March 10, 2014

CSW 58: ‘Gender Equality’ and other thoughts…

CSW 58 begins today. This Commission, like all modern UN Commissions, doesn’t begin with a blank slate, but with draft agreed conclusions. The language and recommendations contained therein have been commented on by the NGOs in statements already submitted, and will be fought over for the next two weeks until the final conclusions are written. Looking over the draft, here are the topics that stick out:

The words “gender equality” appear together 29 times in the seven pages of the draft. Until we have defined both ‘gender’ and ‘equality,’ the phrase is meaningless The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “In God’s plan man and woman were made “for each other”- not that God left them half-made and incomplete; he created them to be a communion of persons, in which each can be “helpmate” to the other, for they are equal as persons and complementary as masculine and feminine.” Here, as I believe with all denominations who cling to an orthodox understanding of gender and sexuality, the notions of ‘gender’ and ‘equality’ are bound up with each other and cannot be considered in isolation. If this is what is meant by ‘gender equality,’ then Christians ought to have no qualms about affirming it.

But I highly doubt that is the case. When the drafters of this document conceived of ‘gender,’ I suspect they had in mind “each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth.” These words are taken from the Yogyakarta Principles, a document which also defines sexual orientation as “each person’s capacity for profound emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to, and intimate and sexual relations with, individuals of a different gender or the same gender or more than one gender.”

These “Principles,” which as you can tell are merely self-referential and flimsy definitions, were drafted by a self-selecting group of academics and activists, whose sole claim to virtue was the millions of hours they have spent studying postmodern social sciences. Perhaps because of this, the Yogyakarta Principles have become a standard point of reference for international organizations, such as the UN.

In the Christian sense, ‘gender equality’ is founded in the original orientation of male to female, prior to the fall. In the contemporary sense, ‘gender equality’ refers to an as-yet-unattained homeostasis between each individual’s “deeply felt internal…experience of gender” and their corresponding capacity for emotional and sexual relations with a different, same or multiple genders. The prior case refers to a past state of affairs, something which we can aspire to by turning to our roots. The latter refers to an unattained goal, which may or may not ever be accomplished. ‘Gender equality’ then, is either a state of order which has decayed to disorder on account of sin or a state of disorder which is gradually growing towards order. The difference is important, because the thought that we are gradually moving toward a more orderly and perfect world is the first seed of totalitarianism.

To that end, there is a major problem with the Draft Agreed Conclusions. They call on all “relevant entities of the United Nations…(including) the private sector” to take certain actions, the first of which is to:

Ratify and fully implement the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, withdraw all reservations to the Convention, and ratify or accede to its Optional Protocol.

CEDAW (the aforementioned Convention) is not nearly as radical as some UN resolutions. It does affirm a “women’s right to reproductive choice. …to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to hove access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights.” Yet, abortion is never mentioned explicitly in the text of the Convention. However, the proposal to make all relevant entities “withdraw all reservations” is entirely problematic. Because the UN can’t bring itself to draft documents that are philosophically sound throughout, ‘reservations’ have allowed member states and permanent observers (such as the Holy See) to affirm the good and condemn the bad. There was much to be praised in the Beijing Platform for Action, but there are also recommendations like this:

 Prevention of unwanted pregnancies must always be given the highest priority and every attempt should be made to eliminate the need for abortion. Women who have unwanted pregnancies should have ready access to reliable information and compassionate counselling. Any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process. In circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe.

Now, this language was pared down from the abortion-palooza that could have been adopted, but nonetheless it doesn’t conform to the Church’s teaching and the Holy See could express “a general reservation on this section.” Without reservations, one little paragraph like that can spoil an entire document, leaving states and members with moral scruples to either totally reject or totally accept the conclusions and resolutions of future Conventions.

Reservations will only become more important as the members of CSW 58 work towards accomplishing MDG 5 (Improve Maternal Health), which has come to include policies regarding the prevention of maternal death.

MDG 5a stated the goal of reducing the maternal mortality rate by three quarters by 2015. While the maternal mortality rate has fallen almost 50% between 1990 and 201o, there is still work to be done. Non-governmental organizations like the Alliance Defense Fund have insisted, “It is possible to love them both.” While Comité de America Latina demands:

 It is urgent for States whose laws absolutely prohibit abortion (Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Surinam), as well as countries that maintain some form of prohibition, to revise these laws without delay in order to comply with the ratified international human rights treaties and conventions, and to recognize the sexual and reproductive rights, autonomy and freedom of women.

