6,000 Expected at Annual UN Feminist Conference Starting This Week

[This] week, thousands of participants are expected to descend upon the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York for the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). In anticipation of the meeting, radical feminist groups have been preparing statements and refining messages to push on government delegations at the meeting.

This year’s CSW is particularly significant because it marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Beijing Conference on Women.  At the original 1995 conference, advocates attempted to establish a “right” to abortion on demand but failed when governments specifically outlined that no new rights – particularly, no new “right” to abortion – were established at Beijing. Since then, however, abortion proponents have not given up their attempts to push abortion rights at CSW and during periodic reviews of the Beijing conference.

While governments gather in a conference room to discuss how they have helped the world’s women progress, non-government organizations (NGOs) will be holding their own events to push their ideas.  According to an official from the Division on the Advancement of Women (DAW), over 6,000 NGO representatives have registered to attend this year’s CSW.

A number of these side events will, not unexpectedly, focus on “sexual and reproductive rights,” “access to reproductive health services,” and abortion.  While most pro-life organization were denied the opportunity to hold events over “space constraints,” many prominent abortion advocates such as Ipas, the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the Center for Reproductive Rights were given slots.

In conjunction with NGO side events, NGOs are also circulating documents to other advocates for presentation to delegations. Catholics for Choice (CFC) – formerly known as Catholics for a Free Choice – has been circulating a joint declaration and seeking support from other organizations on the CSW electronic mailing list for NGOs.  The CFC declaration calls on “all Christians” to take aim at Nicaragua and El Salvador’s strict pro-life laws with the slogan that “Jesus never condemned therapeutic abortion.”  CFC demands “in Nicaragua the immediate restitution of therapeutic abortion and in El Salvador the restitution of law that guaranty therapeutic, ethical and eugenical [sic] abortion.”

In written statements prepared by NGOs and distributed on the official CSW conference website, a coalition of abortion rights groups calls on “governments, multilateral organizations, donor agencies and civil society groups to incorporate full reproductive rights, including access to safe legal abortions, into their advocacy for women’s rights.”

Apart from the push by NGO activists, the abortion issue regularly causes heated debate among member states at CSW. At last year’s meeting, negotiations went down to the wire as Norway and the European Union insisted on language related to “sexual and reproductive health.” Delegates sequestered themselves behind closed doors in late-night sessions over the contentious language, with attempts to insert new, ambiguous language rebuffed.

The Commission on the Status of Women meets at UN headquarters in New York from March 1 through March 12.

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