At the Commission on the Status of Women: Snapshots of the Right

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At the Commission on the Status of Women: Snapshots of the Right

Ariana Childs Graham

Not everyone present at the Commission on the Status of Women was advocating for sexual and reproductive health. Some right-wing organizations wanted to roll back progress on women's health.

Those seeking to advance sexual
and reproductive health and rights were not the only advocates in attendance
at the 53rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women
(CSW) at the United Nations.  This year’s session, held March
2-13, 2009, brought representatives from right-wing organizations with
very different goals regarding what should be sought during the negotiations
for the agreed
.  Some
representatives came to lobby member state delegates engaged in these
negotiations, others to "educate" NGO representatives attending
side events, using a wide variety of tactics. 

What follows is a snapshot of some
of the right-wing organizations who were present and what they were
up to over the course of the two weeks during the Commission session. 

United Families International (UFI)

United Families International was founded
by Susan Roylance, who wrote Mothers and Fathers Defending Marriage
and Family in the Halls of the U.N.
, a well known and regarded book
in pro-family circles.  UFI promotes the "natural family" which
– for those who are unversed in such terminology – means one man and
one woman, joined in marriage with oodles of children.  

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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UFI has embraced new media with vigor
and established a special "CSW 2009" blog with coverage of their involvement during
the 53rd session.  They recounted sitting vigil outside
of negotiation rooms late into the night in solidarity with delegates
from "pro-family" nations like Qatar and Yemen against the "hostile
forces." Their postings were rife with their disappointment in the
United States delegation, and spoke to their diminished sense of pride
in the United States resulting from the U.S. delegation’s position. 

UFI also spoke rather disparagingly
of delegates observed at the CSW: "We saw many delegates abandon the
principles of their country and … fawning over the EU and the US in
an attempt to gain favor and money from them by supporting their ideas."   

Family Watch International (FWI)

Family Watch International, whose mission
is to "preserve and promote the family, based on marriage between
a man and a woman as the societal unit that provides the best outcome
for men, women and children" has made the United Nations a central
site for advocacy, so it is no surprise that they were engaged in this
year’s CSW.  

FWI called this year’s theme "ridiculous,"
saying that "The equal sharing of responsibilities between women
and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV/AIDS
" indicated
that the "UN wants to dictate how men and women share household responsibilities!" 
FWI clearly missed the point on that one… 

FWI updated their base in periodic
emails, and called for action in an "urgent alert" with the headline "Demand U.S. Stop Supporting
Same-Sex Marriage and Worse at the UN"

sent out during the final stages of negotiation for the agreed conclusions
on Friday March 13th.  FWI president Sharon Slater called for their
supporters to contact the United States UN Mission and the White House
to express their concerns about the "anti family provisions [endorsing]
a position legalizing same-sex marriage."  Within hours of that
alert, FWI
declared the CSW a success

announcing that the "anti family" provisions had been pulled from
the final draft of the agreed conclusions. 

Endeavor Forum Inc.

The Australian based group, Endeavor
Forum Inc., believes that "men and women are equal but different not
equal and the same" and that sexual and reproductive health and rights
in the context of UN negotiations means "lesbian rights and free access
to abortion on demand, contraception and sterilisation."  Endeavor
played a role once again in what Endeavor’s former CSW representative
called the "annual feminist Mecca" and sponsored several side events
including a repeat performance session on breast cancer risks and prevention,
which turned out to be a foil for an anti-abortion scare-tactic rally.   

Catholic Women’s League of Australia
Inc. (CWLA)

CWLA has consultative status with the
United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and attends the
CSW annually.  This year they co-sponsored several side events,
including a session on the promotion of the Billings method of natural
family planning.  Ironically, one representative from UFI attended
and later commented that even though they had hoped to enjoy the session,
the ideas espoused were not quite up to par.  She expressed disappointment
that "it had nothing to say about the value that there is in abstinence,
and nothing to say about a pro-life stance if the method should fail…
overall [she] left feeling slightly deceived."  I guess you can’t
please everyone.   

Perhaps most, notable about CWLA is
their agreement with conservative Catholic teachings on the "theology
of the body."  These teachings promote a narrow ideology of sexuality
and build upon institutional Catholic Church teaching that suggests
the sexes are not equal but complementary, that men and women fulfill
different societal roles which further exacerbates gender inequality. 

These are just a handful of the right-wing
organizations at work during this year’s Commission on the Status
of Women. Though they may put up the façade of fighting for family
and children’s rights, it is only on their terms.  While organizations
like FWI and UFI may have claimed victory, their inability to embrace
the fullest complexity of a human rights framework undermines the integrity
of their message in the end.