20 Years after Beijing: Taking a few steps back?

UNwomen-Logo-Blue-TransparentBackground-enUN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is set to be the biggest conference yet solely dedicated to women’s issues. With 900 participants it has set itself as both a celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is celebrated as a pivotal moment in the progression of women’s rights but also a point of rejuvenation as the process of ensuring gender equality moves forward. Yet, the fault-lines and alliances that have appeared in the run-up to the Conference as well as the potential of push-back against what has stood for 20 years raises a serious points of concern. Could the CSW actually be a moment of regression rather than forward momentum?

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action focused on, amongst other elements, Women and PovertyEducation and Training of Women, Women and HealthViolence against WomenWomen and Armed ConflictWomen and the EconomyWomen in Power and Decision-making, Institutional Mechanism for the Advancement of WomenHuman Rights of WomenWomen and the MediaWomen and the Environment and The Girl-child. It also explicitly recognised the role that women’s advocates and feminists had done to bring these issues to the fore, this acknowledgement was key in understanding the role that women had played in attempting realise their own equality and the price that some advocates paid in doing so.

The growing strength of the non-governmental sector, particularly women’s organizations and feminist groups, has become a driving force for change. Non-governmental organizations have played an important advocacy role in advancing legislation or mechanisms to ensure the promotion of women. They have also become catalysts for new approaches to development.

Together with the Millennium Development Goals, (MDG) which, amongst others, aimed to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education…no later than 2015 and to improve maternal health as well as reducing child mortality, these two platforms were considered concrete steps forward. Whilst the implementation of both the Beijing Platform and the MDGs has left a tremendous amount to be desired, for example if we look here in Ireland we can see serious problems with achieving what was set out in both these documents, the presence of such aims gave advocates a strong grounding on which to base their claims against governments and other organisations.

What has struck many as problematic in the run-up to Beijing is the pre-ordained settlements that appear to have been made prior to the CSW itself as well as the roll back that some are calling for. The Women’s Rights Caucus is reporting that the Holy See (which is a non-member permanent observer state), Indonesia, Nicaragua, Russia and the Africa group of countries are attempting to limit references to human rights in the final text and critically to remove mention of the role feminist groups play in advancing gender equality from the DeclarationThe Holy See is also advocating the removal of the standalone gender equality target proposed in the Millennium Development Goals from the declaration. The Women’s Rights Caucus and have asked organisations to support its call to stop the Declaration from being watered down.

These are serious attempts to undermine the achievements of Beijing and the MDGs. Removing references to feminist groups is a clear assertion that feminism lack legitimacy in advocating gender equality, that less radical voices are required and that ignoring feminist voices is an acceptable stance for a government to take. Such a retrograde step against one doctrine which has been so fundamental in achieving what has been gained by women is astonishing. Failing to acknowledge past achievements and a future role is a clear attempt to re-write the history of women and to prevent feminism from taking a lead in the future. Whilst women are used to being written out of history, such a blatant attempt to do so within a history about women seem preposterous.

The advocacy of the Holy See, itself a form of doctrine, and the significant role it has a religious group above all other religions, who must rely on states to make their cases, ought to be seriously questioned. Allowing one religion to have such a powerful voice against women’s substantive equality when it is completely dominated by one sex and one view of the role of women should be a serious issue for the UN. The Holy See’s alliance against feminism, the use of human rights and gender equality as fundamental part of development needs also to be queried by those within the Church. The World Bank and IMF, which are currently leading a campaign against the gender pay gap, have repeatedly stated that women’s substantive equality within the workforce will be a strong driver of economic development. Whilst we can question what the World Bank and the IMF regard as development and their past roles regarding gender, their acknowledgement that restricting women’s choices in the workforce has a negative impact on a whole country ought to be a stronger voice than the Holy See.

Whilst the final outcome of the CSW remains open it is frustrating that 20 years after Beijing women must again fight to have their history, rights and development acknowledged, a step we perhaps had thought had already been taken.

20 Years after Beijing: Taking a few steps back?

Evaluating the Holy See Response to the Murphy Report

The Response of the Holy See to Ireland is a dense document defined as much by its omissions as by its technical terminology. Here, I want to evaluate its engagement with the central issue: the degree to which the bureaucratic architecture of the Church facilitated or failed to tackle abuse, by omission, by cultural practice and political pressure. The latter three categories are carefully used. It is clear from the response that the Holy See would like the discussion to relate to formal authority: the authority to take decisions (seen as belonging to local bishops), the authority to bind (something denied to relevant documents). For them, illegitimate interference with Ireland’s domestic affairs, requires an order/directive rather than negligence/omission/insensitive practice on their part. It reviews its actions according to administrative process, not in terms of its obligations to provide, and collaborate with Ireland to ensure, effective rights protection. Continue reading “Evaluating the Holy See Response to the Murphy Report”

Evaluating the Holy See Response to the Murphy Report

Persona Non Grata or how to get rid of foreign diplomats

Since the publication of the Cloyne Report there have been a number of calls, including a Facebook campaign, for the expulsion of the Papal Nuncio in Ireland, Giuseppe Leanza. As some commentators have pointed out, diplomats from foreign states can be asked to leave the state or in legal terms designated persona non grata. This is a very old part of international law, or more specifically diplomatic law, but it also raises several other issues such as the unique position of the Holy See, as the Vatican is refered to in international legal terms, within the international legal order. The Papal States ceased to be sovereign states in 1870 when overran by Italian forces after the creation of the new Italian state in 1861. The Lateran Treaty of 1929, between Italy and the Holy See, recognised the state of the Vatican City and its sovereignty in its international relations with other states. The Vatican City is an anomaly in the accepted body of international law for the establishment of a state. Under the Montevideo Convention a state must have control of its internal and external affairs, a permanent territory and population. Italy carries out a number of important administrative functions for the Vatican City and its only residents are those in the Catholic Church who support the work of the Holy See. Continue reading “Persona Non Grata or how to get rid of foreign diplomats”

Persona Non Grata or how to get rid of foreign diplomats

Challenging the State of Exception: The Holy See and the Duty of Non-Interference in Ireland's Domestic Affairs


In the aftermath of the publication of the Report into Child Sexual Abuse in the diocese of Cloyne, the status and nature of Irish diplomatic relations with the Holy See have come into sharp focus.  The exceptionally strong findings that the Holy See’s dismissal of the Irish Church’s framework guidelines as a “study document” was “entirely unhelpful” in its impact on practices in the diocese have provoked a direct government response. The report accuses the Holy See, through this secret letter to bishops, as having given comfort to dissenters to who did not wish to implement the guidelines.

The Holy See is currently party to various conventions including, most controversially, the Convention of the Rights of the Child 1989 and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961. These now represent clear gateways for Ireland in ensuring the accountability of the Holy See. Continue reading “Challenging the State of Exception: The Holy See and the Duty of Non-Interference in Ireland's Domestic Affairs”

Challenging the State of Exception: The Holy See and the Duty of Non-Interference in Ireland's Domestic Affairs