Vatican: Joins Iran & Russia to disrupt VAW communiqué at the Commission on the Status of Women
March 12 2013, page A22
Unholy AllianceSome horrific events over the past few months, including the shooting of a Pakistani schoolgirl and the rape and murder of a young Indian physiotherapy student, should have been an alert for the world to unite in preventing violence against women.
But if a conference now under way at the United Nations is any guide, that message has not resounded with the necessary urgency. Halfway into their two-week annual meeting, delegates to the Commission on the Status of Women fear they will not be able to agree on a final communiqué, just like last year.
Who is to blame? Delegates and activists are pointing fingers at the Vatican, Iran and Russia for trying to eliminate language in a draft communiqué asserting that the familiar excuses religion, custom, tradition cannot be used by governments to duck their obligation to eliminate violence. The United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed similar language just six months ago.
Conservative hard-liners seem determined to fight it out again. They have also objected to references to abortion rights, as well as language suggesting that rape also includes forcible behavior by a woman’s husband or partner. Poland, Egypt, other Muslim states and conservative American Christian groups have criticized one or more parts of the draft. The efforts by the Vatican and Iran to control women are well known. It is not clear what motivates Russia, although there is a strong antifeminist strain in President Vladimir V. Putin’s government. He may also be trying to curry favor with Islamic states.
In any case, the suggestion that traditional values justify the violation of basic human rights is spurious. As Inga Marte Thorkildsen, Norway’s gender equality minister, has noted, “Violence against women must be seen as a human rights issue, and that has nothing to do with culture or religion.”
Gender-based violence is an epidemic. A World Bank report estimated that more women between the ages of 15 and 44 were at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria combined. According to the United Nations and other sources, more than 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime and more than 3 million girls are facing female genital mutilation. Women in all social, economic, ethnic and religious groups are affected. The conference will be a failure if it cannot produce ambitious global standards that will deliver concrete results to protect women and girls.
March 14, 2013
Letters to the Editor
At the U.N., an Effort to Protect Women’s Rights
Re “Unholy Alliance” (editorial, March 12): You are to be commended for shining a spotlight on violence against women. Draft language in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women urges countries to “strongly condemn all forms of violence against women and girls and to refrain from invoking any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination.”
I strongly urge the international community take a firm stand on gender-based violence and not to go back on previously agreed language on women’s equity and rights. The commission’s draft language, though not yet adopted, clearly lays out the international community’s aspirations for women all over the world, and I commend those efforts to make these aspirations a reality.
The time has long passed when anyone can or should be allowed to dictate or restrict women’s rights. No young girl should be forced into marriage. Each woman should have the means to exercise her human right to choose when and how often to have children.
Finally, the world should affirm, once and for all, that no argument can ever justify violence against any woman on any grounds whatsoever.
United Nations Population Fund
New York, March 13, 2013
To the Editor:
Regarding the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, you write that “delegates and activists are pointing fingers at the Vatican ... for trying to eliminate language in a draft communiqué asserting that the familiar excuses — religion, custom, tradition — cannot be used by governments to duck their obligation to eliminate violence.”
The Holy See affirmed that religion, culture and tradition can be wrongly used to justify such violence while at other times they can act as means to prevent or mitigate violence against women.
The editorial also suggested that the Holy See rejected the notion that rape includes “forcible behavior by a woman’s husband or partner.” The Vatican supported denouncing rape in every context, intervening only to clarify that violence by an intimate partner is a subset of domestic violence.
You note the Holy See’s opposition to “abortion rights.” Abortion is a violent act and illegal in many United Nations member countries. Obviously, it merits denouncing at a conference on combating violence.
HELEN M. ALVARÉ
New York, March 13, 2013
The writer is a delegate of the Holy See’s observer mission to the United Nations.
To the Editor:
Your editorial correctly names the forces that are bent on disempowering women. As chairwoman of the N.G.O. Committee on the Status of Women, New York, from 2007 to 2011, I witnessed the growing assault on human rights.
Year after year at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, hideous lies like connecting abortion to breast cancer are advertised. Delegates, especially from developing countries, were their targets.
Women (and men) worldwide must organize and speak up; otherwise, their futures and their children’s futures will depend on this kind of failed diplomacy.
VIVIAN B. PENDER
New York, March 12, 2013
The writer, a psychiatrist, is the main representative of the International Psychoanalytical Association to the United Nations.