Nations Sharply Critique, Approve UN Women’s Three Year Plan

By | September 8, 2017

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director

NEW YORK, September 8 (C-Fam) UN Member States have warned UN Women leadership they must not campaign for abortion, and ordered the agency to respect national sovereignty. Countries fell short of limiting the agency’s outreach, however, including its promotion of controversial “sexual and reproductive” goals, and future partnerships with abortion groups.

Last week, the Executive Board of the UN agency endorsed a three-years strategic plan which will guide the agency’s actions, and spending until 2021. Echoing UNFPA’s documents, the plan focuses on “sexual and reproductive health,” and says UN Women will contribute to “efforts to repeal discriminatory legislation and norms that impede women’s access to sexual and reproductive health-care services.”

Its endorsement did not come without controversy, because these terms include abortion, though not a right to abortion. Negotiations between States’ representatives and UN bureaucracy were so long and heated that UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, asked the meeting chairman to end the meeting.

Immediately afterward, the United States said, “The U.S. fully supports the principle of voluntary choice,” but “we do not consider abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health and family planning assistance.” “We remain committed to the principles laid out in the Beijing declaration,” the U.S. delegate said, adding that relevant international agreements “do not create new international rights, including, ‘a right to abortion.’”

The United States is the world’s largest bilateral donor to reproductive health programs.

The need for such a statement, later echoed by other countries, comes from the primarily normative nature of UN Women, whose main role is to help governments advance “women’s rights.” The controversial content of the plan apparently went beyond this mandate. UN Women staff have suggested that abortion is a right under UN human rights law, though such a right has never been established.

When UN Women’s executive director addressed the London Family Planning Summit in July on “the Importance of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights to Girls’ Empowerment” she recalled her campaigns for abortion in South Africa. On the same occasion, she mentioned her “great pleasure” signing “into law same-sex marriages,” confirming her wide interpretation of sexual and reproductive health language.

In 2014 UN Women co-published a document where abortion is suggested as reparation of conflict-related sexual violence. UN Women staff have lent their support to the campaign to establish abortion as a right under the laws of armed conflict.

Other nations had their critiques incorporated in the final version of the strategic plan, including the caveat that UN Women’s intervention in-country can only happen upon a request from the government and such interventions must “take into account different national realities.” Egypt’s representative pressed this point further as did Cameroon, Bahrain, and Yemen.

The representatives of Bahrain and Yemen issued warnings on the issue of “reproductive rights.” Bahrain asked the agency to speak of “health rights” instead and Yemen invoked the numerous reservations Member States made on the topic in the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and in the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. Several reservations to the 1995 document preserved State sovereignty on policies related to abortion and family.