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My “Gender-Transformative” Experience at UN CSW68

Last week, I went to the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York City for the second time.  I first attended this commission in 2019—5 years ago. (I did participate virtually in side and parallel events during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the experience in person is very different.)

I am deeply concerned by how quickly the broader conversation around gender equality has “evolved” in just half a decade at the United Nations.

While “sexual and reproductive health and rights” (SRHR) is still used to euphemistically reference abortion, contraception, “comprehensive sex education” (CSE), etc., it almost seemed to require mention at every event, even if just in passing. Panelists seem less inclined to shy away from the topic when questions were posed about it.

Right in the very halls of UN headquarters, I was surprised by a display normalizing SRHR by showcasing the World Health Organization’s Human Reproduction Programme.

It seemed like more speakers from the Global South, including many African nations, were proudly discussing their efforts to advance SRHR. Public opinion in their respective countries has not shifted that radically, but these “grassroots” pro-abortion activists are now being recruited, and given platforms and funding. Some of those from the developing world spoke sincerely about their local needs for education, improved menstrual hygiene, and an end to gender-based violence (GBV), but were merely token minority voices on panels with Western women hammering home the SRHR message.  

A number of representatives from pro-abortion non-governmental organizations (NGOs) explained their strategies on changing or working around restrictive laws and manipulating generally pro-life communities. They go after youth, medical associations, and existing movements, and convince them to expand their scope to include SRHR. Both Planned Parenthood Global and Catholics for Choice described how they adapt their messaging depending on the targeted recipients—how they must be culturally sensitive and use the right words and spokesmen.

Faith Mbehero, Service Delivery Manager at the Africa Regional Office of Planned Parenthood Global, said they train abortionists on how to “minimize legal risk.”

Honourable Commissioner for the African Union, Janet Ramatoulie Sallah-Njie, who also serves on the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and as Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, described how some countries fail to report on access to abortion, so civil society organizations are encouraged to submit "shadow reports."

Just as Campaign Life Coalition urges our supporters to monitor and influence what’s happening in their respective municipalities, so are our opponents coaching young leaders to lobby their mayors and other local officials.

Beth Schlachter, Interim Director of Global Advocacy and U.S. Representative for the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), said to overcome objections to CSE "we" need to talk with parents, educators, and community and religious leaders using "values-based language." Catholics for Choice hosts “values clarification workshops.”

It’s like sales—where the salesmen are identifying and overcoming the objection (“values”) to sell you a product you really don’t want.

Why does this matter for us as Canadians? Well, Canada is currently spending $700 million/year on funding SRHR overseas, and as Lena Ngina Muyanga, Programme Manager SRHR for KELIN Kenya (a partner of Planned Parenthood Global), said, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”

She also said that sometimes, when they have a case in court, bishops will attend, dressed head to toe in regalia, and not say a word—and that is influence enough. (If only more of our religious leaders were as bold!)

In the UN microcosm, the effectiveness of social engineering was evident in how many times I heard the same phrases parroted over and over: “women and girls in all their diversity,” “intersectionality,” “gender-transformative,” etc. The speakers had all picked up a common lexicon covertly normalizing gender ideology and the LGBTQ agenda. In some events, they flat-out proclaimed their intention to transform social norms and gender roles.

“Pushback” and “anti-gender backlash” or “anti-rights backlash” were also common catchphrases used to hint at the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the election of Argentinian President Javier Milei and other right-wing governments, and other perceived pro-life and pro-family successes. Interestingly, Schlachter (IPPF) was very insistent that while the “extremist anti-rights movements” may seem authentically grassroots and organic, they’re not. She said it's all “very carefully exported and exploited.”

If I may say so myself, I think the Campaign Life Coalition team did a terrific job bringing this pushback right into the belly of the beast—not out of any opposition to human rights, but rather in defense of them.

Snapshots from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Here are some of the highlights from my week:

Monday, March 11, 2024

I got to challenge Manitoban Cabinet Minister Nahanni Fontaine on her proposed bubble zone bill. Read about our conversation here.

Earlier that day, I attended an event with Dr. Ramneek Dosanjh, President-Elect of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada. She remarked that we need to “get away from the dehumanization of peoples.” Paradoxically, however, she also made a comment about nine white men having power over “reproductive rights.” (I surmised that that was supposed to be a reference to the Supreme Court of the United States, although she is mistaken about its composition.)

