George W. Bush doesn’t mind it when the U.N. provides prenatal medical care to poor Vietnamese women. Education to prevent female genital mutilation in Uganda doesn’t bother him either. He might even donate U.S. dollars to help rural women in Botswana secure contraceptives to limit their family size.
But start talking about pussy power and Bush is out the door.
Earlier this month, Bush refused to endorse the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the U.N. program designed to ensure reproductive health care, except abortions or abortion counseling, to poor women around the world. Bush also refused to spend $70 million approved by Congress for the ICPD and lobbied other countries to withdraw their support as well.
What exactly is Bush’s problem? Abortion isn’t part of the ICPD plan of action, abating his Jesus freak contingent. Lesbians and marrying have nothing to do with it. Even international Christian non-profits have been contracted to promote the ICPD’s health and safety goals.
The problem is a tangle of ideological semantics, rather than what U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Kelly Ryan calls, “the ICPD goals and objectives,” that Bush supports. In an explanation to the ICPD for Bush’s lack of support, Ryan wrote that, “the ICPD mission statement includes the concept of ‘sexual rights,’ a term that has no agreed definition in the international community.”
The ICPD’s interpretation of sexual rights has been crystal clear during its ten years of existence. The group is governed by a policy of sovereignty that sponsors local efforts to establish universal access to family planning services, primary and secondary education that closes the gender gap and medical care that reduces maternal and infant mortality.
In November, 2000, ICPD distributed emergency home delivery kits to pregnant women in East Timor where virtually every medical facility had been damaged or destroyed by widespread conflict.
The 2003, organizers launched a campaign to prevent and treat fistula, a condition caused by several days of obstructed labor that leaves women permanently incontinent.
In Mali, the group sponsored an extensive study into what prevents rural girls from participating in school.
That is that nature of the ICPD’s interest in sexual rights.
But by Bush’s standards, a simple reference to sexual empowerment is enough to walk away from an international effort to improve women’s lives.
The decision came as no surprise. In January of 2001, Bush’s very first act in office was to cut all funding for international NGO’s that provide abortion counseling. Soon after he closed the Labor Department Women’s Bureau and the White House Office of Women’s Initiatives and Outreach.
What ‘sexual rights’ did Bush disapprove of when he was de-funding the above policy initiatives? Women’s rights to equal pay? Outreach to lower income mothers?
Bush’s ICPD decision opens the door for delegitimizing any efforts to improve women’s health and life by shaming them as negatively sexual.
The same logic implies that “sexual rights” would disrupt the social values of religious conservatives. Alabama’s rule against selling vibrators would soon be overturned, instructions on lesbian sex would be emailed to every young Christian flower and sex workers could romp topless through the streets of Nebraska.
While any of the above might be a healthy step for the U.S., in terms of the ICPD they are nothing more than the paranoid fantasies of a right wing patriarch.