Statement by Dr Nafis Sadik, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund
At the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly On the Fourth World Conference on Women United Nations, New York
9 June 2000
Madam President, honourable delegates
I had hoped to deliver a different sort of statement today, pointing out all the progress that has been made by women and on behalf of women since we met five years ago in Beijing. I had hoped to be able to join in congratulating all the participants in this process for your work to consolidate the movement towards equality and justice for all the world's people.
Unfortunately it seems that this Special Session is still unable to agree on language concerning some of the most basic human rights as they affect women: the right to health, and the right to protection from violence.
This lack of agreement is puzzling. In most cases the language has already been thoroughly debated and agreed, not once, but several times. It can be found in the Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women, in the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and in the recommendations of last year's ICPD+5 review. In other cases, there may be a need for new language, but it is hard to see why it should take so long to reach agreement.
To take some examples. First, the question of unsafe abortion. Countries have agreed, on the basis of strong and irrefutable medical evidence, that unsafe abortion is a major public health problem. They have quite rightly agreed to act to minimise it and deal with its effects. Paragraph 8.25 in the ICPD Programme of Action is quite explicit, and the consensus was further clarified last year at the ICPD+5 Special Session Yet paragraph 1071 on the subject of unsafe abortion is still in brackets. Surely no delegations want unsafe abortion, and all the death, disease and suffering it entails? But, if not, what is the disagreement about?
Again, paragraph )15a refers to a holistic approach to women's health. It is still in brackets‑does that mean that some delegations want a piecemeal approach to health?
In paragraph 115d, what is the objection to health services for women? Is it only men who should have health services? When we know that her reproductive health affects a woman's whole life, who would deny her the services she needs?
In 115h, should women not have access to female‑controlled contraceptive methods? When we know that women are contracting HIV infections from their husbands, who is against developing microbicides to allow women to protect themselves? Are any delegations opposed to finding better means to diagnose sexually transmitted diseases? If not, why is the paragraph in brackets?
In 119a, do all delegations agree that maternity, motherhood and the role of parents in the family have a social significance? If so, who is against programmes to promote it? Why is the paragraph in brackets?
Finally, I am quite bewildered by the brackets around paragraphs 130 a and 130 c. Who exactly is opposed to measures against violence against women and girls? Who wishes to let infanticide, abduction, trafficking, dowry deaths, honour killing and acid attacks go unpunished? Who supports female genital mutilation?
Is there anyone who is in favour of rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy or sterilization? Does anyone support their use as weapons of war? If not, why should there still be brackets round these paragraphs on the last day of these negotiations?
Excuse me if I am na´ve‑but I am frankly baffled by inability to reach agreement on this language among countries which I know support all these measures and proposals‑countries which are themselves taking action to implement them. .
Lest any doubt remain‑these negotiations are based firstly on the sovereignty of nations, and secondly on countries' acceptance of human rights. Nothing in the document can in any way infringe countries' sovereign right to make their own laws, within the international framework of human rights; the framework which countries themselves have constructed.
The ICPD Programme of Action 1994 and the Beijing Platform for Action 1995 are firmly rooted in universally‑accepted values and ethical principles. Their recommendations are being successfully put into action in countries and among people of all religious beliefs. A common regard for morality unites us: let others not use ideology to divide us.
Honourable delegates, this review offers an opportunity to assess, calmly and in a spirit of co‑operation, recommendations which are both eminently practical and completely ethical. They reinforce the rights of individuals, both men and women, and they encourage the development of nations, with justice and equity. I hope that you will approach the remainder of the questions to be decided in a spirit of constructive collaboration and mutual regard. We have come a long way: let us leave this chamber united, and determined to work together for all the people of the world, and especially for the majority who are women.