U.N. Meeting Pits Rich vs. Poor In Sex and Sovereignty Debate

UNITED NATIONS — Beijing+5 is hitting a bumpy road.

A meeting that was supposed to set the legislative slate for a June United Nations session on women's rights has ground nearly to a halt.

After almost two weeks of intense wrangling, negotiators in mid-March admitted they were barely closer to agreement than they were in the beginning. The meeting is part of a fifth-year review of the United Nation's 1995 Beijing conference, dubbed “Beijing+5.”

The problem, for Third World delegates, started with the first paragraph of the document by the U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women. These delegates wanted explicit references to national sovereignty. These were rejected by the Western powers. After the split, all that was left to negotiators was to move on and save the recalcitrant paragraph until later. Throughout the meeting, such “saved” paragraphs had piled up quickly.

Another problem was the aggressive attempt by the Western powers to rewrite the original Beijing document, something the United Nations had ordered them not to do. The United States and the European Union in particular seem fixated on advancing notions that have been rejected by democratic procedures all over the world.

The Western powers are advancing strict quotas for women in the work force and in politics, an idea rejected even by Swiss voters as recently as mid-March. But the areas of sexual reproduction and the family are causing the most vociferous debate.

The Western nations, negotiating as a bloc called JUSCANZ (Japan, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia), working in tandem with the European Union, are advancing new and as yet undefined terms that Third Worlders view suspiciously. Third World nations from a negotiating bloc called the Group of 77 (G-77 for short).

JUSCANZ is insisting on adding the term “diversity of women” to the document. There is no agreement on what this term means, but the G-77 understands it as a reference to homosexuality. Several explicit references to “sexual orientation” are also causing sharp disagreements.

Another term the West is pushing is “sexual rights.” Rejected at the original Beijing conference, rejected again at Cairo+5 (the fifth-year review of the U.N. population fund conference in Egypt), “sexual rights” is a loose term that could come to encompass a whole tissue of ideas related to homosexuality, abortion and other very controversial areas. So far, “sexual rights” has been rejected by the G-77.

Negotiators had hoped to find agreement by March 18 and send the finalized document for ratification to the full United Nations this spring. But they are no where near an agreement. Officials now say an “intersessional” will be needed to finish their work. This works to the disadvantage of the cash-strapped delegations from the Third World who may find it difficult to send delegations to another meeting like this one. Pro-life delegations fear that another meeting could deplete their already tiny ranks.

Meanwhile, the nongovernmental-organization wars continue unabated. Pro-life lobbyists, young and old, have been kept from organization meetings that are supposed to be open to everyone. Pro-lifers who do get in and try to speak have been shouted down. Pro-life organizations intend to file formal complaints with the United Nations. The fireworks at Beijing+5 haven't ended yet.

Austin Ruse is director of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, a U.N. pro-life lobbyist group.

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