Gender Benders

Author: Jean Guilfoyle


by Jean Guilfoyle

More than mere "cultural differences" will divide the participants at the Fourth World Women's Conference (FWWC) to be held in Beijing, September 1995. The FWWC, run by a UN Commission, promises to be a battle of unparalleled proportions. U.S. feminists, led by former Congresswoman Bella Abzug and her troops, who have led the high-pressure Women's Caucus at the UN, have been told by Bella that this may be their last chance to achieve their agenda. A tinge of desperation marks their attempts to regain goals which they have already lost at the national level.

Bella's problem is that, internationally, feminists come in varieties other than her own. Many are trying to overcome very real, life-threatening discriminations within their societies. Many are calling for a redefinition of "choice." Many have objected strongly to the use of Third World women for contraceptive testing by First World groups such as the U.S.-funded Population Council, the World Health Organization, and others-an issue which draws only muted muttering from the US-led feminists. Bella and her cronies are also strangely silent on the abusive population policies which victimize women in the country of the UN's choice-China.

No surprise there. The industrialized nations are all toadying to Beijing. With their "eyes on the prize" of China's rich energy resources of coal, oil and natural gas, as well as the cheap labor provided by China's large population, US business and political interests "pursue cooperation." Clinton has again granted China the "Most Favored Nation" trade status. He looks the other way as the Chinese again crackdown on political dissidents. It is more than ironic that against a background of recent major media reports concerning the torture of Chinese women by family planning practitioners, the UN plans to advance an agenda in Beijing for women's "equality, development and peace."

Early skirmishes

As with the Cairo meeting, tensions again dominated the debate at the final preparatory session for the FWWC in New York City. A rancorous dispute on the definition of "gender" broke out at the third preparatory session. The proposed definition of gender as "culturally and socially constructed" was not accepted. Previous UN documents mention gender but none to the extent of the Beijing document, which uses the word 300 times.

Honduran delegate, Marta Casco, with the support of Latin American and African delegates, bracketed the word all through the document-an action which made it disputed language. But in an unprecedented move, the plenary session chairwoman removed the brackets and assigned the debate to a closed session. Led by Benin, several nations rose in opposition to this maneuver, which they saw as endangering the sovereignty of their countries.

A "Contact Group," chaired by Namibia, a delegation known for its radical views, was set up to resolve differences on the definition before the meeting in Beijing. A "consensus" was to be established at the contact group sessions which be accepted by delegates to the Beijing conference. At this time representatives from the industrialized nations, such as the United States, have refused to accept gender defined as "men and women." These are the same delegations which bracketed the word "mother" and the word "human" (in human rights) as terms which needed further discussion. Within the working sessions, mention of "abstinence" or "chastity" led to laughing and open sneers among the delegates.

The latest word from within the contact group (6 June 1995) is that three options were offered relating to "gender" definition:

* generally accepted usage,

* prior accepted usage, and

* social construction of gender roles. When the Guatemalan delegate, Mercedes Wilson, repeatedly insisted on associating gender with the biological difference between men and women, the other delegations finally agreed to drop "social construction of gender roles" rather than continue the debate. In a sense, this was a victory, and yet the result is just a stand-off. The talk of gender in the document remains formally from the language of "men and women."

Why this matters

Bear in mind that UN resolutions, whether or not they have the binding nature of treaties, affirm international "goals and standards," which can be applied within member countries at national and local levels. It is quite possible that such goals and standards could emerge in judicial decisions and government regulations at the community level. Within our schools, which frequently engage in psychological and aptitude testing, vague criteria relating to "gender identity" could have destructive effects on children.

Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Clark, we know your child is registered in school as a boy, but we find that this child exhibits unusual compassion and concern, and fewer aggressive tendencies than the other boys. These tendencies, you see, fall further along the "gender identity scale" toward feminine characteristics. Now, for your child's well-being, we have introduced him to Mr. Gerard, a gay teacher in the social studies department. Mr. Gerard will introduce your child to the life style which is most suitable for him according to his psychological "gender identity" testing.