The question of maternal mortality in South America is an important one. Chile prohibited abortion in 1989. Following that, “the country experienced a steep decline in the number of maternal deaths (69.2%).” So abortion was actually contributing to maternal deaths in Chile, not preventing them. Further, as the Alliance Defense Fund notes: “Call for ‘safe abortion’ do nothing to meet the needs of women who want to bring their children safely into the world.”

This is something that Comité de America and Planned Parenthood simply can’t understand. There are women in this world who actually want to have children. Some of them live in Chile, and thanks to a fifty-year analysis of maternity data from Chile, we know that “the level of women’s education is the single most important factor in reducing the maternal mortality rate.” Imagine if the billions of dollars spent on spreading abortion were instead spent on educating women. Sadly, even here there is a battle to be fought. The aforementioned Comité demands that alongside universal abortion, member states:

 Guarantee free, inclusive, intercultural, secular, de-patriarchalized and high-quality public education to bring about a non-sexist and non-discriminatory education system; promote comprehensive sexual education, free from religious prejudices that bind and constrain the bodies and autonomy of women.

With such outright hostility, it will be difficult to do much more than damage control at CSW 58. That is, if the hostile groups are pulling a lot of weight. But, ignoring the NGOs for a moment, there is actually quite a lot of good in the Draft Agreed Conclusions.

Since the adoption of the Millennial Development Goals: “gender parity in primary education enrollment has been achieved in all regions.” The Commission reaffirms “the eradication of poverty” as “essential.” Further they “reaffirm the vital role of women as agents of development.” With an eye on the future, the Commission notices that “progress on access to basic sanitation has been particularly slow.”

Further, on a topic which will possibly have more urgency given the situation in Ukraine and Venezuela, the draft calls on member states to: “Adopt specific measures to implement the MDGs for women and girls in armed conflict and post-conflict situations and ensure women’s participation in all aspects of peacebuilding and recovery.”

Education, the eradication of poverty, sanitation and peacebuilding; these parts of the draft agreed conclusions ought to be praised because they are not merely reductive. Mary Ann Glendon wrote of the Beijing draft agreed conclusions:

…reading the drafts overall, one would have no idea that most women marry, have children, and are urgently concerned with how to mesh family life with participation in broader social and economic spheres.

The four topics I have highlighted turn our eyes back to this concern of most women. I am not a woman, but my mother is. She earned a Master’s Degree in Physics and has been teaching high school for over 40 years. She tried to pass on her love of learning to my sister and I. (And I daresay this effort was a success.) By demanding that we keep a savings account from a very young age, she helped eradicate the poverty that might have come our way. (Though I still wish I hadn’t spent so much on swing dancing.) She taught us how to clean ourselves and demanded a peaceful (and quiet) solution whenever there was a fight. The one thing she would add is that she couldn’t have raised us without my father, nor could he have raised us without her. I praise the aforementioned four topics because I have seen them integrated into an actual woman’s life, not a fictional caricature of a woman’s life.

As I said, CSW 58 starts today, so the reports will soon be coming your way. I will be reporting on the goings on starting a week from today from the UN. It is my hope that the attendees will focus on the topics covered in the second half of this article, though I fear the focus may be merely on reproductive organs (and why they needn’t be oriented toward actual reproduction). Whatever CSW 58 may bring, I guarantee the final Agreed Conclusions will not be the same as the draft. Whether that is a good or an evil remains to be seen.

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One Response to CSW 58: ‘Gender Equality’ and other thoughts…

  1. Joe says:

    I don’t think we have to wait for gender and equality to be defined. The UN has already stated that these terms are different from, and in disagreement with the Church’s teaching.
    “With reference to its previous concern on gender-based discrimination, the Committee regrets that the Holy See continues to place emphasis on the promotion of complementarity and equality in dignity, two concepts which
    differ from equality in law and practice provided for in article 2 of the Convention and are often used to justify discriminatory legislation and policies.”

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