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|1ST OPENLY GAY SPEAKER AT THE UNITED NATIONS
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The 4th World Congress held in Beijing from September 4-15 of 1995. The Congress was convened to address the lack of progress
since the 1985 1st Congress in Narobi. This Congress was composed of 5000 specific delegates and representatives from nearly
30,000 Non-governmental organizations (NGO) internationally. As you will see below, an unidentified "approved observer"
called the Holy See is involved and does make several comments.
The Congress created a working document that addressed several issues including but not limited too: Women in position
of decision making, Women and Education and Women and Health (which includes sexual and reproductive health). The original
documents took each broad subject and separated the current issues that needed to addressed and the strategic plan that each
government could address if they signed on to the legislation (please click the above link to view outcomes) When I read through
the section on Women and Rights it reminded me of the Martha Nussbaum article.
Many of the same issues and topics emerged in both documents. In my opinion, the most interesting part of the original
documents were the letters from individual countries addressing the specific language, changes and topics that they believe
were vague or needed explanation. Below I have accounted several sections of letters from the original document having to
do with sexual rights and sexual orientation. I was astounded at the amount of letters that addressed the need for the document
to specify rights when it comes to only heterosexual couples. Originally when I read the document it stated the following
which I believe covered sexual orientation as a sexual right for women.
96. The human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related
to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.
Some lesbian, self identified women were quoted saying that they felt, "hate and ignorance" from the group when
it came to the subject of sexual orientation (http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/cib/1995-96/96cib05.htm). I searched to find
more information on how Women Watch has followed up on the issue of sexual orientation but could find very little.
Below is the commentary from representatives from several nations on Sexual/reproductive rights in relation to sexual
Representative the Holy See:
The Holy See does not associate itself with the consensus on the entire chapter IV, section C, concerning health; it wishes
to place a general reservation on the entire section and it would ask that this general reservation be noted in the chapter.
This section devotes a totally unbalanced attention to sexual and reproductive health in comparison to women's other health
needs, including means to address maternal mortality and morbidity. Furthermore, the Holy See cannot accept ambiguous terminology
concerning unqualified control over sexuality and fertility, particularly as it could be interpreted as a societal endorsement
of abortion or homosexuality. The reservation on this chapter does not, however, indicate any reduction in the Holy See's
commitment towards the promotion of the health of women and the girl child.
The Holy See does not join the consensus and expresses a reservation on paragraph 232 (f), with its reference to a text
(para. 96) on a right of women to "control over ... their sexuality". This ambiguous term could be understood as
endorsing sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage. It asks that this reservation be noted on the paragraph. On
the other hand, however, the Holy See wishes to associate itself with the condemnation of violence against women asserted
in paragraph 96, as well as with the importance of mutuality and shared responsibility, respect and free consent in conjugal
relations as stated in that paragraph.
Representative of the Republic of Iran:
The Islamic Republic of Iran upholds the principle that safe and responsible sexual relationships between men and women
can only be legitimized within the framework of marriage. Moreover, the phrase "couples and individuals" should
also be interpreted in that context.
Representative of the Republic of Peru:
It is understood that sexual rights refer solely to heterosexual relationships.
Representative of the Republic of South Africa:
The South African delegation wants to make it very clear that it does not want to be associated with any form of discrimination.
Representative of the United States:
The United States Government has a firm policy of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and considers
that the omission of this reference in paragraph 46 and elsewhere in the Platform for Action in no way justifies such discrimination
in any country.
Representative of the Republic of Isreal:
Israel would have preferred that explicit reference be made to the particular barriers faced by women because of their
sexual orientation. However, in light of the interpretation given to the words "other status" by, inter alia, the
United Nations Human Rights Committee, we interpret the words "other status" to include sexual orientation.
