U.S. government stays silent relying on Canadian delegation to push radical agenda at women’s conference.

A frustrated African delegate summed up the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing by asking, “Is this conference on women, or is it about population and sex.”

Many other delegates left the conference with the same question. They also left feeling it could have been a lot worse.

Forty-seven countries made reservations on parts of the Beijing document, mostly sections dealing with sexual and reproductive health, adolescent sexuality, abortion and parental rights.

Delegates from pro-life developing countries did manage to delete the terms “sexual rights” and “sexual orientation” from the official text.

Pro-family forces also managed to include at least minimal recognition of the importance of women as mothers, the family as the basic unit of society, the rights of sovereign nations and the importance of religion in women’s lives.

The powerful delegations from Western/Northern Countries, led by an intransigent European Union, made vigorous efforts to remove all references to human dignity; portray marriage and the family negatively as impediments to women’s self-realization; remove all references to religion, morals, ethics; remove any positive references to motherhood and attempt to eliminate all recognition of parental rights and responsibilities with respect to information and services for adolescents on so called “sexual and reproductive health.”

The fiercest battles were fought over language on parental rights, “sexual rights,” “sexual orientations,” “reproductive rights” and national sovereignty. There was relentless attempt to create new abortion and sexual rights. After three days of debate on the term “sexual rights” the following was approved:

The human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.

This ambiguous language  concerning qualified control over sexuality and fertility could be used by lesbians and gender feminists to achieve societal endorsement of abortion and homosexuality.


The global spread of abortion on demand was, of course, key to the conference. One paragraph from the texts asks the governments to “consider reviewing laws containing punitive measures against women who have undergone illegal abortions.”

This was an attempt to have abortion decriminalized by playing on the wish to be compassionate toward women suffering from abortion. If punitive measures for abortion are removed, the next step would be to legalize it. The term “unsafe abortion” was approved in several paragraphs. Paragraph 98 states: “Unsafe abortion threatens the lives of a large number of women,” implying that abortion should be safe and legal.

In their speeches before the Plenary, Sheila Finestone of Canada and Hillary Clinton of the U.S. stated, “Women’s rights are human rights.” This sounds innocuous but one must bear in mind that there is a movement to have things like abortion and “sexual orientation” declared as human rights  which would supersede any national legislation. The Beijing language leads further down this slippery slope.

National Sovereignty

Many delegates were asked why the over national sovereignty was so important. Western delegates such as Canada were trying to remove all references to language stating that each country is free to implement the Beijing document according to its religion, cultural traditions and national laws.

Seen in this context the slogans “Lesbian rights are human rights” and “Women’s rights are human rights” take on a more sinister connotation.

Faced with the onslaught of language promoting abortion and sexual license, pro-family delegations feel they have to resort to national sovereignty to defend universal principles of respect for the right to life, the family, motherhood, marriage, morality and chastity.


Many delegates from developing countries are furious at how the negotiations were conducted – undemocratically and with a decided advantage for English-speaking western countries. Delegates complained that some controversial paragraphs were adopted without an open debate. The chairwoman of the critical health chapter was especially criticized for “selective vision” in recognizing delegations wishing to speak. Pro-life and pro-family delegations were often ignored. Pro-abortion delegates had no trouble being recognized. Gilles Grondin, a retired Canadian diplomat, said he had never seen such biased and undemocratic procedures at the UN in his 35-year career.

As a result, one cannot say there was true consensus on many controversial paragraphs due to the manipulated process.

Some key paragraphs were obviously railroaded with debate cut off early. Some pro-life delegations were simply ignored at critical times while opposing delegations such as the European Union and Canada were recognized at will.

