Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Mary Robinson: “What do celibate men know about the lives, health and the decisions of poor women?"

by Aoife O'Grady

In an interview with Brazilian paper 'O Globo', former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, has criticised the Vatican's stance on the reproductive rights of women, asking the question “What do celibate men know about the lives, health and the decisions of poor women?” Ms. Robinson was referring to the Vatican's alleged influence in the removal of reference to women's reproductive rights from the outcome document at Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development which concluded on Friday.

Ms. Robinson said she feared that religious influences of various kinds, “uninformed of the reality of women's lives” had contributed to the deletion of references to the reproductive rights of women from the text. The references had appeared in earlier drafts but had been opposed by the Holy See. Ms. Robinson added that she was criticised by the church for addressing these topics in the early '70s in Ireland, and was saddened that reproductive rights continue to be an issue today.

Heads of state and government of over 170 countries adopted the outcome document entitled 'The Future We Want'. Generally acknowledged as a 'compromise text', the deletion of references to the reproductive rights of women has been one of the issues that a number of countries, including the hosts Brazil, openly opposed. In her speech on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was applauded for expressing her disappointment at the omission.

“While I am very pleased that this year’s outcome document endorses sexual and reproductive health and universal access to family planning, to reach our goals in sustainable development we also have to ensure women’s reproductive rights", said Clinton. "Women must be empowered to make decisions about whether and when to have children. And the United States will continue to work to ensure that those rights are respected in international agreements.” 

The 49-page document, criticised by NGOs for its soft language and lack of firm commitments, sets out a common vision for sustainable development, focusing on the global shift to a 'green economy'. It introduces the concept of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to complement the Millennium Development Goals, and outlines the need to mobilise financing for sustainable development and promote sustainable consumption and production. In particular, it reaffirms commitments to phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.

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