UN Women’s Meeting Exposes Divide

By Wendy Wright | March 18, 2016

NEW YORK, March 18 (C-Fam) In one conference room, women who had been rescued from ISIS begged the international community for help. In another, women signed a pledge demanding the end of all-male panels at any conferences.

Such is the disparity of priorities on display this week at the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) – exposing the divide between the horrors experienced by thousands of women and girls versus the career-demands of well-off feminists.

Over 6,000 people have come to New York for the 60th CSW, an annual two-week UN conference to advance women’s equality. But views on what equality means are as diverse as the delegates’ colorful African dresses are from their counterparts’ European pantsuits.

The differences at CSW expose chasms among feminists – and strange bedfellows. Chief among the divisive issues is whether prostitution should be legal. UN Women, an agency founded to represent all women, backs the decriminalization of prostitution – a position that tends to be represented by men and affluent women.

French politician Laurence Rossignol, a socialist who is most known for promoting abortion, chastised the pro-prostitution lobby at a panel with former captives of ISIS. It is hypocrisy, she said, to try to stop human trafficking but legitimize prostitution.

A young Yazidi survivor told of ISIS killing the men in her family and community, then selling girls over 9 years old. She was given to 10 men every hour, sometimes every day. Yet no solution has been offered by the international community to help the more than 3400 women and girls still in captivity and the thousands of people stuck on the borders.

“We received much injustice from these terrorist groups and the injustice continues from the international community with silence on this issue,” she said.

A Syrian refugee described men taking three or four girl brides then releasing them into prostitution. In Lebanon buying sex is protected by law. Most of the sex buyers are European.

On the week these survivors spoke at the UN, Amnesty International’s website proclaimed, “BREAKTHROUGH: Key legal reforms in Norway could change the lives of transgender people.”  Norway’s proposal would lower the age limit for children to legally define their gender.

Meanwhile, the head of the UN Population Fund tweeted in celebration of CSW, “ All #girls needs reproductive #health services to help them avoid early #pregnancy and make a healthy transition into adulthood.”

Babatunde Osotimehin’s tweet came at an awkward time. It was sent just four days after The New York Times reported that ISIS is using contraception and abortion, which fall under “reproductive health services,” to keep sex slaves available to be raped.

Another UN agency announced its part in advancing gender equality is to no longer participate in or host all-male panel discussions. The UN Global Compact promotes responsible business practices. It plans to urge its 8500 member companies to pledge that its men will decline invitations to speak and suggest women to take their place.

Tactics that rely on quotas rather than merit often result in stigmatizing people, whether or not they were chosen on merit, critics note.

This challenges the notion of gender equality. Equal in number, in worth, or in accomplishments?

And thus the divide deepens among women at CSW.