"Beijing+10": Battles Loom at U.N.

Bioethics and Women's Rights in Focus

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NEW YORK, MARCH 2, 2005 (Zenit.org).- A two-week review of progress made in "promoting equality for women and girls" by the United Nations is under way.



The session of the Commission on the Status of Women known as "Beijing+10" comes a decade after a landmark U.N. conference in the Chinese capital adopted a platform for action aimed at global equality for women.

Since 1995, issues that come under a broad banner of discrimination against and exploitation of women include education, property rights, AIDS, maternal mortality, trafficking and abortion. Newer issues include human cloning.

The United Nations decided to issue a short declaration rather than a longer document, just prior to the start of the session.

In the declaration U.N. officials reaffirm and pledge the implementation of the 150-page plan of action agreed to in Beijing. Some women's groups, however, are objecting to its attempt to muffle discussion on a few sensitive points.

Indeed, amendments were proposed by the United States at a negotiating session Friday declaring that the Beijing conference did not create "any new international human rights" and did not include a right to abortion.

The declaration seems to imply that such "rights" exist, U.S. officials said.

The United States' stand has changed since the days of the Beijing conference -- a reflection of a different administration in Washington.

Meanwhile, Catholic pro-life teams are leading the challenge to open debate on these issues during the proceedings of the session. They too contend that some of the wording in the documents is unbalanced and opposed to inherent human dignity.

One such group is the Movement for the Advancement of Rights, Virtue, Education and Leadership, or MARVEL, directed by Jennifer Kimball, a bioethics student.

MARVEL's ranks include attorneys, philosophers, theologians, psychologists and journalists.

"What we really want to see is some reflection of the Church's teaching on the complementarity of the sexes," Kimball told ZENIT.

"At this stage the session is going to try to define gender, by the efforts of the radical feminist movement, as being socially constructed," she said. "We know that is not the case. Our differences do not merely lie in our sexes of male and female but in the fullness of our natures and contributions to society."

Another MARVEL member is political scientist Erica Laethem.

She explained how her colleagues are "concerned that the document we are dealing with, promotes total equality in everything. As you can imagine, there are some problems with this, as you have a loss of the nature of the human person."

MARVEL hopes to lobby what it says are often misinformed or pressured U.N. delegates.

"This can only be done through informing the delegates of all the implications of each paragraph of the documents on an almost word by word basis," Kimball said. "In this way they can truly see what the ramifications will be if the document passes in this form."

"Many of the delegates who come here don't always have the necessary education to fully comprehend … concepts behind teachings such as the 'theology of the body' and often cannot even define who the human person is," she added.

"They come to the floor with very legitimate needs and concerns for women's and children's rights but they need that extra aid from those of us who have focused our education on such specified areas," Kimball said.

Josephine Quintavalle, the director of Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE), told ZENIT that she has experienced great results when organizing points of agreement with radical feminist groups.

"For instance, I know that the issue of the harvesting of female ovum for cloning purposes will come up at this meeting and how scientists are seeking the least expensive 'access to high-quality products for embryo production,'" Quintavalle said.

"We can discover a moment of dialogue when observing the exploitation of women in poorer countries who are having their eggs taken from them without explanation and for little money," she said.

The CORE director added: "When it comes to brutal realities that actually harm a woman, and use her for 'reproductive material' for the biotech market, we may find common ground that could become a spring board for more coalition on other issues too."