Member States React to UN Women Abortion Advocacy
UN Women just released the updated version of its strategic plan for the next three years. Notwithstanding the criticism on the previous draft raised by several UN Member States, the new plan keeps its focus on sexual rights with the inclusion of multiple references to “sexual and reproductive health” and “reproductive rights,” as considered enablers for gender equality.
Last week in review of the first draft many Member States delivered a response to the UN Agency’s proposal for an increased focus on sexual rights.
Great praises for the strategy in general, and for its “sexual and reproductive health and rights” language in particular, came from the pro-abortion countries, such as Denmark, Finland, and Norway.
Finland’s representative held “sexual and reproductive rights” are “precondition for the realization of other human rights.” Netherlands’ representative suggested the promotion of “sexual rights” is “imperative” in the agency’s future work.
Other Member States voiced strong criticism over the agency’s outreach, as well as over the adoption of language that implies access to abortion.
The representative of the Kingdom of Bahrain, pointed out the draft contained “several terms that are not well defined” and urged the agency to avoid “controversial” language. He also reminded UN Women’s officials are not “responsible for telling states what to do and how to do it, but to help them achieve what they can in their context.” “The plan must reflect the beliefs of the Member States and not undermine them,” he concluded.
Similar criticism came from a member of the Russian delegation, who also worried about the agency’s “interference with sovereign authorities.”
She pointed out UN Women helped a local group file a “shadow report” to the CEDAW Committee, the treaty body that monitors states’ implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination of Violence against Women (CEDAW). A shadow report is an instrument for the civil society to denounce states’ violations of international law. The Russian delegate asked the agency to specify this “help” amounted to nothing more than technical support.
Answering states’ criticism for the new “sexual and reproductive health focus,” the agency’s Deputy Executive Director, Mr. Yannick Glemarec, justified it based on UN Women’s membership in H6, a UN partnership led by UNFPA.
H6 demands UN Women contribute “leadership in the areas of reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health (RMNCH),” and does not mention “reproductive rights.” The updated strategic plan, however, references “reproductive rights” four times, maternal and child health only once, and it never mentions the newborn.
Notwithstanding national diversities on the issue of “women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services,” nothing in the new draft explicitly excludes abortion advocates as suitable advocacy partners for UN Women, nor makes them noneligible for funding.
The only hope of pro-life countries is to rely on the added references to “national priorities,” and to the repeated assurance UN Women will act and advocate “upon states’ request.”
Since its founding, in 2008, UN Women has worked as a lobbying group around the globe. In 2016 alone, it reports having contributed to the “adoption and implementation of seventy-two laws.” As an example of its work, the agency proudly mentions its support for a Chilean joint fund “which facilitated discussions on legislative reforms to make adoption rights equal among diverse family structures.”
Based on the concerns expressed last week, Member States may still require the agency to further review its plan, which needs to be consensually adopted by the forty-one members of the Executive Board next September.