Guest post by Cassie Farrell. Cassie is one of several young men and women from Campaign Life Coalition Youth who are taking part in the 57th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations this week in New York City.
At the 57th UN Commission on the Status of Women, there are various side events addressing different issues pertaining to women, particularly those in developing and war-torn countries. The theme, "elimination and prevention of all forms of vioence against women and girls" have highlighted the stark contrast in the approach of organizations from these areas, and organizations from the Western, Euro-American world. This contrast was made startlingly clear in several presentations, including one hosted by World YWCA and the UNFPA.
In the presentation “What Future Young Women Want: Putting Women’s Rights at the Heart of the Post-2015 Development Agenda,” YWCA’s youth representatives from around the globe explained some challenges that they face in their local communities, while highlighting their expectations for the future. Discussion topics included human trafficking, the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on women, child marriage, and the particularly grotesque practice of female genital mutilation in Ethiopia. Though not exclusive to Ethiopia, the Ethiopian representative reported that girls can be mutilated from as young as 18 days old, and it usually occurs by the age of 15 or 16 years old. She explained that while it still receives social justifications in local communities, there has been a notable reduction in the practice since women have been more educated on the subject.
Presentations were also made by representatives from Australia, and the United States. Dianne Stewart, Director for Information and External Relations for the UNFPA, affirmed the campaign against child marriage, and stressed that expanding access to contraception and reproductive health services is UNFPA’s top priority in this fight. She noted that when girls are married very young, they often have many pregnancies, which keeps them from being able to fully realize themselves. She also passionately declared that every child should be a “wanted child,” but did not elaborate on that point. Interestingly, details regarding how UNFPA will help end child marriage, outside of preventing pregnancy and birth, were non-existent. Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls, Penny Wilson, also listed reproductive services as a top priority, along with ensuring that tradition is only permitted to affect women “positively.” Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron, Chief Executive Officer of YWCA USA, highlighted that women’s rights need to be on top of the global agenda, that we “must support the most vulnerable in our society,” that reproductive health remains a top priority, and “[she and her supporters] will not stand for injustices against women.” It is also noteworthy that gendercide and sex-selective abortion, which is responsible for the absence of an estimated 200 million women worldwide, were absent from her comments and literature.
It seems that women who come from the developing world are concerned primarily with problems that they are actually facing, such as poverty, war, genital mutilation, rape, and keeping their children safe. Their initiatives focus on the education of women and girls, strengthening the family unit, and employment for men and women. It appears that their top priority is making life better for themselves, and for their families and communities. There was little to suggest that women from the developing world are uninterested in having children, but are more concerned with taking better care of their children while living without the fear of being attacked, murdered, or sold into the sex trade.
On the other hand, the UNFPA, and Western YWCA representatives seem to believe that contraception and abortion are the most important and effective ways for women to improve their lives, though they give no instruction as to how this will occur, or whether the women most directly affected are interested in that type of “help.” It seems evident that the idea that a condom or abortion will halt an atrocity from occurring is not only elitist, but ridiculous. The question then becomes whether groups like the UNFPA are more concerned about advancing their ideology than they are about women.