on the radar
U.S. Withdraws Destructive Amendment
to UN Declaration Reaffirming UN Platform
for Action for Women
by Joanne Omang
3.04.05 | Feminists scored a win over the forces of reaction this week at the United Nations where the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is holding a special two-week review of everything that has happened for women worldwide since the Fourth World Conference on Women met in Beijing in 1995.
Some 30,000 women went to Beijing and emerged with a Platform for Action that galvanized them under the banner “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.” They created a decade of change, challenge and controversy about women’s roles in every corner of the planet.
Women’s issues got so dicey for so many governments that the UN quietly decided to turn the CSW’s 49th regular session into its only Beijing + 10 activity, rather than holding a splashier event.
But controversy erupted anyway. The CSW drafted a policy declaration reaffirming the Platform for Action without any ifs, ands or buts, and calling for renewed action to implement it. In preparatory meetings around the world, region after region signed on to the declaration, which will be added to the UN Millennium Review in September.
All except one. The United States under Bill Clinton was an architect of the Platform for Action, but under George Bush it would rather be a wrecking crew. The U.S. delegation to the CSW submitted an amendment to the draft declaration reaffirming the Beijing documents but specifying “that they do not create any new international human rights, and that they do not include the right to abortion.”
It was the only controversial amendment offered by any country, and no other country voiced public support.
The 130 official country delegations were then deluged by thousands of emails and countless flyers from right-wing groups supporting the move. The amendment would “prevent the Beijing documents from being misused to promote abortion as a human right worldwide,” declared one, echoing Ellen Sauerbrey, the U.S. Ambassador to the CSW.
But the country delegations stood firm. And more than 170 women’s and human rights groups at the meeting here rejoined that they “opposed unequivocally” the U.S. amendment, calling on governments for “specific targeted actions to realize women’s rights in all areas.”
Today the United States backed down.
“The United States is pleased that countries agree with us that the Platform for Action does not create any new rights,” said Ellen Sauerbrey, the U.S. Ambassador to the CSW. “Our interpretation is their interpretation.”
“They are declaring victory and going home, as in Vietnam,” said Charlotte Bunch, executive director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership. “The reality is that they heard loud and clear the voices of 6,000 women here saying ‘No,’ echoing millions of other women worldwide.”
She added that the U.S. language “was completely unnecessary, an effort to inject U.S. politics into a broad international consensus.”
June Zeitlin, executive director of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), said she wasn’t pouring the champagne just yet. “Our real crisis is that the promises of Beijing have not yet been fulfilled. We need a major escalation in political will for that to happen, and Washington could provide that, if it wants to.”
The gathering has a week to go. Stay tuned.
Joanne Omang is a novelist and former foreign correspondent for The Washington Post.