Bush vs Women
Nicholas D. Kristof, USA
August 16, 2002
The central moral struggle of the 19th century concerned slavery, and
that of the 20th pitted democracy against Nazism, Communism and other
despotic isms. Our own pre-eminent moral challenge will be to ease the
brutality that kills and maims girls and women across much of Africa
Alas, this summer President Bush is putting the U.S. on the wrong side
of the battle lines.
Most outrageous, last month Mr. Bush cut off all $34 million in funds
for the United Nations Population Fund, in all 142 countries in which it
operates, because of concerns about its role in China. What does this
mean on the ground?
<>An emergency obstetric care program was to begin this year in Burundi,
where only one-quarter of births are attended by a trained midwife
(almost none by a doctor) and where one woman in eight will die in
been canceled—along with plans for midwife training in Algeria, a
center to fight AIDS in Haiti and a maternal mortality reduction program
Conservatives are right to object to China's often brutal one-child
policy. But only Washington could come up with a solution to Chinese
problems that involves killing teenage girls in Burundi.
Aside from cutting off funding for the population agency, the Bush
administration is busy devastating third-world women in other ways. It
is trying to block a landmark international treaty on the rights of
women, even though the State Department initially backed it. The treaty,
known as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Women, or Cedaw, would make no difference in
America but would be one more tool to help women in countries where
discrimination means death.
The Bush administration is also undercutting international efforts to
use conferences to bolster support for rural health care for poor women.
For example, the Bushies tied up negotiations for this month's Earth
Summit in Johannesburg by insisting that documents be purged of phrases
like "reproductive health services" that they think connote abortion.
President Bush has also walloped international family planning efforts
by banning the use of American aid to overseas organizations that
provide any information about abortions. And while Mr. Bush basked in
his promise of $500 million for the global AIDS fund, his administration
is making such onerous demands of the fund that none of the money can be
used anytime soon.
In one crucial field, the battle against sexual trafficking, it is
conservative Christians who have taken the lead in fighting on behalf of
third-world women. So on this one issue has Mr. Bush shown any mettle?
No. As a reproachful letter to him from a broad range of conservative
leaders pointed out on June 28, the administration record "is one of
passive acceptance of the world trafficking status quo."
In the Bush administration, the assumption is that in all these cases
the fundamental issue is abortions or sex. It is not.
The central issue is that 500,000 women die each year in pregnancy or
childbirth; that 100 million women and girls worldwide are "missing" because they are denied adequate food or medical care, or because they
are aborted or killed at birth because they are female; that 60 percent
of the children kept out of elementary school are girls; that 130
million girls have undergone genital mutilation; that between one and
two million girls and women are trafficked into prostitution annually.
If I'm angry, it's because those figures conjure real faces of people
I've met: Aisha Idris, a Sudanese peasant left incontinent after giving
birth at 14, with no midwife or prenatal care, to a stillborn child;
Mariam Karega, a young woman nursing her dying baby in a Tanzanian
village far from any doctor; Sriy, a smart and vibrant 13-year-old
Cambodian girl who was sold into prostitution by her stepfather and by
now is probably dead of AIDS.
Instead of joining the fight on behalf of Ms. Idris, Ms. Karega or Sriy,
the Bush administration is allying the U.S. with the likes of Iran,
Sudan and Syria to frustrate international efforts to save the lives of
some of the most helpless people on earth. Somehow we have become the
core of an Axis of Medieval.
Nicholas D. Kristof is a columnist for The New York Times.
From The New York Times, August 16, 2002.