UN Member States Commit to Empower Women, and Mothers, When “Experts” Won’t

By | June 2, 2017

NEW YORK, June 2 (C-Fam) At UN Headquarters this week, UN Member States committed their governments to protecting women’s rights but in an unusual change of emphasis, focused largely on their roles as mothers and caregivers and avoided the usual controversial issues.

Typical “gender equality” issues, such as reproductive rights, and comprehensive sexuality education, were raised not by UN Member States but by UN bureaucrats and “experts.” The focus on these issues was made starker by the fact that they did not address issues that enjoyed more consensus such as women’s sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

The two-day expert meeting was convened by UN Women and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs to discuss strategies related to the UN Sustainable Development Agenda.

The event’s immediate goal was to provide recommendations for this summer’s High Level Political Forum. The forum brings together top ministers from home governments to review the progress made in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

More than thirty speakers addressed national and international achievements and challenges for gender equality, including women’s access to water and sanitation, education, employment, and for unpaid work. Speakers included representatives of UN Member States, UN entities, academia, and international civil society organizations.

With minor exceptions, national representatives focused entirely on their countries obligations towards women, as agreed upon in existing international documents. In several UN documents, it has been agreed that gender refers to men and women based in nature; nothing more and nothing different. One representative from Finland, however, praised her country’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention which defines gender as a “social construct.”

More than any other speaker, Jamaica’s Gender Specialist, Ms. Mareeca Brown, stressed the importance of the family, and mentioned Jamaican policies are meant to facilitate women’s role as mothers. Dismissing the idea that this hinders economic empowerment, Mr. Vinicius Pinheiro, Special Representative of the International Labour Organization to the UN, congratulated Jamaica as the country with the highest percentage of women in leadership positions.

Ms. Brown also reported her government’s efforts to protect four lifecycle groups “from the womb to the elderly.”

References to women’s access to “sexual and reproductive health and rights” came from UN Women’s Deputy Executive Director, Lakshimi Puri, also from Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s member, Ms. Nahla Haidar, and from Ms. Marisa Viana, Executive Coordinator of Realizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice (RESURU).

This language, which some UN staff use as a synonym for access to abortion, is not part of Agenda 2030, nor does it enjoy broader UN consensus.

The same expert speakers urged Member States to “change their social norms,” and to fight “conservative backlashes.”

Women’s persistent and increasing tragedies of sexual exploitation and trafficking, explicitly mentioned in Agenda 2030, were mentioned only by Ms. Winfried Doherty, representative of NGO Good Shepherd International.

UN Women recently held an expert meeting on “sex-workers,” a term which critics say transforms prostitution into a legitimate profession, and offends former sex-slaves.