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Unicef Devolves
A dangerous leftward slide.


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Radical feminism has a way of attaching itself to a healthy institution like a parasite. Such was the case with the Girl Scouts, the YWCA and, now, UNICEF (the U.N. Children’s Fund). UNICEF is a particularly tragic example of this parasitical relationship because, in a sea of international organizations beholden to ideology, beset by incompetence, or bedeviled by corruption–or, usually, all three–UNICEF long remained close to its original mandate: saving the lives and improving the conditions of as many children as possible. And, because of this commitment, UNICEF has always been well rewarded by donor nations. The United States, UNICEF’s largest donor, gives over $200 million to the organization every year.

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If Danny Kaye–who served as a goodwill ambassador to UNICEF–were alive today, he would barely recognize the organization, as it now supports the killing of the world’s most vulnerable children. UNICEF has endorsed, even helped to write, documents that call for the worldwide legalization of abortion. In a document on AIDS, UNICEF calls for “safe and legal abortion.” In a document on maternal health, UNICEF calls for “safe services for pregnancy termination.” In a document on the rights of refugees, UNICEF proclaims that the “regulation of fertility” is an essential right of refugee women. In the same document, UNICEF endorses the distribution of abortion-causing “emergency contraceptives” to these women.

And UNICEF’s involvement with abortion doesn’t end with words. According to the U.N. Population Fund, UNICEF has helped pay for a program run by the Population Council, the organization that holds the U.S. patent for the abortion pill RU-486. Goals of this UNICEF-funded program included “improving . . . reproductive health services” and “managing unwanted pregnancies.” In U.N. parlance, “reproductive health services” has often included abortion, and “managing unwanted pregnancies” is a phrase routinely used by pro-abortion nongovernmental organizations as a euphemism for abortion.

UNICEF also funds a South African group called loveLife, whose website, as of the beginning of 2003, actively encouraged teenage girls to have abortions. The site described the abortion procedure as a “gentle suction,” assured girls they could have abortions without telling their parents, and even provided them with the toll-free telephone number of Marie Stopes International abortion clinics.

UNICEF’s current director, Carol Bellamy, first established a name for herself as a fervent feminist and pro-abortion state senator in New York. Twice, in 1974 and again in 1977, she voted against a “born-alive” protection act, legislation stipulating that if a baby somehow survived an abortion, the infant would be granted legal status as a human being and given medical treatment. Bellamy now sets the worldwide agenda for childcare.

UNICEF’s record on contraceptives is no better. A UNICEF historian writes that, for most of its existence, “UNICEF was focusing its attention almost exclusively on trying to encourage behavioural change–abstinence or mono-partnership. . . . UNICEF did not want to devote the energies of its procurement system to becoming a leading world supplier of low-cost condoms (as it had vaccines).” But feminists managed to dispose of these quaint notions as successfully as they disposed of UNICEF’s home-economics lessons.

DR. RUTH’S CHILDREN FUND

It is now official UNICEF policy to “promote and expand access to . . . sexual and reproductive health services, including access to condoms.” This despite evidence from AIDS-ravaged Africa suggesting that abstinence training–UNICEF’s original program–is the most effective means to combat the spread of the disease.

Among some high-ranking UNICEF officials, there is obvious distaste for traditional sexual morality and deep-seated attachment to condom-distribution programs. Urban Jonsson, UNICEF’s regional director for eastern and southern Africa, told UNICEF’s executive board in June 2003 that all discourse on the effectiveness of condoms should cease: “Let us stop the almost metaphysical debate on the pros and cons of the use of condoms. . . . Let us follow the decision of the government of Botswana to make condoms available and accessible for everybody, everywhere and at all times. . . . Abstinence is simply not a realistic option for most young people in the world today.”

OPERATION FEMINIST TAKEOVER

Why has UNICEF changed in so many ways? Feminists saw UNICEF, with its dogged determination to focus on the needs of children, as a threat to their own agenda–so they targeted it for infiltration. According to UNICEF’s former senior policy adviser on family and child welfare, Mary Racelis, “These pro-women activist groups” thought that UNICEF needed “to focus on a woman’s own priorities . . . rather than decide for her that her children must come first. A woman had a right to be the person she wanted to be, and not be forced into carrying out male-defined stereotypes of who she was or ought to be.” In the view of feminists, a mother who subsumed her own interests under the interests of her children–i.e., the type of person formerly elevated by UNICEF as an archetype–was now considered guilty of perpetuating “male-defined stereotypes.” And so the question of UNICEF’s purpose came into question. Should it remain “traditional” UNICEF–which included aid to children (with aid to mothers)–or “feminist” UNICEF: aid to children (with aid to mothers downplayed or redefined) plus newly formulated aid programs for women as autonomous individuals. The question, in other words, was whether “children must come first” at the U.N. Children’s Fund.

The crisis at UNICEF peaked in the mid 1980s, when there was an open revolt against UNICEF’s promotion of breastfeeding. Racelis writes, “Given the ongoing mother versus women struggle, the emphasis on breastfeeding appeared yet again to compartmentalize women around their maternal roles. Denunciations were rife: were women always to be portrayed in terms of their breasts and as the human equivalent of milking cows?”

Meanwhile, UNICEF also shifted its resources to focus disproportionately on girls. At UNICEF, a boy is just a boy, but a girl is always a “girl child.” People who attend a UNICEF meeting for the first time often come away asking the same questions: “What, exactly, is a ‘girl child’?” The girl child is a girl looked at through the prism of gender theory–and she is also the privileged child at UNICEF, receiving the bulk of UNICEF attention and programming.

The girl child was invented, quite explicitly, to placate feminists, who had become suspicious of programs for children. Racelis argues that “feminists were willing to suspend for the time being their insistence on women’s empowerment and choices as the central programme focus in favor of promoting an equitable start in life for girls. . . . [There was a] converging enthusiasm of feminists and women and children advocates around the girl child.”

And the girl child has never left UNICEF; under current executive director Carol Bellamy, the girl child has come to dominate UNICEF programming. UNICEF now seeks to boost girls’ school enrollment–calling this endeavor its first priority–without any mention of boys’ enrollment. In sub-Saharan Africa, where UNICEF claims that 27 percent of boys and 22 percent of girls attend school, only the girls’ rate is worthy of attention, because it is lower than the boys’ own dismal rate. At the same time, UNICEF admits that girls actually outnumber boys in school in such diverse nations as Columbia, Namibia, Spain, Lesotho, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Uruguay, Finland, Guyana, Mongolia, and the United Kingdom, and that “girls generally lead boys in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Nevertheless, UNICEF has no program in any one of these places to address this inequality. When boys are disadvantaged, it simply seems that this disadvantage does not matter. This fact led the U.S. delegate at a recent UNICEF executive-board meeting to ask plaintively, “Why just girls?”

UNICEF still does an enormous amount of good. It will be deeply involved in helping the children of Afghanistan and Iraq; it still immunizes millions of children around the world. But that is no excuse for its mission to be compromised by ideology. Every dollar spent on loveLife or condoms is a dollar that could have been spent on food or basic medical supplies. It is time for the United States to exert its ample leverage and to demand reform. The sexualization and genderization of UNICEF, to use UNICEF’s own term, has been bad for children, for both boys and girls.

Douglas A. Sylva is vice president Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. For more on UNICEF, see here.



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