Beijing Women’s Conference
One of Rights and Humanity’s major achievements was forging global consensus on controversial issues at the Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, China, in September 1995.
Our President was requested to be the NGO representative on the UK Government’s Delegation. Due to Rights and Humanity’s expertise on women’s health, the Delegation gave Ms Häusermann the responsibility of covering the negotiations on some of the most controversial paragraphs. She found herself negotiating between the Islamic states and the Vatican, on one hand, and members of the European Union (EU) and other Western states on the other.
The controversy resulted from the perceived tension between the rights of adolescent girls to have access to information and health services on sexual and reproductive health and parental rights in this regard. Islamic states, led by Iran, and the Vatican wished parental rights to have precedence, whilst the position of the EU was that there should be no reference to parental rights at all. By the middle of the second week of the Conference, it was clear that the stalemate was threatening a consensus at the conference.
None of the diplomats negotiating on behalf of the EU was an expert in the field of health and their briefing was not helpful saying only “no reference to parental rights” without explaining why. This made it extremely difficult for them to negotiate and other delegates were getting increasingly frustrated at the EU’s inability – or as they saw it unwillingness – to explain its position. Things came to a head when the Vatican published a press release accusing the EU of jettisoning consensus and of seeking to undermine the family and religion.
Request to Rights and Humanity to take a Lead
The EU Ambassadors agreed that our President be given authority to participate in the negotiations, alongside the EU Presidency, to explain the EU position.
Rights and Humanity’s multi-faith and multi-cultural approach enabled our President to understand the position of the Islamic States and the Vatican She proposed a balance between parental consent and children’s rights and prompted consensus by setting the role of parents in the context of the rights of the child. Her proposal, based on Articles 3(1) and 5 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, was that in all situations the interests of the child should have priority.
Ms Häusermann explained that there were sound health and human rights reasons why parental consent should not be a requirement before adolescent girls have access to information and services on sexual and reproductive health. For instance, in countries with a high prevalence of HIV it was essential that girls were fully informed of the risks of sexual transmission so that they could make informed choices and protect themselves. Further, in cases where an adolescent was suffering abuse from a parent, a requirement of parental consent could lead to the denial of care.
As a result of our successful negotiations, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action obliges participating states to permit girls to have access to reproductive health information and services so that they can protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections and exercise their right to health.