March 8, 2011, marked the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, which the U.N. commemorated following its annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The U.S. State Department spared few bells and whistles in its celebration of this milestone.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton penned an opinion piece published on the Bloomberg Newswire on “investing in women” as a strategy for economic growth. With its melodramatic title, “Women’s Work-More Earn-Less Plan Hurts,” the op-ed relied on fuzzy numbers and typical liberal assumptions, touting U.S. efforts to increase women’s participation in entrepreneurship through a variety of programs, partnerships, and goals. Had the Secretary’s message focused on the importance of greater economic freedom in empowering women and men alike, she would have identified more substantive and lasting solutions for economic growth and individual liberty around the world.
The State Department hosted a number of events commemorating International Women’s Day, including a Women in the World Stories and Solutions Summit, the 2011 International Women of Courage Awards (which Secretary Clinton co-hosted with First Lady Michelle Obama), the 100 Women Initiative Lunch, and the launch of Saving Lives at Birth, a new global partnership on maternal and child health. Ambassador Susan Rice, U.S. representative to the U.N., promised to “spare no effort to ensure that women and girls reach their full potential” and pledged the full support of the U.S. to the new U.N. Women entity.
Meanwhile, a number of other feminist-filled events transpired at or around the meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). U.N. Women, operational since the beginning of the year, held its official launch celebration featuring celebrities Nicole Kidman, Geena Davis, and Shakira, as well as media personalities JuJu Chang of ABC’s Good Morning America and CNN’s Ted Turner.
The theme of CSW this year was “access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology.” However, rather than reading, math, computer skills, and vocational training, a number of panels and events focused instead on “comprehensive” sex education. For example, the Population Council hosted a side event during CSW with International Planned Parenthood Federation and the International Women’s Health Council to introduce advocates from other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and delegates from around the world to their new It’s All One Curriculum: Guidelines and Activities for a Unified Approach to Sexuality, Gender, HIV, and Human Rights Education. The curriculum’s ultimate goal: “to enable young people to enjoy—and advocate for their rights to—dignity, equality, and healthy, responsible, and satisfying sexual lives.”
The creators of this curriculum claim that its perspective is appropriate for all young people globally, irrespective of their culture. Parents and policymakers alike might be surprised, if not horrified, upon examining some of its content. For example, the first unit is entitled “Sexual Rights are Human Rights,” which ignores anything controversial about that assertion and enumerates a variety of so-called sexual rights alongside the more generally accepted political and social rights. The section on relationships discusses “long-term domestic relationships or partnerships,” listing marriage as one such type of relationship often entered into out of social, religious, or economic pressures. It calls for the legalization of same-sex marriage. Not only does the curriculum advocate for same-sex marriage and the normalization of homosexuality, it also calls for the acceptance and legalization of prostitution (euphemistically referred to as “sex work”) and unencumbered access to legal abortion, which it asserts as a human right. It asserts that parenthood and marriage need not be related and that gender is a social construct that varies across time and culture. It encourages students to explore their sexual desires and says “sexuality may be expressed by oneself or with others.” Absent in the several hundred pages of curriculum and activities is any positive mention of abstinence, other than including it as a possible means of contraception or an effective way to avoid contracting a sexually transmitted infection.
The official business of negotiations and resolutions at the CSW was also noteworthy this year. The overwhelming anti-Israel bias that pervades most of the U.N.’s business once again reared its head in the form of a resolution condemning Israel’s treatment of Palestinian women. The U.S. and Israel cast the only two votes against the resolution, and even in spite of the recent events in the Middle East, no other country-specific resolutions were offered, not even against Libya or Iran, which hold seats on the CSW body.
Furthermore, the Commission was unable to officially conclude its business by the date scheduled for its conclusion, March 4, because negotiations over the agreed conclusions for the CSW outcome document stalled over the definition of “gender.” While previous references to the term “gender” in negotiated U.N. documents had been understood to refer to the male and female sexes, this debate centered on a renewed push to expand the definition of gender to include socially constructed roles and sexual orientation. The definition of gender is especially important to the documents that emerge from CSW, as nearly every recommendation refers to mainstreaming or promoting a “gender perspective,” achieving “gender equality,” or implementing “gender-sensitive” policies. When the CSW met again to conclude its session on March 14, the agreed conclusions did not include a new definition of gender.
Still upcoming on the U.N. calendar this spring are meetings of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Human Rights Committee in New York, and the Commission on Population and Development. Expect more attempts to internationalize radical social policies at these events.