Other issues not addressed at the conference in 1995 were:
*Women with disabilities and how that fit into Women's rights
*Poverty in relation to multilateral debt and structure development
*The issue of sexual orientation
One issue that organizers were very proud of address was the "unbraketing of the lives of girls and women" when
it came to sexual/reproductive rights and violence. Many people felt as if the conference may have given girls more rights
than necessary while still underage but organizers saw this as a triumph for separating women from girls conceptually when
it came to rights. Overall, I thought the document was very thorough and well-thought out but you could see that many nations
disregarded several statements because of cultural relativism. That is why I call this a working document, nations were suppose
to take these guidelines and use them to make changes in their own governments.
Basically, gender mainstreaming is a good practice measure. It is a policy that monitors the affect any policy/regulation
and/or legislation will have on a gender, either women or men. It makes sure that governmental legislation treats each gender
equally and attempts to foresee any negative impacts it may have for future generations of women or men. Countries that have
adopted this policy implore a well-educated group of professionals to oversee legislation coming out of the government to
make sure legislation does not favor either gender.
If the United States adopted this policy the Mexico City Policy (global gag rule) would not be on the books because it
has proven to have severely negative affects on women/women's health/reproductive rights and sexuality. Not only does this
policy affect women, it also affects men and children when it comes to general health care in remote/rural areas of certain
countries. Because the United States has not adopted this policy none of our legislation is gender mainstreamed and therefore
many policies perpetuate issues of violence, gender inequality and lack of choice.
Women's Watch Website:
The website offers a lot of great information on what the United Nations is doing to protect women's rights and encourage
productive action through education and conversation. I liked the part of the website that gave overviews of the meetings
and councils that have met since the Beijing 4th Congress 1995 and the Beijing plus 5 Congress in 2000. They provide a lot
of links to papers to lectures but do not do a very good job at providing overviews of the meetings, for example, providing
bullet points of the objectives, goals, conversation and outcomes of the meetings. It is hard for a reader to get an understanding
of the meetings objectives and ideas when the website simply provides lectures offered, program abstracts and a general topic
for the meeting.
Providing the reader with subjects still under conversation, programs that have been implemented per country (this was
done in the Beijing 5 Congress) so we can see the progress that came from the four previous Congresses. Subjects like cultural
relativism, sexual orientation and abortion are key issues for women internationally that are hard to talk about are not being
pursued by the United Nations. Reproductive issues came to head for all people because of HIV/AIDS and the threat of a pandemic,
but otherwise, I believe the reproductive rights might still be an issues on the same plane as abortion and sexual orientation
because it is deep rooted in religion.
Although all the issues listed on the website are pertinent to women, I am choosing a very specific topic, abortion.
This falls under reproductive rights on the website. This is a very important topic and very interconnected with other topics.
Below is a statement made after the 2000 Beijing plus 5 Congress.
Betty King, the American envoy for economic and social affairs at the UN, said "Since Beijing, nearly 400,000 women
have died unnecessarily from unsafe abortions. Even when abortion is legal, too many countries have unsafe doctors, nurses
or other health providers." About 600,000 women die in childbirth every year.
As I stated previously in my reflection of the Global Gag rule, unsafe abortions are killing as many mothers and children
as countries that have legal abortions. Governments are not disseminating information on safe abortions, nor are they educating
women and their husbands that abortion laws have changed. Having an unwanted pregnancy is hurtful, frustrating, stressful
and often puts women in a position that either forces them to have no control over their bodies and reproduction or try and
take control over their lives and often times seek out an abortion with untrained doctors or unsanitary environments.
As stated above, the topic of abortion is a problem whether or not governments change the laws or not. Education, access,
sexual violence outside the home, domestic violence, religion and social stigma can still inhibit women to take control over
their reproduction. With the Global Gag rule in place US non-governmental organizations are put between a rock and hard place,
by seeing the needs and not being able to address them appropriately. Abortion is a hot topic issue and instead of pushing
the issue to side burner it might be nice to see Women's Watch actively support the movement to not only offer abortion but
help governments and non-profits help offer legal services to women that may by left on the social fringe.
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