In my article, “Gender diversity battle at UN women’s session” (News Weekly, April 2, 2011), I reported on the 55th session of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 55) held in New York in February/March this year.
My conclusion was that the theme of the conference, “Access and participation of women and girls in education, training and science and technology, including the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work”, was wholesome and the conclusions relatively innocuous, except for its recommendations on sex education which omitted reference to parental rights.
However, I have just received the full report of CSW 55, and was unpleasantly surprised to read that it has a “Section B” I had not heard of before. It consists of a “Draft Resolution for adoption by the Economic and Social Council” of the UN (ECOSOC), which deplores the plight of Palestinian people in the “Occupied Territories” and calls on the “Occupying Power”, i.e., Israel, to redress the situation.
What this has to do with the theme of CSW 55, which is the education of girls, is anybody’s guess. However, I have found that in dealing with the Left — and the UN is very much to the Left of the political spectrum — one has to suspend logical ways of thinking. (You know, like explicit sex education will advance girls’ training in science and technology…).
Now, apparently, the obliteration of Israel is going to advance women’s achievements in education.
The perennial canard that “Zionism is a form of racism” has been raised at several UN World Conferences on Women; but this is the first time, to my knowledge, that it has surfaced at the Commission on the Status of Women meetings. Perhaps this is because of the current plan by Palestinians to seek this September a unilateral declaration of statehood through the UN. (This declaration is likely to be vetoed by the U.S. at the Security Council).
Halfway through the United Nations Decade for Women (1976-1985), at the 1980 UN Women’s Conference in Copenhagen, the U.S. and Australia declined to sign the final “Program of Action” because of the Zionism-equals-racism paragraph.
In 1985, at the UN Women’s Conference in Nairobi, which marked the conclusion of the UN Decade for Women, there were similar attempts to incorporate a “Zionism equals racism” resolution; but through the efforts of U.S. Ambassador Alan Keyes, the resolution was modified so that the U.S., Australia and other democracies could adopt the “Plan of Action”.
Hostility to Israel is part of the ethos of the Left. “Section B” of the CSW 55 report reads like a press release from Greens mayor, Fiona Byrne, of the Marrickville Council, NSW. It stops short of calling for a boycott, but the flavour is similar. Here are just two paragraphs of many:
• “Expressing deep concern about the grave situation of Palestinian women in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, resulting from the severe impact of the ongoing illegal Israeli occupation and all of its manifestations….”
• “Reaffirms that the Israeli occupation remains the major obstacle for Palestinian women with regard to their advancement, self-reliance and integration in the development of their society….”
On March 4, Iran, fresh from hanging a Dutch-Iranian woman as part of its execution binge, was voted a member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Two weeks later, the CSW 55 draft resolution condemning Israel was adopted.
Ironically, it was adopted on the day that Jews around the world fast to commemorate a historic Jewish queen, Esther (Hadass), who bravely saved her people from a slaughter approved by her husband, the Persian (Iran’s historic name) King Ahasuerus (known to the ancient Greeks as Xerxes I).
Iranian women’s rights advocates were appalled when Iran was given membership of the UN’s top women’s rights body, because Iran’s civil and criminal codes contain provisions which grossly discriminate against women, e.g:
Article 1005 states that “the position of head of the family is the exclusive right of the husband”.
Article 1108 states: “If the wife refuses to fulfil duties of a wife without legitimate excuse, she will not be entitled to the cost of maintenance.” Maintenance is defined as food, clothing, a dwelling and furniture.
Article 1133/4 states: “A man can divorce his wife whenever he wishes to do so.”
The plight of women in Arab countries is arguably worse, e.g., with the practice of honour killings; but Israel, a democracy and the one country in the Middle East where women, both Jewish and Arab, have equal rights with men, is the only one singled out by CSW 55 for condemnation.
By contrast, the lack of access of girls to basic education — let alone advances in science and technology — in Taliban-dominated areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan seems not to have caught the attention of CSW 55.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian claim for statehood would have more credibility if Hamas were to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and not keep reiterating its ambition of wanting to drive every last Israeli into the sea.
Babette Francis is Australian and international coordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc., an NGO having special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC).