling Association of Kenya.

Founding dates, head offices, goals and objectives, memberships, budgets, activities and links with other organizations or governments, are listed.

"It's a blacklist," said Gwen Landolt, spokeswoman for REAL Women of Canada, number 10 on the list.

"I feel extremely put out that they are using taxpayers' money to smear and defame us."

Tanya Granic, a Canadian member of the World Youth Alliance, number 12 on the list, said she was not surprised that feminists would write strategy papers, but said she was "shocked" that the government would foot the bill.

"The purpose of this paper is to basically discredit pro-life groups and put up a red light that we're here," she said.

Marie-Andree Roy, director of religious studies at the Universite du Quebec at Montreal, who applied for the research council grant and supervised the paper written by graduate student Anick Druelle, said the paper helped enhance the democratic process.

"We're trying to understand how religious views influence the debate over women's rights," said Ms. Roy.

But Eric Lowther, Canadian Alliance MP and critic on family issues, criticized the funding as politically motivated.

"Taxpayers' money is going to silence the voices of Canadians and anybody else who doesn't agree with the radical approach of [the Canadian government]," said Mr. Lowther.

Garth Williams, chief of public affairs and knowledge transfer for the research council, denied that politics played any part in funding the "interesting paper.

"We fund projects based on the excellence of the research. They are not looked at through a political lens," he said, citing a stringent peer-review process.

The paper "contributes to public debate," he said. "Policy is not made in a vacuum."

He said the council did not put limits on how the research they fund is used.

"We feel that it is important for social scientists to get their work out of the ivory tower," he said.


American Life League, Stafford, Va.

"Officially, the group is not religious, but it has many links with Catholics. In addition, the group employs a Maryknoll priest as spiritual director.

"Special Friends Paul Weyrich and Phyllis Schafly are Catholics who work actively to create political links with the fundamentalist Protestant Religious Right. In order to establish its credibility, the group's information brochures reprint quotes from bishops who support them."


Campaign Life Coalition, Toronto

"Two students from the Newman Student Centre at the University of Toronto who attended an internship programer at the Holy See's Mission to the UN were named to the official Vatican delegation to [an] international meeting."


Family Life Counselling Association of Kenya, Nairobi

"Objectives: Promote the family as the foundation of society; promote the natural method of family planning; oppose contraception; respect African culture and religious beliefs; leave the sex education of children to their parents."


Family of the Americas Foundation, Dunkirk, Maryland

"Group president Mercedes Arzu Wilson claims close ties with Pope John Paul II."

In an interview she said, "I report to the Pope regularly, two, three times a year personally and by correspondence, several times more than that."


Human Life International, Gaithersberg, Md.

"Close ties are maintained with the Catholic hierarchy. For example, Cardinal Alfonso Lopex-Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family has spoken to the group on a number of occasions."

(Each link opens a new window)
  • United Nations: Beijing+5
    The main site for the conference otherwise known as "Women 2000." Also check out this PDF document discussing strategies for implementing the five-year-old Beijing platform.
  • Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action
    What was agreed upon in Beijing.
  • Status of Women Canada
    The Beijing+5 page of the ministry headed by Hedy Fry.
  • Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action
    A critique of the Beijing+5 conference.
  • WomenWatch
    The UN agency attempting to advance women's rights across the world.
  • Holy See
    The official web site of the Vatican, a criticized participant in the talks.
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