‘Historic’ UN women statement hailed


AFP and AP

UNITED NATIONS–Muslim and Western nations late Friday overcame deep divisions to agree a landmark United Nations declaration setting out a code of conduct for combating violence against women and girls. Iran, Libya, Sudan and other Muslim nations ended threats to block the declaration and agreed to language stating that violence against women could not be justified by “any custom, tradition or religious consideration.” Western nations, particularly from Scandinavia, toned down demands for references to gay rights and sexual health rights to secure the accord after two weeks of tense negotiations between the 193 U.N. member states. The final document approved Friday reaffirms that women and men have the right to enjoy all human rights “on an equal basis,” recommits governments to comprehensive sex education, calls for sexual and reproductive health services such as emergency contraception and safe abortion for victims of violence, and calls on government to criminalize violence against women and punish gender-related killings. But it dropped references to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Some 6,000 nongovernment groups were in New York for the Commission on the Status of Women meeting. Cheers and wild applause erupted when the accord was announced in the U.N. headquarters late Friday. Michelle Bachelet, executive director of U.N. Women, said it had been an “historic” meeting. It was announced straight after that Bachelet would be leaving her post to return to Chile. “People worldwide expected action, and we didn’t fail them. Yes — we did it,” Bachelet said. U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon said U.N. members had committed “to take action to prevent violence and provide justice and services to survivors” of violence against women, which he called a “global menace” and “moral outrage.” Iran, the Vatican and Russia and other Muslim states had formed what some diplomats had called “an unholy alliance” to weaken a statement calling for tough global standards on violence against women and girls. They had objected to references to abortion rights and language suggesting that rape includes forcible behavior by a woman’s husband or partner. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood had called the proposed U.N. document un-Islamic and warned it would lead to the “complete degradation of society.” But the chief Egyptian official at the meeting, Mervat Tallawy, head of the country’s National Women’s Council, backed the accord. She said the declaration was needed to counter “a global wave of conservatism, of repression against women.” With Norway and Denmark leading a European alliance with North America calling for tough language, right up to the final hours it had appeared that the meeting could end without an accord. The last attempt by the U.N. commission to agree a declaration on violence against women in 2003 ended in failure.