UN to Measure Countries’ Access to Abortion and LGBT Acceptance

By Stefano Gennarini, J.D. | March 5, 2015
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NEW YORK, March 6 (C-Fam) Abortion for adolescent girls and homosexual rights may become markers of progress in the new UN development agenda.

UN officials have produced a preliminary list of indicators to measure development ahead of the next round of negotiations for the post-2015 development agenda in two weeks. The indicators could give leverage to governments and activists who press countries to do away with protections for unborn children, and seek to make sexual orientation and gender identity a legal ground of non-discrimination.

The list of over 300 model indicators sent to national statistical offices last week, includes markers for abortion, sexual autonomy, and special protections for individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT).

The UN statistics division and UN bureaucracy more widely—whose task it will be to assemble and analyze the data provided by governments—compiled the indicators despite controversies surrounding abortion and reproductive rights, and difficulties in objectively quantifying social norms surrounding sexuality.

The UN chief statistician, Stefan Schweinfest, was asked to prepare the model indicators only in January, which he said were “impossible” to complete in time.

“It is against nature and biology of statisticians to show work in progress,” he explained to delegates at a briefing last week. He said the statistical commission would decide what it is “comfortable” with sharing with the General Assembly.

Schweinfest was adamant that the role of statisticians is not political, but technical. A key Brazilian delegate called him out on that.

“The statistical community is here to help us (governments),” he said. “Let’s strive to keep this separation. But it is not always the case.”

The indicators are intended as examples of how national progress on development will be assessed on 17 goals and 169 targets agreed by the General Assembly last year. Political leaders will officially launch the new framework in September.

The list includes indicators to measure unlimited access to sexual and reproductive health services, even for adolescents, and legal provisions that guarantee sexual autonomy and reproductive rights—a term often used as a euphemism for abortion.

The proposed indicators also lay out a framework for promoting LGBT rights through the UN development goals.

An indicator under the goal of “inclusion” purports to measure “percentage of population reporting perceived existence of discrimination.” The background paper to the model indicators explains that sexual orientation and gender identity are grounds of discrimination like race and religion. While there is little consensus on abortion at the United Nations, the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity is a dogged source of acrimony.

The background paper makes even bolder proposals.

It suggests measuring whether a country is guilty of human rights violations on the basis of the opinions of UN committees that routinely tell countries that abortion is a right and individuals who identify as LGBT should be afforded special legal protections and benefits, even though when they do they are widely understood to exceed their authority.

It also proposes that affirmative action and other laws, such as hate crimes legislation or workplace protections, should be used to measure progress on inclusivity.