Delegates from the U.S. and other countries to this week's UN conference on women are concerned that Muslim countries and the Vatican are working to undermine efforts to promote birth control and legalized abortion.
The delegates say the Vatican and Muslim countries like Algeria, Iran, Libya, Pakistan and Sudan are working together to block references in the conference's final document to so-called "reproductive and sexual rights for women," adolescent sex education, and "nontraditional families"-a code phrase for homosexuality.
Muslim countries and the Vatican opposed similar initiatives at a 1995 UN conference on women in Beijing. The final document of that conference said that women have the right to decide freely on all matters related to their sexuality and childbearing.
Naimah Al-Shaiji of Kuwait and Huda Badran of Egypt, regional coordinators for non-governmental women agencies in Arab countries, told Kuwait News Agency that all Arab and Muslim delegations taking part in the conference will strongly oppose any proposals which legitimize the idea of relations between men and women outside of marriage.
Al-Shaiji said Kuwait's official position is to refuse any kind of international legislation that contradicts the principles of Islam. That position was reiterated by Abdullah Al-Obaid, Secretary General of the Muslim World League.
Efforts to oppose universal acceptance of abortion and homosexuality were scorned by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson during the opening ceremony of a the conference on Monday. "The whole platform of action" arrived at in Beijing "must not only be maintained but must be reinvigorated and given practical impetus around the world," said Robinson.
Geraldine Fraser-Mileketi, South Africa's minister for public service, also criticized Islamic countries27 opposition.
"Should the debate on sexual and reproductive rights not be approached from the point of view of choice, one that looks to protecting rights and providing services to all women and girls?" Fraser-Mileketi told the conference participants. "This requires us to have the courage to move beyond the narrow interpretation of sexual and reproductive rights, and even the family for that matter."
Despite the opposition of some countries, conference participants adopted a declaration on Monday stating that there has been "insufficient recognition" of reproductive rights for women and girls since Beijing.
The conference is the biggest global gathering of women representatives from 188 countries and 1,250 non-governmental organizations, since they met in Beijing five years ago. Some 10,000 delegates and grassroots activists are expected to attend the meeting compared to at least 40,000 in Beijing.
In other conference news, the Associated Press reported that seven women Iranian delegates complained Tuesday they were treated like criminals by U.S. immigration officials who demanded they be fingerprinted upon arrival in the country. The delegates chose to return to Iran rather than be fingerprinted.
"We had been invited by the United Nations, so U.S. immigration officials had no right to fingerprint us," Sediqeh Hejazi, a member of the Islamic Revolution Women's Association, told AP. "We were taken by cars used to transport convicts at the airport. We were treated as if we were criminals," she said.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry said it would protest to the United Nations over the incident, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said.