Beyond Beijing:The Word Wars Continue

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Note from the author: It is with good reason this year’s meeting of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is being billed as “Beijing + 10.” There is a clear message here: The feminists and their liberal allies intend to hold the ground they gained in Beijing 10 years ago . . . and increase their territory. The openly stated purpose of the 2005 CSW is to assess the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, to insist that all nations comply fully with its mandates leaving nothing left undone. The hidden agenda is to pass those remaining elements of the radical feminist visions that have been previously defeated. Their goal is not the welfare of women but their corrupt ideas that degrade and devalue motherhood. They are nothing if not persistent.

That’s why CWA had representatives at the original Beijing Conference, as well as the one taking place this week in New York. We’ll be bringing you regular reports.

I wrote the following article in 1995 as a recap of the Beijing Conference. It provides background on the Beijing + 10 conference taking place this week.

The Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women (FWCW) in Beijing was essentially a battlefield where the weapon of choice was obfuscation – through the misappropriation of language and disingenuous use of common ordinary words. The Beijing Platform was a stealth document utilizing what Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan calls “language infiltration” – if you can capture the words, the people will follow.

If we look at the Beijing Conference as a battleground over “language infiltration,” the victories and casualties can be summarized succinctly. Diverse Catholic, Muslim and Christian groups coalesced to capture ground on the issues of (1) religious freedom, (2) national sovereignty, (3) sexual orientation and (4) parental rights. But they lost ground to the radical gender feminists led by former congresswoman Bella Abzug on the issues of (1) power, (2) polarization and (3) parity. So the conference description, “Beijing and Beyond,” was appropriate; the “war of words” will continue well beyond Beijing.

The Battles Won
Religious Freedom: Religious freedom was the “forgotten freedom” in the Draft Platform for Action, but conservative women were determined to have a statement on religious freedom as part of the final Beijing Platform. The final document now includes language advocating religious liberty and affirming the centrality of spiritual needs. Further, conservatives were successful in getting a statement about religious rights into the final document -which states that religious “worship, observance, practice and teaching” are basic human rights. This is a major victory, but religious freedom and religious rights could still be “forgotten” when it comes to actions and policies.

National Sovereignty: The final document contains a hard-fought-for statement conceding that religious and cultural values take precedence over so-called abortion rights. This victory, however, is not complete; language elsewhere dilutes its force: “The human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health.” The innocuous-sounding words “reproductive health” are interpreted by some to include abortion; it depends on who and when you ask. Once again, words are important and it is naive these days to accept them at face value. Instead, meanings and policy ramifications must be monitored – not just here at home, but especially in nations unable to effectively stand up to the United Nation’s influence.

Sexual Orientation: While much can be read into the final Beijing document’s language about sexual orientation, it was not given protected status. That is, sexual orientation was not specifically legitimized and given minority rights alongside race, age, disability or religion. Put simply, without this victory, the phrase “sexual orientation” would have smuggled any sexual practice – including homosexuality and pedophilia – into the category of a basic human right and we would have had to pay for the multitude of government programs that would have been set up to “protect” those behaviors.

Parental Rights: The victory on parental rights came after considerable controversy over the rights of adolescent girls to privacy and confidentiality. While a clear victory, the language on parental rights – which guarantees that parents can choose the kind of education that their children receive and raise their children in their own religious faith without interference outside their family – was overshadowed by language about the “rights of the child.” On a related front, the word “family” was avoided except in negative contexts such as being depicted as a major site of violence or place where girls’ self-esteem is stunted. Efforts were made to substitute the word “families” which would include any collection of people – who, according to the gender feminists, would provide better parenting than mothers and fathers who perpetuate values they do not want perpetuated. We won that battle and pro-family language prevailed: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and by the state.”

The Battles Lost
The radical gender feminists won the broader ideological campaign on three major fronts: (1) power, (2) polarization, (3) parity.

Power: The Platform succeeded in defining women in terms of “power” rather than “influence.” Throughout the document, a woman’s worth is measured in terms of her ability to attain high position or a big salary. The underlying assumption is that women must achieve power to be liberated and that only when women achieve power will there be full development of the world and true peace on earth. The emphasis on attaining power is a fundamental flaw of the Platform that cannot be overlooked. This skewed view of a woman’s worth permeates the document and invalidates the whole Platform.

The Platform states that the ultimate goal for women is to be decision-makers on Boards. The only legitimate aspiration is to have a place – not just any place, but a powerful place – at the table of the highest-level bodies of government. Anyone who believes in the intrinsic worth of women and/or who values motherhood must reject this view of womanhood. Further, the majority of women who will be affected by this Platform need better conditions for themselves and their families more than they need board memberships. One wonders about “power” priorities for Third World women who sometimes must walk miles to obtain pure drinking water. One must question the appropriateness of designating funds for “power” projects when whole communities in Third World nations lack basic medical supplies like aspirin or penicillin.

