Gender-Based Violence and Religion: An Intersectional Perspective
On March 7, 2013, I facilitated a workshop on “Gender-Based Violence and Religion: An Intersectional Perspective” at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW). The panel included speakers from the Center on Constitutional Rights, the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and CONNECT NYC. Here follow my own remarks.
On the occasion of the 57th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with the theme of ending violence against women, it seemed right that the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a long-time interfaith peace and nonviolence non-govermental organization, should convene a panel on religious gender-based violence.
The idea for this workshop came after hearing Family Watch International’s Sharon Slater at the last CSW say that United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon traveled to Malawi as part of a group trading in body parts. Family Watch places family rights over the rights of the individual, aligning U.S. Christian fundamentalists with the agenda of the human dignity platform of other countries.
At the event, Slater spoke to a Nigerian delegate, responding to his question on the criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people (a question related to sexual orientation and gender identity) that expressed his desire to imprison LGBT and make their lives illegal in Nigeria. Slater said, “What you do to homosexuals within your sovereign borders is up to you.”
In another workshop, there was a PowerPoint that said that Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood Federation, and Mary Calderone, of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) — both early women’s reproductive rights advocates — were pedophiles. A pediatrician from Beirut and a woman from the Sudan stood up in the audience and asked questions, taking the slideshow to heart. I thought: This is the United Nations?
Then came a statement that women who seek birth control, contraception, or to terminate their pregnancy — even in the case of incest, rape, or violence in war — are murderers. It stated that Comprehensive Sexual Education, as conceived by International Planned Parenthood and Population Council, is perverse and sexualizes children.
Then the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), the Holy See’s (Vatican’s) think-tank at the U.N.— whose leadership includes an evangelical Christian, a Southern Baptist woman, who is past president of Concerned Women for America — published a statement saying feminists are responsible for the death of millions of children. Recently they published a statement rejecting human rights for all, as laid out by the U.N., saying, “Sexual orientation is not a human right.”
Yesterday, the exact wording in their weekly statement was to call the 6,000 delegates here at the 57th CSW “radical feminists,” which could be amusing if they had not then said they were going to “beat us back.” For the official NGO representative of the all-male Vatican to publish at a world conference to end violence against women that they are going to “beat us back” should be formally censored by the United Nations.
While this workshop will not demonize those we discuss in the same way they do us, it does call for the abusive and violence-inciting religious discourse at the United Nations to stop.
What joins the fundamentalists in their cause, and brings them together across secularly warring divides, is their genocidal position on women because of their sexual orientation and gender identities, as well as their mission to control women’s lives and bodies, denying hard-won human rights and freedoms.
Today, you see scrolling behind me on the screen some of the main Christian fundamentalist organization’s web sites. [Ed.: See links below.] Their attack is directed at the human rights framework of the United Nations. It is also an attack on women. Their gender-violent language violates the norms and principles of the U.N. institution, yet they continue.
Some of the fundamentalist organizations lobbying at the U.N. include Family Watch International, C-FAM, United Families International, Human Life International, Endeavor Forum, World Congress of Families, Priests for Life, Anglican Mainstream, the Christian Embassy, and Focus on the Family, among others. They are well known for their expert and highly-organized lobbying against sexual reproductive and health rights. The Vatican’s C-FAM is against all forms of reproductive rights and they have stated they would remove all references [to reproductive rights] from the conclusions of the CSW.
Their platform is anti-abortion, anti-comprehensive sex education, anti-contraception, no right to life for LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intergender) people, and mandatory marriage for women. The Vatican deleted “intimate partner violence” the first morning of negotiations here. They see sex education and HIV prevention usurping the role of parents; LGBTI people are commonly described as destroying the family.
What evidently makes it difficult for U.N. representatives to address the violence of the religious fundamentalist discourse is, as one U.N. ambassador said, because “They do such good work on the ground.”
They do such good work that their hate speech and demonization of others is accepted. They do such good work that women’s rights, children’s rights, and the rights of those with a nonconforming sexual orientation and gender identity don’t matter.
At the United Nations, the Holy See — the Vatican — a 1,000-member all-male religious institution — is treated as a country and given permanent observer near-member status. Through the Holy See, voices of the fundamentalist movement are conveyed. The Holy See is ground zero, with conservative states bandwagoning.
Fundamentalists are focused on tearing down individual rights and freedoms and replacing them with religious beliefs as universal norms. The U.N. system is permitting this and needs to be challenged on its insistence on so-called free speech and religious freedom.
Religious freedom is not genocidal messaging directed at a global minority saying they have no right to be who they are. This is persecution.
The U.N.’s denial of this norm violation and the U.N.’s own principles create a mandate to begin a formal dispute resolution process within the U.N. system.
This discourse of hate by one group for another incites violence, and of all places, this can no longer be accepted at or by the United Nations.
The U.N. must take credible action to protect the rights to exist of women whose sexual orientation and gender identity (LGBTI persons) cause them to face criminalization and persecution. Religious organizations that engage in the language of homophobia and hate at the U.N. should lose their consultative status.
It is difficult to estimate the numbers of organizations involved in this religious violence at the U.N., but the work to map these organizations has begun. Just as human rights abuses at the level of special representatives are monitored, we should monitor the language of persecution as a rights violation as well.
Paying attention during this CSW to the language — and monitoring any divisive, offensive, or violent language which violates the principles of civility of the United Nations — should take place. Respect for each other is inviolable and stands at the center of the U.N. institution.
The Rev. Patricia Ackerman is an accredited U.N. representative for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) and the U.S. Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR-USA).