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UN document on equality for women approved

LLiberal and conservative countries have approved a United Nations document to promote equality for women that reaffirms the sexual and reproductive rights of all women and endorses sex education for adolescents.

The 24-page final declaration approved by consensus on Saturday by the 45-member Commission on the Status of Women expressed deep concern that overall progress towards the UN goal of gender equality and empowerment of
women remained “slow and uneven”.

The commission said “the feminisation of poverty persists” and reaffirmed that equality for women was essential for sustained economic development.

The document called for equality, empowerment and human rights for women to be a major plank in new UN development goals expected to be adopted next year.

Some of the more progressive countries expressed relief that there was no back-pedalling on international recognition of women’s reproductive and sexual rights and access to health services in the final document.

The document calls for “universally accessible and available quality comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care services, information and education”.

This should include `”safe and effective methods of modern contraception, emergency contraception, prevention programmes for adolescent pregnancy … (and) safe abortion where such services are permitted by national law,” the document said.

Conservatism ‘against women’

Egyptian minister and women’s rights activist Mervat Tallawy, who led the country’s delegation, said the final document reaffirmed all the gains women made at the 1994 UN population conference in Cairo and the 1995 UN women’s conference in Beijing.

“We will never give in to the prevailing web of conservatism against women in all regions of the world,” Tallawy said.

“We shall not allow fundamentalists and extreme groups to disarm women from their rights.”

Delegates said the final vote was delayed because Russia at the last minute tried to insert a reference to sovereignty. It did not succeed.

Conservative countries succeeded in blocking references to different forms of the family, or to problems that women faced because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The document recognises the family as a contributor to the development of girls and women.

On the sensitive issue of sex education, the document called for the development and implementation of educational programs for human sexuality, “based on full and accurate information, for all adolescents and youth … with the appropriate direction and guidance from parents and legal guardians”.

Among the countries expressing reservations about sex education after the document was approved were Qatar, Malta, the Holy See and Pakistan.

The commission also called for an end to early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation. Qatar asked for a definition of “early”.

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