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by Babette Francis, April 2, 2011


UN Woman is a new international entity with a billion-dollar budget, created by merging four major United Nations agencies focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The 55th session of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), held in New York in February/March this year, was the first under the auspices of UN Women. CSW 55, as the recent UN session was called, had the ostensibly wholesome theme: “Access and participation of women and girls in education, training and science and technology, including the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work”.

The session’s “agreed conclusions” document, after two weeks of negotiations, was also wholesome, apart from a recommendation on childhood sex education and omission of parental rights. That the final document was as good as this was thanks to the firm leadership of the Holy See (Vatican) delegation which vigorously contested issues such as the European Union’s definition of “gender” as a fluid, changeable social construct, not biologically determined as male and female. The Holy See insisted “gender” be defined rigorously because sexual rights activists expand the definition of “gender” in UN documents to include a diversity of “genders”.

Consequences of such redefinition would be monumental as it could change the meaning of thousands of UN documents. Activists would use this expanded definition in their respective countries to try to strike down laws governing such things as heterosexual marriage which they see as discriminating against diverse sexual orientations.

During negotiations, the EU and its supporters tried to quell fears by reassuring pro-family countries from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Russia that “we know what the definition is”. To which one delegate retorted, “If it’s really not a problem, then why can’t we plainly state what it means?”

Finally, the Holy See and pro-family nations modified many of the paragraphs in the “agreed conclusions” that included “gender” by either adding the phrase “men and women” or ensuring that the context in which the term “gender” was used would not easily lend itself to be understood as anything other than male and female.

The Holy See delegation stressed that in international law the only binding definition of gender is in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which states that “the term ‘gender’ refers to the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society. The term ‘gender’ does not indicate any meaning different from the aforementioned definition”. Which is just as well for us, as the Australian Human Rights Commission is currently promoting federal anti-discrimination legislation for no fewer than 19 different genders. (See News Weekly, November 13, 2010).

Another victory for pro-family countries was defeating a EU resolution endorsing “The International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights”, which call for the legalisation of same-sex marriage, legalised prostitution, protection for “men having sex with men”, mandatory graphic sex education for children and penalties for people who criticise homosexuality.

At one NGO side-event, the suggestion was made that the requirement to disclose HIV status to a sexual partner was an infringement of the human rights of those who are HIV-positive. At a panel discussion on combating “homophobia and transphobia”, Diane Schneider of the National Education Association (NEA), the US’s largest teachers’ union, called for graphic sex education to be taught in the classroom. She said, “Oral sex, masturbation and orgasms need to be taught in education.” She argued that comprehensive sex education is “the only way to combat heterosexism and gender conformity”. She explained, “Gender identity expression and sexual orientation are a spectrum”, and said that those opposed to homosexuality “are stuck in a binary box that religion and family create”.

Since the theme of CSW 55 was promoting girls’ success at science and technology, is Schneider aware that girls are far more likely to succeed in education if they do not get involved at an early age in sexual activity?

The low point of CSW 55 was the election of Iran, with US support, as a member of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women. Iran executes more people than any country except China, and has just hanged a Dutch-Iranian woman. How does this square with CSW’s mandate for promoting women’s empowerment?

On a happier note, this year there were a large number of pro-life and pro-family NGOs, including Family Watch International, Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council and Real Women of Canada, who organised side-events.

Our own Endeavour Forum Inc. ran an informative event on the abortion-breast cancer (ABC) link, and Nigerian women who work in cancer-support were particularly interested.

The highlight of CSW 55 was the presentation of the International Protect Life Award to Chile, honoured for reducing maternal mortality while protecting the right to life of the unborn. The award was presented by Dan Ziedler, the award committee’s co-ordinator, to Chile’s ambassador to the UN, Octavio Errázuriz, who affirmed Chile’s commitment to the protection of both mothers and unborn children.

Babette Francis is Australian and international co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc., an NGO having special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC).


Member Organisation, World Council for Life and Family

NGO in Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the UN