Polarization: Throughout the Beijing Platform women are pitted against men – men are the enemy and women are superior in every regard. Competition, not cooperation, is the prevailing tone – it’s “us” against “them,” with men the embodiment of everything bad and women the embodiment of everything good. Bella Abzug, who played a pivotal role in writing the Platform and in determining the focus of the conference, stated: “Male leadership has been a disaster.” Instead of promoting male and female cooperation and coexistence, the Platform fosters competition and mandates coercion.

Further, the conference painted issues in stark black and white and developed straw men to attack. For instance, Gertrude Mongella, general secretary of the conference, claimed that the true cause of women’s problems could be summed up in three words: “religion, politics, and attitudes.” Inclusion was definitely missing in that statement – and it was throughout the conference. Deviation from the radical, gender-feminist point of view was squelched: nongovernment organization (NGO) status was initially withheld, delegations were limited, people were escorted out of meetings, people were kept out of meetings, materials were confiscated, and admittance badges were taken away.

Parity: Calling for 50-50 representation of men and women in every imaginable situation, the Platform is both laughably utopian and appallingly quota-driven. Legitimate calls for justice and opportunity for women are subverted into demands for gender preference – specific outcomes, not broad-based, unlimited opportunities, are mandated. Worse, the gender-feminists rammed their agenda through with total disregard for the ramifications of government expansion. They’ve taken the worst of political correctness and wedded it to bureaucratic control. The one constant in the policy recommendations is that federal government authority and spending are always expanding.

Worse still, developing countries believed that the programs and policies that were mandated would be funded. They found out later that they would have to reallocate their budgets “in order to give priority to empowering women.” In other words, the health, education and welfare of people in developing nations will be sacrificed on the altar of the gender feminists’ priorities. This Platform tries to enforce extremist policies from the top down because the women it is supposed to champion – the common woman and the indigenous woman – would never buy into such an extremist agenda. To summarize, the parity goals and unrealistic quotas of the Beijing Platform ignore the economic realities and basic needs of women in the developing nations.

The Ideological Campaign Continues Beyond Beijing: Who Will Win the War?
In the past, we’ve been able to shrug off the foolishness of U.N. conferences because, ultimately, they didn’t matter. That is no longer the case. The conferences are a microcosm of the battles raging throughout the world’s cultures. More significantly, as Sen. Moynihan pointed out, the “language infiltration” will be ignored to our peril. The Beijing Conference has particular and unique significance in the United States.

Beijing’s Influence on U.S. Policies and Programs: The Clinton administration has said that the Beijing Conference will be a “conference of commitments.” Never mind that attached to the document are reservations by 47 member states – nearly twice as many as on the Cairo Platform. There is clearly no mandate for the Beijing Platform. Ignoring the lack of consensus, the Clinton administration has launched a full-bore effort to implement the Beijing Platform. There will be a new White House Office of Women’s Outreach and Initiatives that will involve every federal agency in carrying out the Platform.

We must re-examine the common assumption that the Platform is just another bloated, meaningless effusion of U.N. rhetoric. The American public may be surprised and dismayed when it sees a whole new raft of intrusive, expensive federal programs coming down the river all justified with the claim, “The U.N. made us do it!”

Beijing’s Influence on U.S. Culture: The Beijing war hasn’t been won – yet. It won’t be won or lost on the legislative and programmatic level. Ultimately, it will be won or lost at the rhetorical level; because words convey meaning, the shifting interpretations will dramatically influence the national culture. The verbiage of Beijing will not be binding, but it will profoundly change attitudes and opinions. The influence of Beijing will filter through the grants that are awarded by federal agencies and private foundations. It will filter through the gender-feminists in NGOs who will have increasing influence through funding designated specifically for “mainstreaming a gender perspective.” The political agenda of the conference will be expanded through mandated government-funded “gender analyses” and “gender training.” The concerted effort to “promote gender diversity” and to eliminate “gender stereotypes” virtually guarantees a worldwide expansion of government bureaucracy and unprecedented influence for the gender feminists who authored the Beijing Platform.

Last week, I visited a traditional liberal arts college located in a small town in middle America. I talked briefly in a meeting about the Beijing Conference and the agenda of the gender feminists. Afterward, a staff member from the student development area asked if he should be concerned that two female students had asked for a formal charter to organize a new campus organization, “The Council for Gender Awareness.” “Yes,” I said, “you should. Their agenda can be predicted and it undermines the foundations of this institution.” In fact, we should all be concerned about that request. The influence of the Beijing conference has already reached a college campus in a small town in middle America.

Janice Crouse wrote a grant proposal to send a team of nine conservative Christian women to the Beijing conference. She trained the team for lobbying and influencing the conference delegates and wrote a daily Beijing Bulletin that was sent out to 1,250 opinion leaders and media each day of the conference.

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