NEW YORK, March 17 (C-FAM) The annual UN women’s commission ended a week late with opposite sides forming over how to treat gender.

While the theme of the meeting was the non-controversial issue of women in science and technology, negotiations were unexpectedly fraught with ideological disagreements over the concept of gender, and the usual debate over issues related to sexuality.

At the final meeting, the European Union and the Holy See made statements that reflected the opposing views that clashed throughout the commission.

The European Union expressed satisfaction with the final document and especially praised the inclusion of “sexual education” and “sexual and reproductive health,” but noted with concern that the language over “gender” and “gender stereotypes” was still being debated.

The EU argued that the terms were already “agreed language” that have been used since the Beijing Conference on women in 1995.  The EU stressed that it was “unwilling to go pre-Beijing” and hoped that negotiations would be able to move forward without such debate in the future.

While the EU claimed that the gender language question was settled, other delegations were surprised at the staunch resistance of the EU, Cuba, and Mexico to insert a reference to the UN-agreed definition of gender, even though the proposal received wide support from African, Caribbean and Islamic countries.

During negotiations, the EU and its supporters tried to quell any fears by reassuring countries that “we know what the definition is.”  As negotiations dragged on, one delegate rebuffed the EU explanation retorting, “If it’s really not a problem, then why can’t we plainly state what it means?”

Immediately after the EU statement, the Holy See expressed its concern that “some delegations attempted to advance once again…a radical definition of ‘gender,’ which asserts that sexual identity can somehow be adapted indefinitely to suit new and different purposes, not recognized in international law.”

The Holy See stressed that in international law, the only binding definition of gender is contained in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which states that “the term ‘gender’ refers to the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society. The term ‘gender’ does not indicate any meaning different” from the aforementioned definition.”

The Holy See praised the many delegations who affirmed the traditional understanding of gender and warned that “the international community should be aware that this agenda to re-define “gender,” in turn, calls into question the very foundation of the human rights system.”

Apart from the gender debate, parental rights language was another point of contention.  Several attempts to include parental rights’ language to stand alongside the term parental responsibilities were rebuffed.  The Holy See expressed “grave” concern regarding the missing reference to the “rights” of parents, particularly parents’ “right to choose the education for their children, including education about authentic human love, marriage, and the family.”

Although parental rights language was lacking, pro-family advocates praised a reference to promoting motherhood, a term that had all but disappeared from UN documents in recent years.

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