Let’s Inaugurate Saner, Safer World for Women

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Jane Roberts

(WOMENSENEWS)–President Bush is inaugurated tomorrow and this puts me in the unhappy position of being able to say “I told you so.”

It also makes me worry about the toll that the next four years will take on women around the world if the past four years serve as any guide.

Before George W. Bush was elected in 2000, I wrote to my local newspaper that his election would be an unmitigated disaster for the world’s poorest most vulnerable women. How right I was.

On the first day of his presidency he reinstated the Global Gag Rule which is anti-democratic to the hilt. It says that no U.S. money will go to any nongovernmental organization–or NGO for short–working in the field of reproductive health that furnishes a safe legal abortion in a country where abortion is legal, or lobbies for liberalized abortion laws where there are restrictions.

And it just went downhill for women from there.

In July 2002, the Bush administration refused to release $34 million voted by the Congress for the United Nations Population Fund.

In 140 countries of the world, UNFPA does nothing but help mothers survive childbirth and plan their families the way the great majority of us do. It plays an integral role in United Nations’ efforts to reduce AIDS and educates against harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and early marriage. It is present in refugee camps preventing rape and violence.

But instead of supporting such an effort, the administration makes totally false charges that somehow UNFPA is complicit in what have been coercive practices in China’s population programs.

In September 2003 it began its assault on the Reproductive Health Response in Conflict Consortium.

This is an AIDS-fighting consortium which works primarily in refugee camps and in areas of conflict. It consists of wonderful humanitarian organizations such as CARE, the International Rescue Committee, the American Refugee Committee, the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, John Snow International and Columbia University’s Department of Population and Family Health.

Attack on Marie Stopes

It also includes Marie Stopes International, and the Bush administration said that since Marie Stopes runs humanitarian family planning programs in China, the entire consortium was suspect. “Either kick Marie Stopes out or lose all U.S. funding,” said our compassionate conservative administration. The consortium refused.

For 30 years the Global Health Council has sponsored annual conferences bringing together health professionals from all over the world. It has always been partially funded by the U.S.

But not this year.

Why not? Because the UNFPA’s executive director, Thoraya Obaid, was going to present material on the scourge of early marriage for adolescent girls. The administration also forbade the health professionals under its control from attending the conference.

‘Like Extremists Everywhere’

Listen to the words of Dr. Nils Daulaire, president of the Global Health Council, talking about the Bush administration: “Like extremists everywhere, they wanted to remove any possibility of a moderate middle ground. They wanted to disrupt the civil dialogue required for real understanding, which often results in thoughtful compromise. They wanted to discredit those who champion openness, because fair and thoughtful debate threatens their intention to separate reproductive health out from the rest of the global agenda. We will not be deterred and we will not be gagged.”

In a letter last April to the Boston Globe, which had run an editorial lamenting U.S. policies towards women and reproductive health, Assistant Secretary of State Arthur E. Dewey wrote, “President Bush remains committed to the key Cairo Programme of Action goals of reducing infant, child and maternal mortality and providing universal access to education.”

But what he does not mention is that universal access to knowledge about and affordable access to methods of family planning is also a keystone of the Cairo agenda, which was adopted by 179 countries. He does not mention that in his letter because the Bush administration in several international venues has voted against reaffirming the Cairo agreement because of this latter keystone goal.

No Mention of Emergency Contraception

In our own country the Justice Department in its guidelines about how to treat female victims of rape omitted mentioning emergency contraception, which if given within 72 hours of intercourse prevents pregnancy.

Two and one half years ago, I co-founded 34 Million Friends of UNFPA.

We’re asking one dollar from 34 million Americans who appreciate their doctors in the delivery room and their contraceptive choices.

We’ve saved lives and lessened misery and sent a nice message to the world that we’re not all crazy over here. As Odetta, the legendary blues woman sings for us, “We’re lifting up our voices; it’s time to take a stand, and spread our inspiration all across the land.” (Go to our Web site and listen to her with your own ears.)

So while the Bush administration is spending $40 million in our nation’s capital on Thursday, think about joining our effort to make up for the money it has taken from women who desperately need it.

Send in a dollar. Reach out to the women of the world.

Jane Roberts co-founded the 34 Million Friends of UNFPA along with Lois Abraham.

For more information:

34 Million Friends of UNFPA:
http://www.unfpa.org/support/friends/34million.htm

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