As the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Earth Summit) in Johannesburg, South Africa drew to a close yesterday, delegates agreed to add language to the final plan that guarantees access to comprehensive healthcare and reproductive services for women. The issue had become a roadblock during the last days of the international environmental meeting. While negotiations on the final plan were completed Monday, Canadian and European delegates were able on Tuesday to add the 10 words, “and in conformity with all human rights and fundamental freedoms,” to a paragraph that promotes the strengthening of women’s healthcare.
Canada originally proposed the inclusion of a specific statement of human rights tied to women’s healthcare in an effort to prevent such atrocities as female genital mutilation and to safeguard abortion rights. Without this language, countries would be permitted to hide behind traditional customs and laws to vindicate the denial of reproductive services and other healthcare to women – as the Taliban did in Afghanistan, where women were not allowed to go to the hospital, to be treated by male doctors or to work as doctors themselves. Although the wording matches other international declarations on the topic, the addition of the human rights language was opposed by a coalition that includes the United States, the Vatican and conservative Islamic countries.
The United Nations Population Fund, which recently had $34 million in funding blocked by the Bush administration, notes that 70,000 women die every year from unsafe abortions, and 585,000 perish during pregnancy and childbirth due to inadequate healthcare.
Executive Director of Women’s Environment and Development Organization June Zeitlin said that after hours of “intense negotiations,” summit delegates added the language in a slightly different place in the paragraph. “We won, we won,” Zeitlin exclaimed. “Never underestimate the women of the world.” (Source: LA Times)
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