T H E F E M I N I S T A T T A C K O N R E L I G I O N: How Gender Justice Is Shaking Down Religion at the U.N

By Sabom, Diane | The World and I, June 1999 | Go to article overview

T H E F E M I N I S T A T T A C K O N R E L I G I O N: How Gender Justice Is Shaking Down Religion at the U.N


Sabom, Diane, The World and I


Diane Sabom is a freelance writer.

``It makes me so [damn] mad that the Holy See is over here. What right do they have to participate in these discussions! Something must be done to chuck them in the future! How can anyone believe religion even has the right to speak in today's world?"

This venom was spewed from a delegate during a break at the five-week UN conference in Rome this summer to approve a treaty creating an International Criminal Court (ICC). He was responding to a Vatican spokesman who had just objected on the conference floor to the possibility that abortion-on-demand was being surreptitiously written into the ICC statute. His vehement attack on religion mirrored the views of many in attendance--views that have begun to permeate the overall UN agenda.

THE ROME EXAMPLE

Spearheading the conflict with religion within the UN system are feminist groups such as the Women's Caucus for Gender Justice (WCGJ). In Rome, this group represented hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from around the world, while simultaneously retaining the same radical feminist identity as women's caucuses of other UN conferences. This particular caucus had been formed specifically to lobby for their agenda within the ICC statute and the operations of the court. Indeed, many in their ranks were veterans of conferences in which they had represented the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO). Originally created to lobby at the United Nations' Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992, WEDO was chaired at one time by the late Bella Abzug. Now, though, a variant of WEDO, the WCGJ, tends to assume leadership prominence at individual UN meetings.

The WCGJ was one of ten organizations making up the steering committee for the exceedingly influential NGO Coalition for an International Criminal Court, itself representing 235 NGOs. The coalition received funding from individual donors; from numerous foundations such as the Ford, Soros, and MacArthur Foundations; and even from the governments of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. The official newspaper of the coalition, the International Criminal Court Monitor, gave extensive coverage to the WCGJ's positions, stating, at one point, that "gender justice is one of the core principles of a permanent ICC ... and that justice for women depends on ensuring that all aspects of its work take gender concerns into account." With such connectedness at high levels, the WCGJ had extraordinary influence to air its platform.

During the conference in Rome, the WCGJ billed itself as representing "the human rights of women," which, of course, implies all women. However, they were soon strategizing in closed sessions at odd hours and in off-site locations.

A brief incident that occurred in the hall outside the formal meeting room in Rome on July 6 illustrates the noninclusive nature of its membership. A representative of the Jesus, Mary and Joseph Children's Fund asked Rhonda Copelon, the text secretariat for the WCGJ and director of the International Women's Human Rights Law Clinic at City University of New York, for a schedule of its meetings. Knowing nothing more about the woman, Copelon told her she would definitely not be welcome and proceeded to wag a finger in her face in time with a livid staccato, "You--work--to--defeat--the--rights--of--women!" When it was pointed out that the fellow NGO was also a woman, she stomped off, refusing to talk further.

The same belligerent attitude was visually apparent when members of the WCGJ wore black armbands during the conference to call attention to their demands for "a gender perspective" to be written into all the court's workings. The armband signaled that "crimes" relating to women should be given high priority. More on that later.

The WCGJ had successfully managed to get "gender experts" representing their views appointed to governmental delegations such as those of the United States, Costa Rica, and Canada. …

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