Holy See on Redefining "Gender"

“This Agenda … Calls Into Question the Very Foundation of the Human Rights System”

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NEW YORK, MARCH 18, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address given Monday by Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, at the 55th session of UNESCO’s Commission on the Status of Women.

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Mr. Chairman,

The Holy See strongly affirms the need to respect the inherent dignity and worth of all women and girls, which are fundamental to their authentic advancement.

It is noteworthy that the Charter of the United Nations, in preambular paragraph 2, calls for the “equality between women and men,” a call that is repeated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in preambular paragraph 5. The UDHR also prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex (Art. 2). This recognition is essential to the future of the human race and all its members.  In addition, the UDHR acknowledges the equal rights of a man and a woman to marry and found a family, the natural and fundamental unit of society (Art. 16). This recognition is essential to the future of the human race and all its members. The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex (Art. 2), recognizes “the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights” (Art. 3) and repeats the language found in art. 16 of the UDHR (Art. 23). The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women continues along these lines (Art. 1).

As the Conclusions refer to the term “gender”, my delegation wishes to recall that, since the early 1990s it was gradually introduced into non-binding documents negotiated by State Parties, and has been commonly used to refer to the two sexes, male and female. In treaty law, the only definition of “gender” which binds State Parties is that contained in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which states that “the term ‘gender’ refers to the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society. The term ‘gender’ does not indicate any meaning different” from the aforementioned definition (Art. 7.3). 

It is worth remembering that during the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, a different and radical understanding of gender had been circulated during informal discussions, but was rejected. Moreover, the President of the Fourth World Conference on Women, on the recommendation of a large body of Member States, explicitly stated at that Conference that “the word ‘gender’ had been commonly used and understood in its ordinary, generally accepted usage.” That is, gender refers to “male” and “female”-the generally and historically accepted usage. This statement also emphasized that no “new meaning or connotation of the term, different from accepted prior usage,” had been intended (cf. Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women Beijing, 4-15 September 1995, Statement by the President of the Conference on the commonly understood meaning of the term “gender”, 2-3, A/CONF.177/20/Rev.1). It is noteworthy that, at that time, the Holy See consistently reaffirmed its understanding of gender, and does so again today.

Unfortunately during the negotiations of the present text, some delegations attempted to advance once again, through the vehicle of “gender studies,” a radical definition of “gender,” which asserts that sexual identity can somehow be adapted indefinitely to suit new and different purposes, not recognized in international law. In response, in the present text, a new preambular paragraph was adopted with a view to eliminating doubts about the promotion of a new definition of “gender”. Such an agenda has no place in any document sponsored by the United Nations, let alone one concerning women and girls. Rightly, during negotiations many delegations reaffirmed the use of “gender” as referring to “women and men,” or male and female, according to its ordinarily agreed usage before, during and after negotiation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

The attempt to re-define gender is also linked to the missing reference to the UDHR, in the present text. The UDHR, the foundational document of the human rights system, acknowledges the inherent dignity and worth of every human person, male and female. Yet some of those promoting a re-definition of gender opposed reference to the UDHR in the face of overwhelming support for its inclusion, and equally opposed reference to “the inherent dignity and worth of women and men,” a bedrock principle of the human rights system. In light of these trends, the international community should be aware that this agenda to re-define “gender,” in turn, calls into question the very foundation of the human rights system.  

In addition, this radical approach is also connected to the missing reference to the “rights” of parents, in particular, their right to choose the education for their children, including education about authentic human love, marriage, and the family. The rights of parents are specified in the UDHR, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Several attempts to include parental rights’ language to stand alongside the term parental responsibilities were rebuffed. This is a grave matter, when one considers that parental rights and duties are firmly rooted in international law, and that parental rights are correlative with duties, the former being necessary to carry out the latter (cf. UDHR, art. 26.3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 18; Convention on the Rights of the Child, arts. 3.2, 5, 14.2). 

In closing, my delegation takes the opportunity to reaffirm all of the Holy See’s reservations on past occasions with regard to the meaning of the term “sexual and reproductive health,” which should not include abortion or abortion services. Moreover, the Holy See in no way endorses contraception or the use of condoms, either as a family planning measure or as part of HIV/AIDS prevention programmes or classes/programmes of education in sexuality. The Holy See – as well as many women in the world – is convinced that the true advancement of women is strongly linked to the recognition and the effective implementation of their rights, dignity and responsibilities. Women and men are both called to welcome, protect and foster these, for a renewed commitment towards humanity.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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