Sliding backwards

US may rescind support for landmark women’s rights agreement it helped create

The United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2018 in New York City. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Negotiations taking place at the UN this week have been roiled by US officials’ apparent attempts to roll back commitments and language protecting women’s rights.

The talks are part of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Draft documents seen by the Guardian indicate that the U.S. may use the two-week forum to rescind its commitment to the Beijing Declaration, the landmark agreement adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. The US played a leading role in the agreement’s creation some 24 years ago. Adopted by 189 countries, it is considered the primary global blueprint for women’s rights.

Now, the agreement — which covers everything from violence against women to female representation in decision-making roles — is in danger of being weakened by the US stepping back from it. Advocates around the world use the Beijing Declaration to hold their governments to account on women’s rights issues.

The US also wants the word “gender” removed from the outcome document that emerges from the CSW so that it only makes reference to “women” and “girls.”

“They [the US] are coming into the negotiations in a way that is very aggressive and that advances an anti-gender, anti-woman position from the very start,” said Shannon Kowalski, director of advocacy and policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition.

The moves are causing consternation among traditional American allies, who see it as part of a longer-term trend of US disengagement from social issues that have long united them. Increasingly, say advocates, the Trump administration is aligning itself with countries like Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia on issues from contraception to abortion.

Cherith Norman Chalet, US ambassador for UN management and reform, dismissed that notion out of hand. “We are not about gender jargon,” she said. “Today, here at the Commission on the Status of Women, we are about women. Women and girls.” Chalet added that the US was leading on women’s rights by “protecting the precious gift of life, including the protection of baby girls who would have been aborted, merely because they are female.”

Read more at the Guardian.

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