Overcoming objections from the Vatican and several Islamic states, delegates to the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women formally adopted Friday a plan of action for the next decade that strongly affirms a woman’s sexual rights, including her right to defend herself against violence and sexually transmitted disease.
The Vatican, Iran, Sudan and more than 35 other countries registered reservations about several sections of the non-binding Platform for Action. The Vatican rejected the entire chapter related to women’s reproductive health.
Controversial sections of the platform sought by gay and lesbian activists opposing discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” were dropped at the last minute from the final draft.
However, more than 180 countries and delegations, including the Vatican group, joined in the platform produced by the largest international women’s conference in history. “We found many things to affirm in the document,” said Mary Ann Glendon, the Harvard Law professor who served as the Vatican’s chief delegate to the conference.
Set in the restrictive environs of the Chinese capital - where delegates and journalists were often harassed and followed by state security agents - the conference nevertheless was hailed as an important step forward by leaders in the international women’s movement.
Closing-day speaker Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Norwegian prime minister, criticized the “zealous security” of the Chinese authorities. But the Norwegian head of government embodied the empowered, confident atmosphere of the conference when she described the political evolution in her own country.
“When I first became prime minister 15 years ago,” Brundtland recounted, “it was a cultural shock to many Norwegians. Today, four-year-olds ask their mommies: ‘But can a man be prime minister?’ “
American author and pioneer feminist Betty Friedan described the twoweek gathering, which began Aug. 30 with the meeting of 20,000 grassroots activists near Beijing and ended Friday, as “the coming to maturity of the women’s movement as a global force of great power - a counter force to the politics of greed and hate. It cannot be stopped, obviously not by the government of China.”
While the Platform for Action is not a legally binding treaty, it stipulates that each government should meet with independent advocacy groups before the end of 1996 to outline implementation of a national plan of action.
“Like many U.N. documents, it is symbolic,” says Hasan Fadous, a U.N. spokesman. “But the symbolism runs deep and far. It creates a kind of social force.”