The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meets every year for two weeks to review progress on implementation of the Fourth World Conference on Women’s Beijing Platform for Action adopted in 1995. The theme of this year’s review was “The Empowerment of Rural Women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.” Other resolutions debated by the Commission included “Eliminating Maternal Mortality and Morbidity through the Empowerment of Women” and “Women and Girls and HIV/AIDS”.
This year marked the first time in history that the CSW did not produced “Agreed Conclusions” (the closest they ever came was in 2006 on Violence against Women but an agreement was reached the following week). The most contentious issues, not surprisingly, were related to women’s access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care, including family planning, control over their sexuality and protection of their reproductive rights, comprehensive sexuality education, and eliminating harmful practices such as early and forced marriage, including child marriage.
At 1 am on Wednesday, March 14, negotiations among Member States of the United Nations broke down over the refusal by some countries to support actions that would urge governments to provide rural women with essential reproductive health care services and information. On one occasion, a representative even went so far as to state that “sexual and reproductive health has nothing to do with rural women” and that “what they need is economic opportunity and access to clean water.”
It’s truly shameful that this came from the government of a country where 65 percent of the population lives in rural areas, where women in those areas live on less than $1 a day, where complications during pregnancy and childbirth may likely leave them severely injured or even dead, and where women have one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world. Really, what they most need is sexual and reproductive health care. Maybe then we can start talking about what healthy women can actually do with their lives.
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It is not uncommon that country diplomats based in the United Nations are completely disconnected from their countries’ realities, not to mention their health policies and programs which, at least on paper, are set to provide women with sexual and reproductive health services within primary health care. It is our responsibility- women’s and women’s organizations and all of our allies- to educate these diplomats as well as hold our governments accountable. A message to the world has been sent: the United Nations’ only political body which discusses women’s issues cannot agree on meeting their health needs and human rights. We must quickly act to make sure that this never happens again, and that the Member States of the United Nations are acting in accordance with its own principles: equality, non- discrimination, and human rights.