No, Mr. and Mrs. Clark, it is not possible to object to the school's decision. Here in America, all students have a right to "reproductive health," with or without parental agreement, according to Supreme Court decisions and statutory law!

If this scenario seems preposterous, it may be helpful to recall that one purpose of hormonal contraceptive drugs is to guarantee "androgyny" by restricting our ability to reproduce in the way natural to our biological identity. Dr. Allan C. Carlson, a noted social scientist with the Rockford institute, describes androgyny as "the blending of masculine and feminine traits into a reputedly new human type." He points to contemporary views which see androgynes as blending the "best of masculinity and femininity." If such concepts were to become the accepted standard, it would only be logical to offer children the chance to become "the best."

Genetic manipulation in this interest could also become the wave of the future. It was recently discovered that by transplanting a single gene into male fruit flies, researchers were able to induce homosexual behavior. Environmental influences were also noted to play into the situation. When a group of heterosexual male flies were mixed with a group of genetically altered male flies, the heterosexuals began to behave in similar ways ("Gene transplant in flies...," , 5 June 1995). These are dangerous times to be granting to government legal rights to toy with our children's "gender identity."

Other issues

Two additional initiatives were begun at the third preparatory session, one led by Australia, calling for a "Conference of Commitments" (which remains in brackets) and another calling for a high-level post in the office of the Secretary to focus on "vender matters."

Other major topics addressed in the Draft Document include: The feminization of poverty; unequal access to education; inequalities in access to health and related services (related to sexuality and reproduction); violence against women; advancing peace and reducing the impact of armed conflict on women; inequality in access to economic structures and policies; inequality between men and women in private (family) and public decision-making; and the "human rights" of women.

In spite of the fact that attempts to include abortion as a human right were defeated and attempts to redefine the family apparently failed at the Cairo ICPD, the ICPD has been declared a "win" by the secularists because the final document included concepts of reproductive rights, reproductive health and "unsafe" abortion. Legalized abortion can still be smuggled into the concepts of human rights, violence against women, equality and, of course, reproductive health.


Language redefinition is the name of the game at UN conferences. At the ICPD, "political language," with its masking of controversial issues, its artful omissions of disputed facts, and its aggressive drive toward "consensus," first came into view for many participants. We can expect more of the same in Beijing. A clear indication is the news that closed sessions of delegates will meet the formal Beijing conference in order to remove brackets. Previously, bracketed language has been resolved only through delegates' discussions at the final conference.

In the same vein, a matter which has received less attention than it deserves is the proposed talk of a world "civil community." This talk was accepted in Copenhagen and will carry over to Beijing. The civil community is composed of the UN and its member states in partnership with non-governmental organizations (NGOs). National governments have long used NGOs as a shield to carry out government-funded programs in ways which avoided government accountability and controversy. Search as you may among the characteristics of the UN civil government, you will find no sign of the "people" of the world, nor of representative government. World bureaucrats would choose NGOs to carry out "policy," and the people would have no role but to provides the funds. We have already seen this happen with the IPPF and US funded groups such as the Johns Hopkins University Population Communication Services, etc.

In his poem, , W. H. Auden, familiar with the confrontational pressures for change in the academic world of the 1960s, reminds us that language can also be used to resist demands pressed upon us. He wrote:

The Ogre does what ogres can, Deeds quite impossible for man, But one prize is beyond his reach, The Ogre cannot master speech....

Warned by experiences at previous UN conferences, the people of the world are now better prepared to continue the winning strategy of holding before world leaders the language of the historically rich traditions that are religiously and morally based. Such traditions have what it takes to resist secular revolutions.

Taken from the June/July 1995 issue of "HLI Reports." To subscribe contact: HLI Reports 7845 Airpark Road, Suite E Gaithersburg, MD 20879