Posted on | March 5, 2013 by Rebecca Oas, Ph.D |
As the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women begins today, two news stories are already disingenuously implying that the Holy See, the Russian Federation, and Iran are effectively enablers of violence committed against women. These and several other UN member states oppose the inclusion of language that could be used to support a right to abortion – a topic that is always controversial within the UN system.
After the failure to produce a consensus document in last year’s CSW as well as in 2003, the last time the priority theme was violence against women, there is a great deal of pressure to come to agreement. While the priority of eliminating violence against women and girls would seem like an uncontroversial topic, the pro-abortion agenda being pushed by countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Norway has made the negotiations on the outcome document more contentious and raises the fear of another stalemate.
Early reports in the Guardian and AFP News appear to be setting up a narrative which would lay the full blame for such an impasse at the feet of the Holy See and its allies, with the implicit accusation that opposition to a flawed document is the same as tacit approval of violence inflicted on women.
Michelle Bachelet, the head of UN Women, told The Guardian that violence against women and girls “is a universal issue and there is no culture or religion that should accept this.”
The AFP story exposes its bias in the first sentence, and implicates religion as the source of the member states’ objections:
“The Vatican, Iran and other religious states are resisting efforts by a UN conference, which started Monday, to demand tougher global standards to prevent violence against women and children.”
Similarly, the Guardian article reminds us that this narrative is nothing new:
“Iran, Russia and the Holy See…are understood to already be calling for the removal of key lines of this year’s draft document that relate to reproductive health and rights, and those that suggest governments take responsibility for tackling gender violence. Lobbying by these factions was blamed for a failure to agree any conclusions at last year’s CSW, which focused on rural women’s empowerment.”
As the document is negotiated, member states submit their recommendations for the addition, alteration, or removal of text. The decision to include controversial language can render the process more difficult, but it takes a lack of consensus to make controversy, and it takes (at least) two to make a stalemate.
By characterizing the states opposing abortion as the ones preventing decisive action to be taken to stop violence against women, the authors of these articles fail to ask why increased access to abortion is essential to the process, or whether its inclusion in the outcome document is worth sacrificing the outcome entirely.