Towards Preserving the Universality of Human Rights
Marguerite A. Peeters
The gender agenda divorces the human person from himself or from herself, from his or her body and anthropological structure
The following are excerpts of the intervention given in Geneva, at the Palais des Nations, on 9 March , at the parallel event organized by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See on the treatment of terms such as "gender" and "sex" and more recent formulations such as "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" in ordinary discourse and in the context of UN documents.
The culture that we live in integrates the positive fruits of a historical process marked by decolonization, a powerful movement that granted women a status in society that they had never attained before, the collapse of Marxism-Leninism. At a time of accelerating globalization, it seems to celebrate, perhaps more than any previous culture, the equality of all human beings. Our generation also has the opportunity to discover and wonder at the fascinating diversity of peoples and cultures and their specific and irreplaceable contribution to humanity.
We see a danger, however, in a process we may qualify as top-down globalism which, under the guise of bottom-up participation, equal rights and non discrimination, uses the channels of global governance to try and engineer global assent to special interests by way of a manipulative use of language in the consensus-building process.
We can't negate the existence of a cultural, political and juridical combat taking place in these very fora over "gender identity", "sexual orientation", the core content of rights and the meaning of universality. Language is a critical factor.
Let us examine the history of the term gender in the UN discourse. The term gender entered the language of internationally negotiated texts through the non-binding consensus documents of the UN conference process of the 1990s. It achieved a decisive breakthrough at the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, of which the gender perspective is the core and gender equality the primary objective. Following Beijing, the UN Secretariat immediately led an efficient gender mainstreaming exercise throughout the UN system and gender equality was quickly identified as a cross-cutting priority of global governance, to the point of turning into a practical conditionality for receiving development assistance.
The use of the term gender and of its numerous derivative expressions breaks with the language of legally binding instruments prior to the 1990s. Human rights treaties refer to "men and women", or to "spouses", "parents", "mothers" or "husband" and "wife" when addressing the equality of all human beings (in dignity or in rights), or issues relating to family, marriage and the education of children. They refer to "sex" when addressing non discrimination. Hence for instance the 1945 UN Charter affirms faith in the "equal rights of men and women" (preamble/2), as does the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR preamble/5), the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR art 3), the 1966
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR art 3) and the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW preamble). The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child refers to the "equality of sexes" (CRC art 29).
The International Bill of Rights also recognizes the family (in the singular - not "families") as the natural and fundamental group unit of society, entitled to protection by society and the State (UDHR art 16/3, ICCPR art 23, ICESCR art 10), based on marriage between a man and a woman (UDHR art 16/1) and entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses, unequivocally understood in the context of these documents to mean a husband and a wife, a man and a woman (UDHR art 16/2, ICCPR art 23/3). It affirms the inherent — inherent meaning belonging to their given nature — dignity of all members of the human family.
The inherent dignity of the human person, its sexual differentiation as man and woman, their equality in dignity, marriage as a union between a man and a woman, procreation and motherhood, the family as the natural and fundamental group unit of society, the right of parents to choose the education that shall be given to their children (UDHR art 26/3), the spousal identity of the human being are universal, interrelated, inalienable, indissoluble realities. The language of human rights treaties names these realities as they are — such is indeed the function of language. The UDHR does not cast doubt on their interdependence, nor on the ontological unity of men and women, of which the biological identity is but one component. The UDHR does nothing more than declare what all women and men, "endowed with reason and conscience" (UDHR art can freely and universally recognize as true and good. Indeed the function of law is not to construct reality and truth, but to declare what is right. If such were not the case, the law and universality would be arbitrary impositions.
The traditional meaning of gender refers to the grammatical categories of "masculine", "feminine" and "neuter" in ancient and modern languages. But human and social scientists belonging to the western postmodern intelligentsia have developed a very different meaning since the mid-1950s. Feeding both on radical feminism and the homosexual movement, which both strove to attain equality exclusively in terms of social power, they distinguished gender from sex, restricting sex to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women, and using gender in reference to what they considered to be the socially constructed roles that a given society would consider proper for men and women. In practice they treated motherhood, the family as founded on marriage between a man and a woman, male and female complementarity, the spousal identity of the human person, femininity and masculinity, heterosexuality as social constructions or stereotype that would be contrary to equality, discriminatory, and therefore to be culturally deconstructed. At the end of this revolutionary process, the male and female body itself was viewed as socially constructed. The gender agenda divorces the human person from himself or from herself, so to speak — from his or her body and anthropological structure. It is clear that so radically redefined, gender is a purely intellectual construct, hardly to be grasped by nonwestern cultures.
Nothing could not be more contrary to the spirit of the UDHR. As the gender revolution is a process deconstructing the universal realities mentioned in the UDHR, it is no wonder that the language naming these realities has tended to disappear from that of global governance since it identified itself with the gender agenda. A new semantic package took over, of which gender is but one component: reproductive and sexual health and rights (instead of procreation), the family under all its forms, or various forms of the family, or families (intentionally vague to include "all possible choices", instead of the family), safe abortion, freedom of choice, stereotypes (instead of complementarity), social constructs, equal partners (instead of spouses), forced pregnancy, to name only a few. Ambivalence is the common feature of the new language, which is not clearly defined because it does not name realities but ideological constructs.