Unfortunately, when I approached her for conversation afterward, she insisted she was pro-choice, and wasn’t interested in changing her position or discussing it. I pressed her anyway about when she believes a human being is deserving of human rights. She said the point of viability, which she incorrectly claimed to be around 28 weeks. I asked her about abortions that happen after that point, and she said they’re only done to prevent maternal mortality. I described an abortion that took place at 35 weeks at an unnamed hospital in Quebec, after McGill University Health Centre refused to do the abortion, not viewing the disability of the fetus as severe enough to warrant a late-term abortion. She seemed skeptical and claimed that individual hospitals ought not be allowed to make such calls.

In the evening, following a different event, I had the opportunity to invite Eliza Reid, First Lady of Iceland, to an upcoming event on “Celebrating Ability: Investing in and accompanying children and adults with Down syndrome and their families.” As Iceland has a reputation for being “the country where Down syndrome is disappearing,” I gave her the event flyer and told her it was terrible that her country is eliminating children with Down Syndrome in the womb. I encouraged her to educate herself on the value of these people.

She said that she and her husband do a lot of work on World Down Syndrome Day and that Iceland doesn’t have a policy of encouraging people to “eliminate,” but of letting people choose. I emphasized that the majority do choose to kill children with Down Syndrome, though. She acknowledged that (although she used the phrase “terminate pregnancies” instead). Then, in a funny parallel to the defense against racism (“I have a black friend!”), Reid mentioned that some of her close friends have children with Down Syndrome. Unswayed, I pointed out that if parents don’t see anyone living with Down Syndrome, they're less likely to choose life. She said that that's why they do these types of awareness events. I suggested they could also just make it illegal to kill children with Down Syndrome.

She said that Iceland would not restrict the so-called right to choose. I asked her when she thought a human being is deserving of human rights. She said she doesn't represent the government and that part of choice is ensuring people are educated and make an informed choice. I said that I assumed that she would oppose the killing of a two-year-old, so I again asked when she thinks killing shouldn't be permitted. She said the legal point in Iceland is around 22 weeks, and she wasn't sure what was permitted after that. I asked her what the moral significance of 22 weeks was and she admitted she didn't know. I explained my stance that all human beings are deserving of human rights, the most important of which is the right to life, and that age isn't morally relevant when it comes to our human rights. She said that there's a long debate about when life begins, and I acknowledged that there was philosophically speaking, but not scientifically. She ended the conversation there, and we thanked each other.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

I spent most of the day at the Armenian Cultural Center, a venue for UN parallel events, being a thorn in the side of everyone who dared have an event on SRHR/abortion.

At an event on “Disability Inclusion in SRHR towards achieving Gender Equality,” I again brought up that children with disabilities are targeted by abortion and that it’s the worst form of exclusion, because it’s taking their lives.

At an event on “Reaching the Last Mile: Comprehensive Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights for ALL Women & Girls,” I challenged panelists: “How do you reconcile the idea of human rights with killing innocent human beings through abortion? Because it would seem to me that pre-born human beings are the ones being left behind."

At an event on “Financing for Safe Abortion to Accelerate Gender Equality,” I challenged the very concept of “safe abortions.” I asked if I was correct in understanding that a "safe abortion" is only when one human being dies, and I remarked that it seems nonsensical to talk about killing a human being safely—like a "safe death penalty" or a "safe war."

At a side event at the Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN, French MP Guillaume Gouffier-Valente bragged about France's addition of abortion to its constitution, garnering a resounding round of applause. (In fact, France would continue to be applauded throughout the week.) He said France and Canada are connected, especially in the area of “women’s rights.” Canadian Senator Marilou McPhedran commended France.

NDP MP Leah Gazan made mention of the new pharmacare plan, and how it would include contraception. She said access to "safe" abortion "care" needs to be improved in Canada. I approached her after the event and said I was here on behalf of Campaign Life Coalition to advocate against the violence of abortion. I gave her a handout on how abortion isn’t a right, and while she took it, she insisted abortion was a human right and she wasn't willing to discuss it further. Indeed, as I began to respond, she had already turned to the next person and begun conversing with them. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

While I spent much of the week attending events where I was the sole pro-lifer, or at least vastly outnumbered, at the event titled, “From raising awareness to accessing rights: the common action of civil society and parliamentarians,” I felt particularly out-of-place. The panel featured French parliamentarians eager to once again boast about the inclusion of abortion in their constitution, a representative from the International Planned Parenthood Federation, and pro-abortion Canadian MP Andréanne Larouche. Surrounded by French feminists sporting green bandanas (for the “Green Wave” of the “abortion rights” movement), I realized that the event, despite being advertised in English, was in French and no translation was available. I waited patiently till the end, for Q&A, and then stood up to say:

“Bonjour. Je m’appelle Josie. Je suis canadienne. Je ne parle pas français, mais l’avortement tue les enfants. Je suis pro-vie.”

