What price designer-label doomsday?: Conference Diary

HANAE MORI, no less, has designed the official headscarf for the UN population conference. You might think that doomsday discussions - over which the Titans of Islam and Catholicism have been raging - are worthy of a more sober approach. The US Vice-President, Al Gore, called it 'one of the most important conferences ever held'.

But at a UN stand in the exhibition hall dedicated to non-governmental organisations (the NGOs are the humanitarian groups which often work under the UN's umbrella) two chic women will 'receive contributions' in return for the Japanese couturier's exclusive design, four different coloured human figures and butterflies on a magenta, blue and white silk scarf. There's a T- shirt to go with it.

'We do not like to use the word 'sell' - we don't 'sell' things here,' a young Japanese woman said reproachfully.

'We believe in giving and receiving. People make voluntary contributions for the scarf. Mori designed it free and what we receive doesn't cover the cost.' What 'voluntary contributions' are delegates expected to make? 'dollars 30 ( pounds 19) for the scarf,' she snapped.' dollars 15 for the T- shirt.'

NOT that Mori's scarves are the only things on sale while the Americans and Europeans agonise over the wording of the conference's final report. One entire floor of the NGO's conference hall has been turned into a giant arts and crafts centre, a souk more sharply priced than Cairo's famous Khan al- Khalili bazaar.

But in this bazaar, silk carpets can be purchased from the Project of Productive Families - manufactured in peasants' homes in the Egyptian province of Minufiya - along with snake and lizard-skin handbags. Perhaps there should be a UN Conference for the Protection of Reptiles.

Keep walking around the conference centre and you'll find Pizza Hut, ice cream parlours, Coke stands and Federal Express, AT & T phone booths and tourist shops offering cheap trips to the Pyramids. The Brazil Association for Mother's and Children's Protection will sell you a patterned towel for pounds 5, the Women's Research Institute a Chinese silk place-mat for pounds 6.

You can buy a Bangladesh women's nightie for pounds 7 from the International Planned Parenthood Federation, a carpet for pounds 8 from the rug recycling centre of the Association for the Protection of the Environment.

Or you can just browse through the population conference bookstall of the American University of Cairo Press which proudly displays the novels of Egyptian Nobel prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz and General Al-Gamassy's 1973 memoir 'The October War', an event which certainly reduced the population, albeit in a rather more violent way than the conference envisages.

All in all, a trade fair to beat them all.

BUT back to the nitty-gritty of the 15,000 delegates, one of whose heaviest burdens is the last, contentious section of paragraph 7.1 of draft report Chapter VII.

Readers anxious to understand their difficulties, not to mention the weird semantics of the United Nations - and the chaos that ensues amid Islamic scholars once the UN's words are translated - should set themselves the following examination.

Question 1: Explain and discuss the following draft UN definition of sexual health: '. . . sexual health is the integration of somatic (sic), emotional, intellectual and social aspects of sexual being, in ways that are positively enriching and that enhance personality, communication and love, and thus the notion of sexual health implies a positive approach to human sexuality, and the purpose of sexual health care should be the enhancement of life and personal relations, and not merely counselling and care related to reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases.'

Question 2: Translate the above into Arabic.

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