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UN body adopts women's rights declaration

Religious and liberal nations agree, after two-week debate, on document urging end to violence against women and girls.
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2013 20:14

A United Nations policy-making body has agreed upon a declaration urging an end to violence against women and girls despite concerns from conservative Muslim countries and the Vatican about references to women's sexual and reproductive rights.

Conservative Muslim and Roman Catholic countries and more liberal nations on Friday night reached a consensus on a compromise document to loud applause at the end of a contentious two-week meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya, Nigeria and Sudan, along with Honduras and the Vatican, expressed reservations about the declaration, but did not block adoption of the 18-page text.

While the declaration of the commission, created in 1946 for the advancement of women, is non-binding, diplomats and rights activists say it carries enough global weight to pressure countries to improve the lives of women and girls.

"People worldwide expected action, and we didn't fail them. Yes, we did it," Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile and head of UN Women, which supports the commission, told delegates on Friday after two weeks on negotiations on the text.

Egypt warns

Earlier in the talks Iran, Russia, the Vatican and others had threatened to derail the declaration with concerns about
references such as access to emergency contraception, abortion and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, activists said.

A proposed amendment by Egypt, that would have allowed states to avoid implementing the declaration if they clashed
with national laws, religious or cultural values, failed.

Some diplomats said it would have undermined the whole document.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood had warned on Thursday that the declaration could destroy society.

But on Friday, Egypt's delegation said it would not stand in the way of the declaration for the sake of women's empowerment.

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