Women’s Rights and the Decline of the Culture Wars

tags: culture wars, Women Rights

Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of education and history at New York University. Zimmerman is the author of "Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education" (Princeton University Press) and four other books. 

Last Sunday, at the United Nations, world leaders marked the 20th anniversary of the landmark Beijing accord on women’s rights. They celebrated women’s progress—especially in education, health, and labor—and underscored ongoing gender inequalities.

But they also condemned the jailing of female political dissidents in China, which co-hosted Sunday’s summit. And, most importantly, they didn’t debate abortion, contraception, or forced marriage. That might signal a decline of the global culture wars about gender and sexuality, which have defined the Beijing legacy since 1995.

The Beijing agreement was the first international affirmation of women’s sexual autonomy, declaring that women have the right to “decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality.” And that was anathema to conservatives around the world, who saw it as a prescription for sexual license and an assault on traditional institutions. If all women were sexually independent, could parents no longer arrange their marriages? And would women also have the right to engage in sex outside of marriage, despite traditional religious prohibitions on the same?

Before the ink was dry on the Beijing accord, delegates from Muslim countries and the Vatican joined hands with American right-wing activists to condemn it. They also forged new organizations like the World Congress of Families, which galvanized conservatives around the globe—“the most orthodox of each group, people that are least likely to compromise,” as the WCF declared—to challenge the Beijing principles.

So when delegates assembled at the United Nations in 2000 to mark the fifth anniversary of the accord, they were met by waves of right-wing demonstrators. “Come to the UN to fight,” one organizer urged, in a letter to fellow conservatives. “You will work alongside Catholics, Evangelicals, Jews, Muslims, and Mormons . . . We are the children of Abraham arising to fight for faith and family.” ...

Read entire article at Global Politics

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