A United Nations women's rights committee has adopted a declaration reaffirming priorities set ten years ago at an international conference in Beijing after the United States delegation withdrew a proposed amendment to the text.
The announcement by Washington at Friday morning's meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women drew applause from delegates in the crowded conference room.
The declaration, adopted at the afternoon session, reaffirmed the relevance of the Beijing Platform for Action, a wide-ranging blueprint for promoting and protecting the rights of women and girls.
Although that action plan contains only one reference to abortion, the issue was contentious enough to prompt the proposed amendment by the United States, whose delegate said she accepted the declaration reaffirming the Beijing document only on the understanding that neither was legally binding. She stressed that the United States did not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, and did not support abortion in its reproductive health assistance.
The declaration called on the international community to intensify contributions aimed at implementing the Beijing plan as well as a five-year review document adopted by the General Assembly in 2000.
While numerous speakers took the floor to debate the abortion question during the session, others said that issue was overshadowing more pressing concerns faced by the world's women, who too often find themselves trapped in poverty or falling victim to violence. New Zealand's representative, speaking also for Canada and Australia, said the Commission had spent too much time debating shades of meaning when the international community needed to focus its energy on tackling real challenges.
The Platform for Action addresses 12 critical areas of concern: poverty, education, health, violence, armed and other conflicts, economic participation, power-sharing and decision-making, national and international machineries, human rights, mass media, environment and development, and the needs of girls.
In 1995, after the action plan was adopted, a representative of the United States called it “the strongest policy statement promoting women's empowerment ever made by the international community."
At Friday's session of the Commission, delegates also commemorated International Women's Day, traditionally observed on 8 March.
Among the high-level participants were two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates: Rigoberta Menchu Tum of Guatemala, who said women must go way beyond legal challenges to implement international principles on their rights, and Wangari Maathai of Kenya, who said she symbolized the efforts of all women to promote gender equality.