Letter: No 'feminist card' for the Vatican

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The Independent Online
Sir: Conor Cruise O'Brien's column ('A holy alliance for the feminists', 15 April) asserts that the Vatican has just 'acquired the feminist card' in the negotiations for the up-coming Cairo conference on population and development. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If Mr O'Brien had read news reports from the Preparatory Meeting at the UN, he would have seen other headlines such as 'Women are at war with the Vatican'. What is going on here is not a card game and it is not a war. It is a struggle for the hearts and minds of sensible people who recognise that women must play a critical role in any attempt to assure women's health and to stabilise population growth. An approach that encompasses women's rights, women's reproductive health, and women's equality with men, in the context of development, is the cornerstone of any effort to make progress on these complex and daunting issues.

The Vatican and feminists have nothing in common in the current debate. The Vatican is working aggressively to deprive women of the means that give them control over their health and their reproductive lives: contraception, condoms, safe abortion, and sterilisation. Mr O'Brien links feminists to the Vatican through his false belief that women want to 'divert scarce resources from the task of curbing population growth'. What women really want is for current funds to be spent more wisely and for resources to be expanded so population policies can incorporate a reproductive health and rights approach that will make them more humane and more effective.

World military expenditures stand today at an estimated dollars 600-700bn annually. The international community spends only dollars 5bn on efforts to stabilise population - less than 1 per cent of a clearly overgrown and outdated defence budget. Women's health advocates at this UN conference, and there are hundreds of us here, are saying to the world leaders: get your priorities in order. The lives of our families, our community and our nations are at stake. We are in this together, and there is no quick, cheap fix.

Sincerely yours,



International Women's Health Coalition

New York

19 April