A recent United Nations conference, held in Melbourne, was refreshingly different from a UN World Youth Conference, held the previous week in Mexico (see Sergio Burga’s article in this issue), which featured explicit sex education, pornography and bowls of condoms.
The only condoms at the Melbourne conference were provided in “show bags”, courtesy of the abortion-provider, Marie Stopes International (MSI).
The Melbourne event, which ran from August 30 to September 1, was the 63rd annual UN Department of Public Information/NGO Conference. Its stated objective was: “Advance Global Health: Achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).”
Unlike the Mexico youth conference, which ended in controversy over the concluding document, the Melbourne conference’s final declaration was non-controversial, with no mention of sexual or reproductive rights, or the ubiquitous “gender agenda” of other UN declarations.
The nearest that radical feminists got to their wish-list was a recommendation for “the provision of equitable and effective health services for all people and communities, including the provision of effective health information programs”.
The conference was a grassroots affair with a preponderant attendance by non-government organisations (NGOs) working on projects in the Asia-Pacific region. There was floor space for dozens of booths so that NGOs could exhibit their work.
International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) displayed no hint of their gory abortion trade, only showing glossy booklets with pictures of smiling ethnic women holding happy babies. Most booths provided information on the welfare and charitable projects of various NGOs, e.g., Caritas and World Vision, and there was also a Buddhist group present.
It reminded me of an Indian bazaar. I almost expected to find a snake-charmer somewhere, but the only visible snake was an unappealing logo of one on the MSI stand advertising condoms.
MSI demanded that the LifeVote.org.au poster at our Endeavour Forum booth be taken down, but my prompt appeal to the UN secretariat resulted in our being allowed to put it up again.
MSI was probably even more provoked by our posters of babies at various stages of gestation and by our continuously-playing DVD on the link between abortion and breast cancer – especially as our delegates Terri Kelleher and Jenny Stokes did such a good job explaining the issue to our booth visitors.
MSI is making determined efforts to establish itself in East Timor (see News Weekly, August 8, 2009) and by-pass the predominantly Catholic country’s pro-life constitution. But for now it has to content itself with providing contraception and building up a veneer of respectability.
Each NGO was allowed six delegates, plus two young delegates under the age of 24. Our young delegates, Matthew Restall and James Leach of Melbourne, performed their roles well. Matthew emphasised that the care of both mother and father was necessary for the well-being of children, and James said that including “reproductive rights” in the final declaration would alienate half of those at the conference.
When a paediatrician leading a workshop stressed, “We must value every child”, I expressed my hope that she would include in her definition children before birth, as does the preamble of the UN Rights of the Child.
Social scientist Jo Wainer, widow of abortionist Dr Bertram Wainer, struck a discordant note by complaining twice that the Vatican would not accept feminist definitions of gender. It is not UN etiquette to complain about member-states. Wainer also deplored that women’s unpaid work was not valued; but when I said that feminists opposed any recognition of the homemaker’s role, she claimed, “Only 19 per cent of families are traditional families.”
Wainer’s pièce de résistance was a slide which read, “Human beings are a plague” – the battle-cry of the population-control movement. I told the UN secretariat that it was depressing for the cheerful youth delegates to be confronted with such negativity.
Upper house Victorian MP, Peter Kavanagh MLC (Democratic Labor Party, Western Victoria), spoke at Endeavour Forum’s parallel event on “Gendercide: sex-selection abortion and infanticide”. In China and India this has resulted in millions of missing females and serious gender disparity. Our booth had a poster advertising Riwayat, a film produced by neonatologist Dr Sanjay Patole of Perth’s King Edward Memorial Hospital, about female foeticide in India.
In the final conference declaration, the figure quoted for annual maternal mortality worldwide was the medical journal Lancet‘s 342,000 (showing a decline from the 1980s) and not the inflated “over 500,000” which feminists were insisting on at a reproductive rights fund-raiser in Washington DC in June. Statistical honesty is finally prevailing.
The declaration was overwhelmingly supported by nearly all 1,600 delegates, with a handful of “No” votes and a few abstentions.
The UN secretariat appeared determined to keep the Melbourne DPI/NGO conference non-controversial, with little of the pro-life vs. feminist warfare of other conferences – or perhaps it was because of the wholesome nature of most of the 350 NGOs themselves.
It was good to see people from 70 countries, young and mature-age, involved in projects for the achievement of the MDGs on maternal and child health in our region, all agreeing it is unacceptable so many children and adults in developing countries continue to suffer preventable illnesses, disability and premature deaths each year.
Babette Francis is Australian and international co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc., an NGO having special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC).