Gender Equality Gobbledygook

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One would think that the just-released 148-page United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report, “The State of the World’s Children 2007” — with its exclusive focus on gender equality — was produced by leftists and feminists. Instead, it is the product of Ann M. Veneman, the Executive Director of UNICEF and a Bush appointee who promised to bring back a sane perspective on children’s issues. It is obvious at the outset, however, that the report merely re-packages the feminist agenda without even changing the tired old rhetoric.

The first page of the report focuses on “the discrimination and disempowerment women face throughout their lives” — and outlines what must be done to “eliminate gender discrimination and empower women and girls.” It is not until the very bottom of the first page that the thesis for the report reveals some connection with children: “The rights of women and children are mutually reinforcing.” The whole second page of the report builds the case that gender equality is essential for “child survival and development” and that the Millennium Declaration is essential for constructing a world “fit for both women and children.” In fact, the report bluntly states that the Millennium agenda recognizes the “centrality of gender equality to human development.”

Thereafter, the report argues for “full implementation of CEDAW and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Implementation of these “sister treaties,” according to the report, is not just a “method for accelerating human development: It is also morally right.” Later, the report scolds opponents: “Failure to secure equality for all has deleterious consequences for the moral, legal and economic fabric of nations.”

So there it is on the second page of the report — God is on the side of the U.N.’s agenda. I’m glad that the U.N. approves of morality somewhere; it’s just an interesting connection. The report laments, “CEDAW contains among the highest number of reservations of any United Nations treaty.” The fault, according to the report of course, is not the treaty itself; instead, the report adds an editorial comment that the reservations indicate “world-wide resistance to women’s rights.” Unbelievably, a whole section of the report is devoted to “equality in the household.” I was reminded of the fact that the CEDAW committee has already scolded one nation because its men were not helping with the housework enough. Does the U.N. really have a role in making sure that men share housecleaning responsibilities? And exactly how does such help benefit children?

A two-page sidebar details the “deleterious consequences” of gender discrimination across the life cycle. The report is quite concerned about early sexual activity for girls in “some countries” and notes that it is usually older boys or men who initiate it and such girls are at risk for partner violence. Ironically, these are the same voices that speak out here in the United States claiming that teens are “going to do it anyway” so they need condoms for “safe” sex. The report calls prostitution “commercial sex work” and acknowledges that “many are forced into it.” Do they really think that children can and do agree to become prostitutes? The report acknowledges the risks of “unprotected” sex. Their solution? Knowledge of “reproductive health” and “protection.” They claim that women are “at least twice as likely as men to become infected with HIV during sex.” Their solution? Give women more negotiating power. What are two “pernicious” risks for women? Motherhood and Old Age. Well, at least they acknowledge motherhood instead of ignoring it.

Gender inequality in general is “pernicious.” In fact, the report really likes the word “pernicious” – almost as much as it likes the word “insidious,” as in “insidious gender inequality may be equally destructive.” There is a one-page sidebar describing the pernicious and insidious “Gender Discrimination and Inequalities across Regions.”

One of the most egregious (See? I can use loaded words, too!) aspects of the whole report is a full-page sidebar about “domestic violence” against children. The facts indicate that a child in a household with a mother and a man who is not the child’s father is 62 percent more likely to be abused than one in a married couple household. However, this UNICEF report indicates only that the perpetrators of violence can be “parents or other close family members” (emphasis mine!). The careful wording about “violent homes” and “domestic settings” totally ignores the problems that result from family breakdown and skates over the fact that fathers are not the primary abusers of their children. Of course, in this politically correct, gobbledygook document, children’s vulnerability necessitates the “primary responsibility” of the “state” to “uphold children’s rights to protection and access to services.”

The chapter headings also give ample evidence of the gobbledygook: “A Call for Equality,” “Equality in the Household,” “Equality in Employment,” “Equality in Politics and Government,” and “Reaping the Double Dividend of Gender Equality.” While Veneman mentions — choosing her words carefully — increasing women’s “opportunities,” the report stresses quotas. She even joins the chorus for political correctness: “Gender equality and the well-being of children go hand in hand.” She clearly ties the achievement of gender equality to making a “world fit for children.”

We have a right to question whether UNICEF under Veneman’s leadership is any different than it was under her liberal predecessor, Carol Bellamy. Veneman’s appointment was supposed to herald a return to conservative principles that placed priority on children’s issues, especially their survival in the face of malaria and the childhood diseases that are rampant in underdeveloped nations. Her appointment was supposed to signal a retreat from the feminists’ domination of the UNICEF agenda and a return to matters of children’s health and well-being — indeed, those issues that affect life and death for children around the world.

Instead, the 148-page UNICEF report is all about the left’s “women’s agenda,” albeit papered over with slogans such as “a world fit for women is a world fit for children.” We expected more of a Bush appointee who was supposed to bring a whiff of reality to UNICEF. As a result, once again we have to ask, “Can anything good come out of Turtle Bay?”

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