UNFPA gathers faith leaders at the UN for the promotion of “sexual rights”

By Marianna Orlandi, Ph.D. | April 7, 2017



Hours after the official U.S. defunding of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the UNFPA co-sponsored an event suggesting religious leaders actively promote “sexual rights” and unlimited “reproductive rights” worldwide.

The recent conference, “Protecting Bodies, Protecting Rights – Faith Communities and Leaders Enabling Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights,” took place during the fiftieth session of the UN Conference of Population and the Development. The Mission of Norway, the World Council of Churches, Act Alliance, Global Fund for Women, and UNFPA co-organized this event.

The panel, which included representatives of various faith-based organizations and “experts” in the field, claimed that religious and spiritual communities should take a “human rights approach” when speaking of sexual and reproductive health.

More specifically, Ms. Biplabi Shrestha, Senior Programme Officer at ARROW, complained about “narrow interpretations of church teachings.” There is “increasing extremism,” – as she called it – “limiting contraception and safe abortion.” Referring to the Philippines, she said “Catholic fundamentalism” limits “progressive” Catholic advocates of reproductive health.

Besides ARROW’s position, the main problem with the conference laid in the very language adopted by all speakers and included in the event’s title. The panelists consistently referred to “sexual and reproductive health and rights,” an expression never defined at the UN level. They failed to specify that there is no consensus among UN member states concerning “sexual rights.”

When asked for clarification on these terms, the panel did not answer. However, Dr. Azza Karam, UNFPA Senior Advisor and Coordinator of the UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development, concluded the event by ridiculing decennial pro-life concerns on “reproductive language,” calling it irrelevant “terminology.” Dr. Karam’s words belittle the work of UN delegates who spend their days, and even some nights, in the negotiating rooms for reasons of “terminology.”

The main goal of the event, according to the moderator, Dr. Karam, was to address the issues of “child early and forced marriage” and “comprehensive sexuality education.” But by mentioning “sexual rights,” the panelists unavoidably suggested all faiths and churches should promote contraception, abortion, and teenagers’ sexual freedom, among other controversial issues.

Calling for “comprehensive sexuality education,” the panel deliberately used a term broader than sex education. “Comprehensive sexuality education” includes teaching children (4-6 years old) about “enjoyment and pleasure when touching one’s own body; early childhood masturbation; discovery of one’s own body and genitals”, disregarding parental guidance, and trashing any form of risk avoidance strategy.

The truth, regardless of Dr. Karam’s claims, is that “terminology” matters. At the UN, it matters even more. In the legal and the international field, words and definitions are essential, as they define obligations and rights. UN terminology affects the entire UN system and directs all its policies and programs. Billions of dollars can be spent one way or the other, according to the verbiage of documents. This is the reason why resolutions are carefully negotiated.

“Words” count, and Norway knows this. On the day that followed the side event, Norwegian Ambassador Geir O. Pedersen delivered a statement acknowledging that “sexual rights” are not included in the UN consensus, and that his country aims to have them recognized this year.

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