This Is What Winning an Election Does

Madam Chair,

I am honored to be here today to express the renewed and deep
commitment of the United States Government to the goals and aspirations
of the ICPD Program of Action. President Obama, Secretary of State
Clinton, and Ambassador Rice as well as the United States Congress,
have already acted strongly to support women’s and young people’s
health, human rights, and empowerment; global partnership; and the
wider development agenda embraced by the Program of Action.

These opening lines of the U.S. government's official statement,
so calmly delivered March 31 by Margaret J. Pollack, Acting Deputy
Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees,
and Migration, and Head of the United States Delegation to the United
Nations Commission on Population and Development, belied the sea change they represent in U.S. relationship with the United Nations in general and in particular with the global consensus
reached at the ICPD in Cairo fifteen years ago that women's human
rights and health, including reproductive rights and health, are
central to global economic development, poverty reduction,
environmental sustainability, and global security.

Pollack, a career civil servant who has worked in the State
Department under both Republican and Democratic administrations
referred to herself in an interview with me last week as "the lantern
in the cave" simply delivering the current administration's message
that the U.S. is going "back to the future"--i.e., the one when Bill
Clinton was president--in our policies and leadership for women's
rights globally.

The statement was delivered the same day that the U.S. declared its desire to be seated on the U.N Human Rights Council,
and shortly before President and Mrs. Obama jetted off for London to
see the Queen--oh, and to attend the G-20 meeting, followed by other
European stops where the still young administration is being greeted
with much excitement and renewed good will for America. Everyone seems
partiuclarly pleased to have an American president who can string a
complete sentence together and actually values global diplomacy. Novel
idea, no?

All in all, this week has illustrated what a difference an election
makes, and we dare not let that thought escape our consciousness:
without a doubt anti-choice and other right-wing groups that are
already mobilizing to take us back to their preferred future.

I served on the U.S. government delegation to the Cairo + 5
conference a decade ago, when country representatives from the 190 or
so nation members of the the U.N. gathered to evaluate progress toward
the Cairo consensus. We had our challenges to be sure, but could not
have then anticipated the trench warfare and sock in the gut to women's
progress that eight years of George W. Bush's administration would
bring. So when I read our nation's "new" statement, tears of joy welled
up in my eyes.

There are many powerful nuances, such as saying the US will "work in
partnership" and acknowledging the expertise of others, which the
arrogant Bushies rarely did. A few other salient points:

Abstinence-only sex education has been Kung-Fu kicked aside. Condoms for HIV/AIDS prevention are in--or hopefully, on--again.

phrase "universal access to sexual and reproductive health and the
protection and promotion of reproductive rights" definitely ushers in a
sigh of relief moment, since to the dismay of most of the rest of the
world, the U.S. hadn't uttered them in eight long years..

also support the ICPD understanding that the human rights and
fundamental freedoms of women must be protected, so that women can make
their own health and fertility decisions, which helps to ensure
healthy, productive families and communities as well as sustainable,
prosperous, and stable societies." Clear, unequivocal. (The statement
doesn't address abortion specifically however-that's clearly one of the
areas where we need to advance beyond Cairo.)

Human rights for
all regardless of sexual orientation are asserted, as are "linkages
between HIV/AIDS and voluntary family planning programs." and CEDAW ratification
as a priority. I didn't expect they would tie all these together and
the sexual orientation inclusion was a surprise to me though might not
be to others more inside.

But let me stop interpreting. Pour yourself a cup of your favorite
beverage, sit down, put your feet up, and take a few minutes to savor
reading the full statement. Then remind yourself why it's important to
be actively engaged in the political process today and every day.


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