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Martha Nussbaum
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Brief Summary of the 4th World Congress (Beijing)

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 here to see view each section and the 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 orientation:

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:
Paragraph 46

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.



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