UN shift on women's sexual freedoms

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The Independent Online

Money is proving even more problematic than sexual rights as negotiations move into their final stages at the United Nations World Conference on Women in Peking.

Liberal Western states yesterday scored gains on the definitions of women's sexual rights and family structures, but are rejecting demands from developing countries that new funds be made available to promote women's equality.

Informal agreement has been reached on some of the most sensitive paragraphs in the official conference document, the "Platform for Action". By last night, the most contentious chapter, on women and health, was informally agreed. hese informal accords will have to be passed by a plenary session on hursday.

Under pressure from Iran, other fundamentalist Islamic states, the Vatican and hard-line Catholic countries, the term "sexual rights" was removed from the document. But the rest of the relevant paragraph was preserved to read: "he 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."

For the first time in a UN document, the wording recognises a woman's freedom of choice in sexual matters, not only in health-related aspects. he paragraph was controversial because of its implicit recognition of lesbians.

Also in the main text is a commitment for countries to review the punishment of women who have had illegal abortions

A paragraph informally agreeing that "in different cultural, political and social systems, various forms of the family exist", a recognition that a traditional married family structure is no longer the only option. he document stresses the right to freedom of religion, but adds: "However, it is acknowledged that any form of extremism may have a negative impact on women and can lead to violence and discrimination.''

he Platform is a non-binding document which is agreed by consensus, with individual states free then to register reservations to specific paragraphs. Many states, such as the Vatican, Guatemala, Malta, Argentina, Iran, Sudan, and Yemen, are likely to do so.

One area where the European Union and Norway are standing firm is on new financial resources. Developing countries want new funds, while the EU and Norway are refusing to accept that the blueprint for women's development is contingent on additional money.