In case you speak less French than I do, that translates to:

“Good morning. My name is Josie. I am Canadian. I don't speak French, but abortion kills children. I’m pro-life.”

I was immediately heckled by many of the angry attendees. I turned to a woman in the row ahead of me who was saying something to me, shrugged, and said, “Je ne comprend pas” (“I don’t understand”).

Later, at an event on “Feminist Financing for SRHR and Gender Equality: Policies, Partnerships & Practices,” French Minister for Gender Equality and Fight against Discriminations Aurore Bergé (the woman behind the constitutional change), said abortion is now protected as a fundamental freedom in France, like civil and political rights.

"Democracy doesn’t exist without reproductive rights, abortion rights..." ~Aurore Bergé

She said, "It does not stop here and we will not stop here, of course, because as feminists we never stop." She said that on International Women's Day, President Emmanuel Macron announced that he would launch an initiative to add abortion to the European Union's Charter of Fundamental Rights. The French government is also launching an international campaign promoting abortion, and they intend to "push back the pushback."

Thursday, March 14, 2024

We held the international debut of ROE Canada: The True North in a Post-Roe World, the film for which I serve as one of the principal investigators, at the Nigerian Mission as part of the inaugural Conference on the State of Women and Family (CSWF). It was neat to speak to an international audience, because as I said on Parliament Hill at last year’s National March for Life, “If Canada can change, the rest of the world can too!”

So many CSW delegates were aghast that Roe v. Wade was overturned. How much more aghast would they be if Canada, which is world-renowned for its obsession with abortion, were to reverse course?

From left to right: CLC Vice President Matt Wojciechowski, ROE Canada director/producer Kevin Dunn, principal investigators Josie Luetke & Ruth Robert 

Friday, March 15, 2024

In the morning, I attended a mostly solid event decrying human trafficking, prostitution, pornography, and surrogacy. However, as event organizers repeatedly stipulated that they supported abortion, I was compelled to point out, that as presenters accepted, the right to bodily autonomy cannot excuse exploitation. I quoted early American feminist Alice Paul: “Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women,” and said, “Our liberation cannot be bought with the blood of our children. Why is the killing of innocent human beings seen as necessary for women’s freedom?" (I did not get a good answer.)

In the next event I attended, organized by the Young Diplomats of Canada, attendees were asked to share their “diverse perspectives” to contribute to the drafting of a "Declaration for Sexual and Reproductive Justice." Campaign Life Coalition had representatives providing pro-life input in all three of the breakout groups; I got the feeling our perspectives weren’t the sort of diversity they had in mind. In a funny Freudian slip, one of the event organizers claimed that when abortion is decriminalized, there’s a decrease in “maternal morality.” She corrected herself: “Mortality.”

I also sat through an event on “Engaging Stakeholders in Support of Gender Inclusive Systems in Sports.” Maria Bobenrieth, Executive Director of Women Win and former Global Director of Community Investments at Nike, said, "If you say you’re a girl, you’re a girl” and “If you say you’re a woman, you’re a woman.” I remarked that it didn't seem to me like that would work for sport. "So, if we adopt that framework, why have segregated sport at all?” I asked. She didn't seem to understand my question, so I elaborated that we presumably have women’s sport and men’s sport because there are biological differences between men and women and we care about fairness. If those differences aren’t important anymore, then why don’t we just have a co-ed league? She and Sarah Axelson (Vice President, Advocacy at the Women's Sports Foundation) essentially responded that there are different standards at the community participatory level and an elite competitive level.

Final thoughts:

As one of our allies, Stefano Gennarini of the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) says, “Perception is reality.” Pro-life voices are a vocal minority at CSW, but when these pro-abortion activists and politicians aren’t expecting any disagreement, our questions and comments resonate all the more—and scare them! Our dissent also makes an impact on audience members who are given reason to pause and think critically before falling for the deceptive rhetoric hook, line, and sinker.

Support Campaign Life Coalition’s work at the United Nations here.