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Feminists Disappointed with Lack of Progress at UN Conference

While pleased that the United Nations Beijing Plus Five Conference in New York ended with 180 nations reaching consensus on a document that reaffirmed the platform approved at the 1995 Fourth World Conference, feminist organizations, including the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), and Feminist Majority Foundation, expressed their disappointment with the failure to implement a stronger statement.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) lamented the lack of “more concrete benchmarks, numerical goals, time-bound targets, indicators, and resources aimed at implementing the Beijing Platform” (see entire statement in the Beijing +5 Newsroom) and condemned the role of the Catholic Church and Muslim countries of holding up negotiations.

Significant gains made at Beijing Plus Five included approval of the Political Declaration that reaffirms and extends governments’ responsibility to implement the Beijing Platform of Action. Delegates agreed on a statement to “eradicate harmful customary or traditional practices” against women, including marital rape and forced marriages. They also called for the prevention of sexual exploitation, including trafficking in women and girls, and condemned so-called “honor killings.” A final negotiation session, which lasted from Friday into Saturday morning, resulted in the inclusion of a statement that “women have the right to decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality…without coercion, discrimination, and violence.”

However, little progress was made on the weekend’s most contentious issues: abortion and sexual orientation. Opponents of proposed recommendations for wider access to and protection for reproductive rights and for non-discrimination protections for gays and lesbians was led by Catholic and Islamic countries, including the Vatican, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Libya, Sudan, Iraq, and Iran. Conservative delegates blocked the use of the term “sexual orientation” from the final documents, even in a factual statement on the passage of nondiscrimination laws in various countries. They also blocked language that would have called for access to birth control and abortion for women and girls.

As a part of their “See Change” campaign that is demanding that the Vatican’s UN status as a government be rescinded, Catholics for Free Choice sailed a protest ship on the river outside of the United Nations. The ship with banners and chanting protesters was visible to conference delegates.

Despite blocks to progress on reproductive rights and sexual orientation, the final Outcome Document and Political Declaration contained concrete gains for women. For example, the delegates’ condemnation of dowry-related violence, “honor killings,” and marital rape marked the first time an international document has specified these activities as crimes, says both the NGO Linkage Caucus and the New York Times. Other gains include an attention to the gender aspects of various infectious diseases, women’s access to health services, inheritance rights, gender-related asylum, and the negative impacts on women and gender differences in globalization, privatization, and economic restructuring.

Sources:

Statement, NGOs of the Linkage Caucus - June 10,

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