Beating the Backlash

A U.S. Negotiator Details the Fight to Expand Feminist Gains at the UN’s Special Session on Women

South Africa, with their new constitution, decided to be sure there was a critical mass of women in the parliament; now it's 30 percent. And in the U.K., the Labour Party decided they would make sure that women are slated in elections. Now they have 121 women in the parliament—an enormous jump forward.

At Beijing+5, some critics accused the U.S. of "sexual colonialism," of imposing its values on other countries. What do you think the U.S.'s role should be in addressing sexual atrocities outside its borders? Human rights are universal. A woman living in a country [with] a government which has different ideas still has human rights. That is a bottom line for the whole world. What the United States is doing—in partnership with countries around the world and with the NGO community—is to work on a set of these issues as human rights issues.

A good example might be in Kuwait. Since the Gulf War, the women's community there—[with] a very high level of support from the American community and led by the emir—has been trying to get women the right to vote and to hold office. The people who are opposed made the argument that this was the imposition of Western values, that [the] culture will fall apart if women have political participation. Those are old arguments, and we've heard them all the way along. We've heard them in our own country when women got the right to vote.

illustration by Christopher Ryniiak

Will there be a Fifth World Conference for Women in 2005? There is a plan for having a review again in five years, [but] there is no plan for a fifth world conference. To tell you the truth, there were a lot more high-level government officials in New York in the review process than in Beijing. I was impressed by how many top-level foreign ministers and deputy prime ministers were at this conference. [Women's rights] have moved into the mainstream of government foreign policy and we have to be sure to keep it there.


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Worldwide Women by Jennifer Gonnerman
Beijing+5 Looks at the Global State of Women’s Rights

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