June 5, 2000
Battle to define 'sexual rights' looms at U.NGeorge Archibald
NEW YORK — As 10,000 women from 189 countries converge here for a United Nations special session on women's equality, delegates from the United States and other wealthy nations are battling representatives from poorer countries over homosexual rights, the status of the traditional family and the "sexual rights" of girls.
The weeklong session, which opens today, was called to mark progress since the 1995 Beijing international women's conference and set a further U.N. agenda to bring about global equality between men and women over the next five years. The session begins with a welcome by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a workshop address by U.S. first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to the U.N. Development Fund for Women.
But behind the scenes, where the session's final report is being negotiated, delegates from the United States and other rich countries are at odds with representatives of poorer, undeveloped nations over issues that take up half the report: sexual behavior, pornography and prostitution.
"The problem is the aggressive attempt by the liberal Western powers to rewrite the original Beijing document, something the General Assembly ordered them not to do," said Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, a U.N.-monitoring organization based in New York.
"The Western powers, led by the U.S. and the European Union, seem fixated on advancing notions that have been rejected by democratic procedures all over the world," Mr. Ruse said. "A whole set of ideas are being met with fierce opposition within the negotiating bloc of the developing world called the Group of 77, or G-77."
The G-77 is a U.N. voting bloc consisting of 138 developing nations in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and China. The opposing bloc of rich countries includes JUSCANZ — Japan, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Luxembourg and South Korea — and the European Union, consisting of Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Spain and other countries.
Mary Ellen Glenn, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, said she had not read the draft report and could not answer why so many areas were in dispute between the United States and the G-77 nations and the Holy See.
But she added, "There are some measures of cohesion between the U.S. and G-77. We have agreed to three family measures in the last couple of days. We are looking for balance."
She said one of the family measures involved "parenting, motherhood and procreation not being used as a basis for discrimination." Another involved "mothers and fathers sharing equally in household responsibilities, the family as a stabilizing factor in conflict and post-conflict situations."
"There are many areas we are still working on," the U.S. spokeswoman said. "We are in active negotiations. We'll have it done by the end of the week. I think it will be something all member states can agree on."
Conference participants said an immediate fight will occur over credentials for lobbyists from so-called non-government organizations (NGOs), heavily dominated by liberal feminists, who are trying to limit last-minute negotiating by more conservative NGOs aligned with the G-77.
"JUSCANZ attempted to hijack the preparatory negotiations in March by pushing a consensus over issues regarded as objectionable and unconstitutional by many developing nations, the Arab nations, and the Holy See," the Vatican's delegation at the United Nations, said Maria Sophia Aguirre, an NGO representative of the National Institute of Womanhood, based in Bethesda, Md.
"Perhaps one of the more contentious of the JUSCANZ-backed issues was language regarding the reproductive rights of the girl-child," Mrs. Aguirre said. "Such language aimed to ensure the girl-child's right to a 'full realization' of her sexuality and sought to entitle the girl-child to private and confidential sexual and reproductive information, counseling and services 'both in and out of school' by implementing national mechanisms, policies and programs."
Mrs. Aguirre said the attempted expansion of U.N. women's rights initiatives to cover minor children in the sexual realm has "angered" women from less-developed countries, where religious faith is strong.
According to the draft document, updated as of yesterday on the United Nations' Internet Web site, the Clinton administration is backing efforts to block language in support of religious and cultural values of individual countries and regions, and to uphold the national sovereignty of countries when they disagree with a U.N. position in the name of women's rights.
The report records the United States, as part of the JUSCANZ bloc, in opposition to language promoted by the G-77 nations that it is the "sovereign responsibility of each state," depending on its own religious, ethical and cultural values and convictions of its own populace, to implement the goals of the U.N. equal rights agenda for women.
Another statement unacceptable to developed countries calls on world governments to "promote responsible sexual behavior, including abstinence."
Instead, JUSCANZ and EU countries want the U.N. report to call on world governments to provide "male and female condoms, voluntary HIV testing and counseling, and intensify research on . . . microbicides and vaccines . . ., provide access to adequate and affordable treatment and care for people with sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and . . . infections such as tuberculosis."
Mr. Ruse described the U.N. special session as "a left-wing hootenanny." He said efforts by G-77 nations and the Holy See to modify the draft U.N. women's agenda for the next five years were backed by "a coalition of people with strong faith" among official government delegates and NGO lobbyists at the General Assembly special session. He said the coalition included "orthodox Catholics, evangelical Christians, Mormons and Muslims."
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