Consensus on Women's Rights Cleared the Skies in China
Ellen Chesler and Joan Dunlop. Joan Dunlop is president of the International Women's Health Coalition , a. New York-based nongovernmental organization. Ellen Chesler, biographer of Margaret Sanger, is a member of the Iwhc board., The Christian Science Monitor
THE most significant development at the United Nations' Fourth
World Conference on Women, held in Beijing earlier this month, may
well be the one that has received the least comment. Mid-way
through what sometimes seemed like endless round-the-clock
negotiations, a working session finally agreed to recognize that
the human rights of women include the right to exercise control
over their own sexuality - free of coercion, discrimination, and
With this consensus, the vast majority of the world's governments
acknowledged that previous guarantees of political and economic
equality remain hollow so long as women are unprotected from
physical violation and sexual abuse in the home and outside of it.
For international diplomats to take on such sensitive subjects -
and to assert that full equality for women requires "mutual
respect, consent, and shared responsibility for sexual behavior and
its consequences" - is a historic breakthrough. But just as
important as the substance of these agreements was the process by
which they were determined.
Naysayers and many ostensibly objective press reports alike would
have us believe that the introduction of explicitly sexual subjects
into the UN deliberations is the devious work of way-out Western
feminists. But Bella-bashers and other skeptics should understand
that these provisions were hammered out under the skillful
leadership of a seasoned Egyptian diplomat. She, in turn,
authorized a conference committee to resolve differences. It was
chaired by a Caribbean representative from Barbados, who worked
beside officials from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle
East, as well as from Europe and North America.
With representatives of the European Union holding out for even
more exacting standards - and with US delegates reticent, in
deference to the political power of the conservatives back home -
the debate on sexual rights was carried forward by delegates who
are neither white nor liberal nor necessarily feminist. Testimony
was poignant. Delegates from sub-Saharan African nations were
especially concerned about protecting women from the spread of AIDS
and other sexually transmitted diseases. Latin Americans spoke
forcefully of the desperate need to give governments power to
intervene in domestic violence.
For decades, discussion of sexuality has been kept off the
international agenda by countries opposed on moral or ideological
grounds to intruding on what were widely considered to be matters
of individual conscience or national custom. Now as it celebrates
its 50th birthday, the UN has finally come of age by recognizing
that, for women especially, the personal is necessarily political.
The watershed agreement reached at the International Conference on
Population and Development in Cairo last year committed the
international community to a wide range of policies and programs
addressing the complex relationships between the social status of
women and global well-being. For the first time the reproductive
and sexual health of women was linked directly to considerations of
sustainable population growth and economic development. In Beijing
the equation was extended to explicitly affirm women's rights
regarding sexuality. …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Article title: Consensus on Women's Rights Cleared the Skies in China.
Contributors: Ellen Chesler and Joan Dunlop. Joan Dunlop is president of the International Women's Health Coalition , a. New York-based nongovernmental organization. Ellen Chesler, biographer of Margaret Sanger, is a member of the Iwhc board. - Author.
Newspaper title: The Christian Science Monitor.
Publication date: September 29, 1995.
Page number: 18.
© 2009 The Christian Science Publishing Society.
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