  • At times the pace was simply too fast for many delegates to be able to analyze and react in time.
  • Delegates from non English-speaking countries had no translations serves at informal consultations, where the key negotiations are carried on. Therefore they could not follow or contribute to the discussion.
  • Chairpersons of subcommittees were often from delegations that support anti-family policies. For example, Canada chaired committees on “parental rights” language and on language referring to the need to protect the girl child from conception.
  • New texts were not always available in translation when it was time to approve the texts negotiated in small committees.
  • Negotiations on some key paragraphs were put off until the very end, the last negotiations being completed at 5:00 am of the last day of the conference. This is a well-known strategy for wearing down any opposition.
  • The language in the document, a very specific kind of American jargon, was a barrier to understanding the real meaning. For example some Africans thought that sexual orientation meant sex education. They were shocked to learn it meant homosexuality and lesbianism.


The report of the contact group set up in May to look into the definition of the word “gender” (which appears about 300 times in the text) was adopted with only Guatemala objecting and insisting that it be defined as referring to male and female as the two sexes of the human being.

The contact group said that gender, as used in the Platform for Action, should be accorded its usual and ordinary meaning and should be interpreted as it has been at other conferences. That’s just the trouble. Many suspect that the UN does not always use the word gender in its traditional sense.

This was confirmed by Patricia Licuanan, chairperson of the Main Committee at the Beijing Conference in comments made to a reporter:

“A definition, no matter how good, would just generate more controversy. The point is that it is understood that the term “gender” is a sociological term; it is a UN term; it has been used for the past 30 years; it is in every major document. All we are saying is that we are using it in exactly the same way as it has been used in the past. To attempt a definition, even though we have one, we see, from experience, just causes more problems.”

When pressed for the UN definition Licuanan added: “Again, I don’t want to define it. But basically we want to move beyond the differences based on biological differences – sex. In many ways the differences between men and women are socially defined, and that is what we are talking about. We are not talking about the biological differences…It is the socially constructed roles.”


Another source of resentment among delegates of developing countries was the reluctance of the rich countries to commit any financial assistance for development. One delegate asked “What are we doing here then?”

A flyer distributed by some NGOs suggested that developing countries went along with the preferred wording of Western countries under false understanding that money would be available for the South’s very different priorities such as health and education for women and girls.

A delegate from Guatemala said that there should have been two conferences, one for the countries that want complete sexual license, universal legalized abortion, contraception and abortion “services” for adolescents etc., and another conference for those who respect the family, motherhood, parental rights and the right to life.

Canada’s Role

The Canadian delegation continued to push anti-family agenda contrary to the values of Canadians and contrary to Canada’s own policies.

  • Canada introduced the term “sexual orientation” at the prepatory meeting in March and continued to defend the term in Beijing in spite ok overwhelming objections. The ambassador from Benin pointed out that the conference was not supposed to be about sexual revolution.
  • Canadian delegate Kerry Buck said publicly that Canada was opposed to any reference to language protecting the sovereign right of nations to implement the document according to its national laws, cultural, religious and ethical values. Without this protection, reproductive and sexual rights would supersede religion and national laws.

In reference to a paragraph calling for promotion of “abstinence until marriage,” Canadian delegate Ruth Archibald briefing Canadian NGOs said that the words “until marriage” were not necessary because “it is not necessarily age-related.”

Sheila Finestone in her speech at the Plenary left no doubts as to Canada’s radical positions. She reaffirmed that Canada was committed to the inclusion of “sexual orientation” and committed to reproductive rights as contained in ICPD (Cairo Conference) and would settle for nothing.


The only strongly pro-life delegate on the 39 member Canadian delegation, M.P. Sharon Hayes, was prevented from holding a press conference in the Press Conference Room by Canadian Embassy officials. She was obliged to speak to the media in the corridor where she expressed her displeasure with both the content and process of the conference as well as the fact that Canada’s negotiators do not represent the Canadian public’s values.


Many delegates at the UN conferences were new to the process and to the agenda. In an effort to dialogue with as many delegates as possible Gilles Grondin of Campagne Québec- Vie organized a briefing session sponsored by the NGO Coalition for Women and the Family.

Over three hundred NGOs and delegates attended the very successful event. Presentations were made in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic by members of the NGO Coalition for Women and Family including REAL Women, Focus on the Family, American Life League, Moslem Doctors of Great Britain, the Rockford Institute and Concerned Women of Women of America.