Beijing Plus 10, the follow-up on the momentous 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, is opening at the United Nations as I write, and like other UN gatherings since George W. Bush became President, it offers a great chance to spend time with our new best friends. Egypt! Qatar! the Holy See! You look wonderful! Actually, since I wrote that sentence, Egypt and Qatar have changed their minds and won’t be backing our attempt to insert antiabortion language in the one-page reaffirmation of the platform document. So now it’s just us and the Pope. As with global warming, the world is moving forward without us.
Most likely nothing will come of this attempt to wreck long-settled consensus, unless you count the wasting of thousands of precious delegate hours that could have been spent talking about girls’ education, maternal mortality, HIV and getting more women into government. The United States will have its reservations noted, the document will be approved by almost everyone else in the world and Bush will have once again made our country look ridiculous in order to prove his devotion to his right-wing Christian base. Let’s hope that’s the worst of it, but why oh why does it have to be this way every single time? With our wealth and our fabulous medical and scientific resources, to say nothing of the Bush Administration’s oft-stated commitment to women, we should be attending to every need of the global women’s rights activists gathered here–people like Nigeria’s Bene Madunagu, head of the Girls’ Power Initiative, which fosters sex education at the grassroots level and fights child marriage, and Argentina’s Mabel Bianco, whose NGO, FEIM, educates girls and women about HIV.
Our own delegation, by contrast, is a blush-making collection of hacks and fanatics with no bona fides in women’s rights or international development. Lead delegate Ellen Sauerbrey, ambassador to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, is an antichoice former Maryland state legislator who twice ran unsuccessfully for governor. Chad Bettes is a former spokesperson for Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, currently making headlines for demanding the private medical records of women who’ve had second-trimester abortions. Other delegates include a former chair of the Louisiana Republican Party, a former chief of staff to Representative Tom DeLay, and Janet Parshall, a right-wing Christian broadcaster notable for her claim that Osama bin Laden wanted John Kerry to win and for this scary bon mot: “We must use our spiritual bayonets. We must use the bayonets, for the nation must be taken for the love of God.” Get those things away from me!
Imagine that you were a delegate from the Third World, where one in sixty-one women dies of maternity-related causes, where a host of ills–poverty, violence, illiteracy, corruption, discriminatory laws and customs, reactionary religion–work together against women. What would you think of a global superpower that sent such people to a crucial meeting? “We’re losing an opportunity to have a good discussion about how to move forward on the whole range of problems women face,” Mabel Bianco told me. “All the Americans want to talk about is abortion!”