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Friday, 22 March 2013

In the Name of Religion? The UN's Status of Women Negotiations 2013

This time last week, the UN Commission on the Status of Women commenced their agreement on policy to prevent violence against women. The annual conference had over 6000 participants this year , and nearly 200 of those were government officials and reps. Despite over two months of negotiation over the contents of the new policies, common ground was hard to come by on some major issues.

Originally, complaints from the Muslim Brotherhood (with their support from the Vatican), claimed that the policies being drafted with the Status of Women stuck it to traditions. They said that, “[The new policies] are destructive tools meant to undermine the family as an important institution. They would subvert the entire society and drag it to pre-Islamic ignorance." In effect, these religious leaders believe that by granting girls with things like rights for same-sex women, control over their sexuality, and getting rid of practices such as female mutilation, the sanctity of their culture was being threatened.

Damn right it is. If by “pre-Islamic ignorance” you mean a place where they don’t cut out women’s sexual organs in the name of sacrifice or honor, the Status of Women is trying to head in that general direction. Sorry, dudes.

To be honest, I’m a little surprised that religious/cultural arguments like this (with multiple supporters) would even be permitted to surface at a huge meeting to make policy that aims to end violence against women. I’m surprised because the people who support the degrading of women in the name of such traditions say they are trying to be part of the solution. They’re the one-foot-in type, who likely agreed to such a conference thinking it’d be good PR, perhaps not knowing the gravity of what an attempt to eradicate VAW means. Why not? They thought. 189 other officials and representatives are doing it right? It must be a good thing. Sign me up.

This is the only plausible explanation I can imagine for why individuals who aren’t all for completely ending violence against women would hop aboard the UN policy boat to do just that. Please don’t misunderstand, I believe in freedom of religion. BUT when freedom of religion clashes with human rights, human rights win out. Every time. In my opinion, it should be a no-brainer. And each time religious interpretations are used to counter women’s freedoms, religious leaders look bad. They are like that beautiful ring on your finger which turns a little more green with every shower, until it looks completely fake. To avoiding tarnishing themselves, these religious leaders might benefit from picking a more subtle battle then the UN’s annual Women’s conference. Where there aren’t 6000 people in opposition.

All of this said, the religion/tradition arguments were overruled at the last minute. A little too close for comfort though, in a world where the violence against women stats have been higher this year than in a while.

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