UN Commission on the Status of Women fails Women of the World again

By Jeanne E. Head, RN


At the 57th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), pro-abortion forces failed to advance their agenda, particularly their goal of making abortion a “fundamental right” worldwide. That was an important success.

Nonetheless, although it contains some good things, the Commission’s final non-binding document (called “Agreed Conclusions”) is flawed and includes some glaring omissions. Part of the explanation for this outcome is that the process that has evolved in recent years almost guarantees disappointing outcomes.

The critical theme of this year’s Commission, “The elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls,” is a very important one. It should have been a basis for easy agreement. But, once again, a UN document meant to help the women and girls of the world became a battleground rather than a forum for helping women and girls.

To understand what happened last week, we need to recall that the CSW failed to agree on the main document at last year’s session, because the Obama Administration insisted on their anti-life language. This year, the Commission seemed to be determined to produce a document at all costs. That included some reported bullying of pro-life countries and an almost total lack of transparency.

For example, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were totally frozen out of the process–by guards, no less. Moreover, for the first time, NGOs were blocked from the final (Plenary) meeting when the document was adopted.

In addition, the documents that have emerged from recent UN negotiations  have not been the result of consensus brought about after hard fought negotiations. Instead they have reflected the will of the few—an illusionary or false consensus—often in the form of the “Chair’s Text” (see below).

I have been participating in these CSW meetings since 1996. Every time, I have been saddened to see hundreds of women from all over the world, often colorfully dressed in their native costumes, eagerly anticipating actions by the Commission that will improve their lot in life. And every year I am saddened more than ever because the results are, for the most part, all talk and no action.

For example, we have known how to prevent maternal mortality and morbidity in the Western World for over 60 years. This is not only violence against women and girls, it is also very preventable when and where there is the political will to provide the kind of maternal health care for women in the developing world that is available to the women in the developed world.

The U.S., most European Union (EU) countries, and others persist in claiming that legalization of abortion will save women’s lives, in spite of the fact that the opposite is true. They are so intent on decreasing the number of babies that women in the developing world deliver that they fail to promote the measures that actually makes the delivery of their babies safe. They refuse to acknowledge the documented truth that improved maternal health care will save women’s lives and that legalizing abortion in the developing world, where even adequate health care is scarce, will only increase maternal mortality.

In New York, where we have had abortion on demand since 1970, the maternal mortality has increased. (See http://nrlc.cc/11sHvHD)

I am outraged that a document aimed at preventing violence against women and girls does not appear to even consider the nearly 300,000 mostly preventable and unnecessary yearly maternal deaths as violence against women and girls (99% of these deaths occur in the developing world). Nor are the untold number of preventable serious and devastating maternal complications and injuries considered as violence against women

The administration of President George W. Bush proposed the following language in a 2005 Geneva World Health Assembly resolution dedicated to improving Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Care:

“Commit resources and accelerate national action towards improving their health care systems in order to provide access to the kind of basic and maternal, newborn and child health care available in the developed world that is necessary to provide a safe outcome for mother and child”

How could this not be universally acceptable? In fact this language was rejected, primarily by the EU. We have been promoting similar language ever since without success.

Another serious omission in the “Agreed Conclusions” is the failure to even mention or acknowledge as violence against women and girls the millions and millions of unborn girls who die a violent death by abortion every year.  Nor does it mention the over 160 million “missing” girls who are the victims of the violence of sex selection abortion or infanticide.

Also, although many less important UN documents were cited, The Holy See’s proposal of references to the UN’s founding documents including the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which recognizes that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person” were deleted early in the process.

On the positive side, forced abortion and sterilization are mentioned in a list of practices that were condemned.

The document was discussed for days from morning to late into the night, but again there appeared to be no apparent attempt at real negotiations. This was particularly so regarding the most controversial paragraphs, such as those containing terms such as “reproductive rights.”

This term has never been interpreted to include a “right to abortion” in any UN negotiated document. Unfortunately, it has been interpreted to include a right to abortion by some UN Agencies and powerful Non-Governmental Organizations such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation in order to claim that there is an international right to abortion so as to pressure pro-life countries to legalize abortion.

The pro-life forces succeeded in limiting the interpretation of this and other controversial terms to the definitions found in the1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). There it is clearly stated that the ICPD document does not create any new human rights and does not define such terms as “reproductive rights” or “reproductive health” to include a right to abortion.

In the end, when time had run out and, as expected, negotiations failed, a Chairman’s version of the text appeared—the “Chairman’s Text”—presented on a take it or leave it basis.

Although all Member States of the UN are involved in negotiations on the text, only the 45 Members of the Commission on the Status of Women can vote on the final document. Every member must agree on the text or it is rejected—just one can stop it. None did this time. Non-Member States Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Honduras. and the Holy See expressed reservations.

This disturbing trend of failed negotiations resulting in a Chairman’s Text began during the Obama Administration. Unfortunately it has poisoned any real negotiations and we can only expect more of the same in the future.

The women and girls of the world deserve better.

Editor’s note. Jeanne E. Head, R.N., is NRLC’s vice president for international affairs and UN representative.