Ambivalence did not bring about peaceful relations between member states and the UN, between western and non-western cultures, between secular and religious people, between silent majorities and participatory minority lobbies. Rather than expressing a genuine consensus it proved to be divisive.
In spite of its massive preponderance in the document and its relative newness in UN terminology, gender is not defined in the Beijing Platform for Action. The promoters of its agenda — both non-governmental and governmental, who had been successful at integrating it in the document, strategically avoided to define the term so as to advance by stealth and incrementally. Fuzziness created a political no-man's-land. Many tended to interpret gender in its traditional grammatical meaning. Others, aware of the hidden agenda, sought to combat or contain it. The malaise was perceptible.
The only intergovernmentally agreed and legally binding definition of gender is provided in the 1998 Statute of the International Criminal Court in its art 7/3. This definition is the following: "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 above". Hence, as things now stand, there is no legal — nor any political, and even less moral — obligation to conform to the western ideological interpretation of gender. When special interests agendas turn into policies and law, they participate in the civic education function of law and government and thereby in the creation of a culture that clashes with the aspirations of all human beings to a genuine consensus.
Following Beijing, the hidden agenda started coming out. UN bodies, produced various "definitions" of gender, so as to ideologically frame the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. These so-called "definitions" are lengthy and fuzzy. They keep on changing and do not allow anyone to have a clear view of the core content of the gender concept. Yet they are formulated in such a way as to allow for an interpretation that would be inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity — categories which find no clear and agreed definition in international law.
The current definition of UN Women, in its reference not only to "relationships between women and men" but also specifically to "relations between women" and to those "between men", eloquently illustrates this bias: "Gender refers to the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as the relations between women and those between men. These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialization processes. They are context/time-specific and changeable. Gender determines what is expected, allowed and valued in a woman or a man in a given context. In most societies there are differences and inequalities between women and men in responsibilities assigned, activities undertaken, access to and control over resources, as well as decision-making opportunities. Gender is part of the broader socio-cultural context. Other important criteria for socio-cultural analysis include class, race, poverty level, ethnic group and age".
Awareness is globally growing, especially in the developing world, of the real, non consensual content of the gender agenda at a time when it decisively moves from its feminist interpretation to its homosexual interpretation, under the leadership of powerfully financed lobbies, the support of the UN, the consent — and at times indeed the leadership — of some governments.
The UDHR is the object of a genuine consensus because it articulates what can universally be recognized as true about the human person, marriage and the family. Some now seek to impose a radically different interpretation of universality, as meaning inclusive of all lifestyles and ideological choices, no matter how contradictory. Instrumentalized to advance non consensual interests, the principle of universality then turns against the UDHR, into an arbitrary Diktat that is at once intellectually incoherent, socially conflictual and politically unsustainable. There can be no coercion of conscience in a genuine consensus, by nature freely and sincerely joined.
To be able to discern freely is a fundamental right of every human person. This right is universal; it connects to the freedom of the person, to his or her right to freedom of conscience, and therefore also to our topic. The act of discernment awakens us to act as free persons. There is always a choice to make, for or against what is discerned to be good and is therefore universal. But the trend today is to look at oneself as a victim when in fact, one is just being passive and fails to discern. To believe one is a victim amounts to be put in the dependence of an ideology, a system.
The new politics seem to grant disproportionate power to lobbies promoting socially divisive agendas when it should be on the side of the good of the people and on the side of the family as basic unit of society. Such politics lack checks and balances. But globalpower-grab does not alter the reality of people's universal aspirations. Our hope is that in time, reality will prevail. The cultural resistance of many Southern governments to some of the agendas we briefly spoke about cannot be brushed aside by mere fiat. These governments are equal member states of the UN. The more their right to self-determination will be trampled upon, the more likely they are, sooner or later, to claim it back, if they have the courage to discern.
What today's cultural combat puts at stake is the emergence of the new, authentically people-centred civilization we spoke about at the beginning of this intervention. The task at hand for our times is to correct the mistakes of the past and build consensus, in a bottom-up, participatory manner, involving non-western cultures, on what is genuinely universal, thereby reconciling, so to speak, the consensual with the universal. The western modern synthesis missed critical ingredients for achieving such a goal. It excluded the father, truth, love, happiness, the heart, God — words that are conspicuously absent from human rights treaties.
But today's cultural celebration of equality invites us to restore love in its proper place in society. A man who loves his wife or his child does not think of himself as superior. Westerners who love Africans as brothers are eager to learn from them, from their richness in humanity, from their cultures. It is not only nor primarily because we are citizens that we are equal, but because we are human persons. We are not only equal in rights. Love makes us equal.
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