In a few weeks, the Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development along with other partners such as the IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Federation) and UNFPA will host the Family Planning Summit in London. The goal is to raise funds for family planning for people around the world.
The Guardian is hosting a section on its website called Global Development which is actually funded by none other than the Gates Foundation. They are asking for comments about family planning before they discuss the issue in June’s Global development podcast. Most of the comments so far have been in support of the Summit’s goals. It would be great to see some diversity among the comments. Let’s rally the troops and set the record straight about the consequences of funding groups like IPPF and UNFPA.
Here’s the link to the Guardian’s article.
“Many times when we work with women’s issues, we don’t really think of children’s issues.” This comment was made by a woman who does political work for children in Kenya.
After the UN parallel event titled “Movement Building for Political Power: Experiences of Kenyan Women Based on the Sex Boycott,” during which this woman spoke, I had the opportunity to converse with her for a few minutes. What I discovered from that conversation opened my eyes to the way that many countries view their relationship with the United Nations and the goals that it promotes.
Kenya recently adopted a new constitution-one which contains many provisions for gender equality. How did women obtain this victory? Well, they boycotted sex. In 2009, women’s organizations in Kenya called for a sex boycott for seven days until the government agreed to undertake reforms that would benefit women.
One new provision of the Kenyan Constitution stipulates that courts “can invoke CEDAW” and “draw on comments of the committee.”
Pause. Let’s look at what this means. Wouldn’t this mean that in Kenya laws can now be made that are based on comments made in meetings by a committee (CEDAW) which neither is elected, nor has the authority to interpret treaties “in ways that create new state obligations?” This provision rightly raises some questions.
Not only is the provision itself questionable, but it also creates the potential for conflict with other articles of Kenya’s constitution. Kenya currently does not allow abortion, except in cases where a certified doctor believes an abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother. However, CEDAW has defined what it labels “sexual and reproductive rights” include the right to abortion.
Speaking to the woman from Kenya, I raised a question regarding the contradiction between Kenya’s current laws and the definitions of what CEDAW argues are certain “rights,” asking how this tension might play out in the Kenya’s laws and policies.
What the woman responded made clear that she sees the acceptance of CEDAW as an opening to work for better recognition of the rights of women within Kenya, but it does not necessarily mean that all that CEDAW stands for is supported by the people of Kenya. She stated that people in Kenya “don’t want a right to abortion.” They “don’t really care about ‘reproductive rights.’” The woman stated that in “taking this direction we show that we see international law in this way, but this is the direction we want to take it.”
After this conversation, I realized that while countries may take some direction from UN resolutions which promote certain principles such as those espoused by the movement for women’s rights, they do not necessarily think that the UN is correct in dictating how these principles should be defined in individual countries. I also realized that there are many people and countries that in fact disagree with the UN’s definitions of certain “rights” and in fact do not want those things, such as the “right to abortion” and “reproductive rights,” even among those countries that have ratified CEDAW.
Still, countries must beware that they do not place themselves in a position in which they may be manipulated into accepting such definitions and interpretations. They must be careful in their ratification of resolutions that contain things with which they disagree, for their endorsement of such resolutions may open the door to later pressures to commit to the specific interpretations made by those who created the resolution itself.
The day began with a side event sponsored by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). The topic was “Women’s Burden of Unsafe Abortion: Implications for Nigeria’s Development” and I really did not know what to expect. Abortion is illegal in Nigeria unless the health of the mother is at stake.
The discussion began with the claim that no woman should have to risk her life or the well-being of her family because of a lack of reproductive rights. The event proceeded in an expected manner. Claims such as each woman should be able to “manage her fertility” were heard. There were laments about a woman’s lack of self-determination in the area of reproduction and complaints about the lack of privacy rights for women.
I found this very interesting. The group’s legal practitioner, originally from Lagos, began by stating that it is accepted by law that abortion relates to privacy and that women have “a right to reproduction by God.” She stated that “every expansion of government limits privacy” and “every expansion of privacy limits the government.” Since the definition of privacy changes from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, she used the United State’s Supreme Court definition because it was proposed by “civilized men.” “The people of America have a right to be left alone,” she stated. And so, she claimed, women have a national and international right to abortion.
Not only is this a false claim, but it really contrasted with what the next speaker advocated. I will mention that between both speakers there was a 15 minute graphic documentary which deserves its own blogpost. But the recommendations that the next speaker suggested for her government really stood out to me.
She asks her government to:
1. subsidize contraception
2. Aid coupes in choosing the contraceptive measure that is best suited for them and teach them to use it effectively.
3. Improve sexual and reproductive health with abortion
4.Provide the supplies necessary
5. Train nurses for contraceptive services. This last one she extended to age appropriate “family life education” in schools.
Why is this interesting? One does not have to look very carefully at these recommendations to realize that all of them represent an expansion of the role of the government. Government subsidized contraception! The government taking the role of the parents by providing “family life education in schools!” These measures are not expansions of privacy that limit the government, but entanglements of government with the privacy of individuals and families.
It was interesting that the same group that excused abortion as a means to restrict the government’s sphere of influence in private life also advocates for the expansion of the role of the government.