The 1,OOO Mile Journey Begins:
Calling it the first step in a 1,000 mile journey, organizers ended the world's biggest women's gathering in September with pledges to push for change in mud-hut villages and corporate boardrooms alike.
"The real work is only now beginning," secretary-general Gertrude Mongella told delegates before the closing gavel on the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women. "Let us ensure that we carry the torch forward." Before adjourning, the 5,000 delegates from 189 countries adopted by consensus their conference platform. Some countries lodged formal objections to various parts of the platform, which is non-binding but meant to serve as a guide to governments across the globe.
The 150-page platform cuts across a wide cultural and social spectrum, addressing problems women face in modern society. It contains hard-hitting sections advocating sexual freedom and denouncing violence against women. Negotiators said they hoped those provisions could be used to fight abuses like trafficking in women, genital mutilation of girls, and even pressure to have sex.
Lesbian rights - championed by the United States and some European countries, denounced by the Vatican and many Muslim countries - were dropped from the final draft. But lesbian activists said they were happy the question had been debated for the first time at the U.N. level. Some of the sharpest criticism of the platform came from the Vatican, which said the document's "obsession with reproductive matters" came at the expense of wider concerns.
Vatican delegation chief Mary Ann Glendon also said the church was interpreting all references to sexuality in the document to mean sex within marriage. The platform describes the family as the basic unit of society and urges that it be strengthened, protected and supported. But many criticized inclusion of the phrase, "various forms of the family exist," calling it an implied blessing of homosexual unions, single parents, people living together and out-of-wedlock children.
The document "seeks to destroy the family, totally ignores marriage, and minimizes the importance of motherhood," said Christine Vollmer of the World organization for the Family, based in Washington, D.C. Despite the divisions, Mongella, the U.N. conference chief, hailed the conference as a show of determination and unity on the overriding goal of improving the lives of women everywhere.
Citing the old Chinese proverb, she said: "Let Beijing be the first step of our thousand miles."
Women have the right to decide freely all matters related to their sexuality and child-bearing. The platform condemns forced sterilizations and forced abortions.
Rape in war
The systematic rape of women in wartime is a crime and must be immediately stopped. Perpetrators are war criminals and must be punished.
Children have the right to privacy when receiving health information and services, but their rights must be balanced against their parents' rights and duties. Whose rights dominate will vary according to the child's maturity.
Women in power
Governments, parties and the entire private sector should "build a critical mass" of women leaders, executives and managers in strategic, decision-making positions.
Governments should guarantee women equal rights to inherit, although they may not necessarily inherit the same amount as sons in every instance.
It is the basic unit of society and should be strengthened, protected and supported. Various forms of the family exist in different cultural, political and social systems. Women must not suffer discrimination because they are mothers.
Governments and the private sector should ensure women are equally represented in all national and international bodies that set peace-keeping policies and in all stages of peace negotiations.
Marital rape, genital mutilation of girls, attacks on women because their dowries are too small, domestic battering and sexual harassment at work are all forms of violence against women and violations of their human rights.
"Surely we must do more for the girl child in poor nations than give lip service to providing access to education, health and social services while carefully avoiding any concrete commitment of new and additional resources to that end," Mary Ann Glendon, first woman leader of a delegation from the Holy See, told the dosing plenary session.
WATCHDOG: "We must lobby our governments and act as a monitor and a watchdog" Ayesha Khanam of Bangladesh, said. "NGOs (nongovernment organizations) and the government must work together to implement the document." While much of the content was contained in previous U.N. documents, the women who took part in drafting the platform had learned from shared experiences, Khanam said.
FEMALE CHAUVINISTS: "Women are smarter and more hardworking than men," SolaAdesina of Nigeria said. "They will become the financial managers of Africa. The platform will be gradually implemented, despite the barriers we face in tradition and culture."
For Sola Adesina the most important achievements of the platform were clauses giving girls the right of inheritance, enabling them to obtain land and properq from their parents and encouraging them to take out small loans.
PERU VS POPE: Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, a practicing Catholic, urged other Latin American leaders to follow his lead and defy what he called the Vatican's outdated ban on scientific contraception, which led poor women to have far more children than they wanted.
"The church is trying to prevent the Peruvian state from carrying out a modern and rational policy of family planning," he said. "I am convinced that in Latin America and other parts of the world the time has come to abandon, once and for all, the antiquated mental schemes that hinder full development of women and, therefore, of humankind."
MALE PRESENCE: One in three of the 16,829 people registered at the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women was a man. These men came from every one of the 181 countries represented in Beijing, they appeared in every mode of national dress and they sat at every negotiating table.
SUDAN: Sudan pledged it would not implement any part of a global blueprint on women's lives that conflicts with its interpretation of Islam.
"We are of the view that whatever in the document contradicts our beliefs and traditions we will very strongly oppose," Sudan's minister for social welfare Miriam Siral Hatim told confernece delegates.
"Undoubtedlly we will not impose a phrase or sentence or concept that is alien to our cultures that contradicts our culture, that contradicts our beliefs and our rdigion,¯ she told a news briefing. Sudanese officials said Africa's biggest country strongly opposed establishing any new rights - and sexual rights in particular.
Sudan expressed formal reservations about paragraph 97 in the platform, which, in-a hard-fought compromise, does not mention "sexual rights", but interprets human rights as having wide sexual latitude that could include homosexual marriages or pairings. Foreign ministry official Mubarak Rahamtalla said Sudan's interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia, forbade such pairings and recognized only the "natural family" comprising "a husband and wife blessed by religion."
Sudan has also voiced strong objections to efforts at guaranteeing women equality in matters of inheritance, saying Islamic law mandates women can inherit less than men. Sudan eventually agreed to a compromise saying girls and women could not be discriminated against in inheritance.
IRAN: Iran claimed victory in the defeat of a European bid to enshrine "sexual rights" at the World Conference, saying European Union delegates were going home empty-handed.
Critics of the European sexual-rights drive, who included the Vatican, had attacked it for seeking to legitimize or legalize what they regard as immoral family unions, including those comprising homosexual partners. "It was Iran that caused the deletion of the phrase 'sexual rights' from the document and the European Union was very much against this,"said Iran's Vice President for Women's Affairs Shahla Habibi, who headed the Islamic republic's conference delegation.
Habibi said Iran and several other countries had no choice but to oppose the phrase because it was not clearly defined and because it threatened Iran's traditional concept of family, a man and a woman bound in marriage.
WOMEN PARLIAMENTARIANS:"Women still remain a rare species in the political arena,"veteran women's rights advocate Bella Abzug told a discussion of women and global governance at the United Nations World Conference on Women. "There still is no country in the world where women enjoy political status, access or influence equal to that of men," the platform states.
Singapore's Noeleen Heyzer, director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), demanded that 50 percent of the political space should be reserved for women. Women hold down just 11.3 percent of the seats in parliaments worldwide.
The number of female parliamentarians has actually fallen from a high of 14.8 percent in 1988, putting women's representation back to where it was about 50 years ago. And in two countries -- Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates -- women are excluded by law from their legislatures. Sweden and Norway top the countries with the highest percentage of women in parliament, roughly 40 percent.
In most countries, women won the right to vote only within the last 30 years. Switzerland did not grant women voting rights until 1971. Only four percent of the ambassadors to the United Nations are women.
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