The feminist moderator closed the meeting ten minutes early in order to avoid letting me ask a question at the press conference celebrating Women’s Equality Day and the release of their first Global Women’s Issues Scorecard on the Bush administration. There was a distinct air of ambivalence, discomfort, and nervousness from the speaker’s table; these women were not confident and assured regarding the validity of their role as critics. After all, these feminist leaders were “biting the hand that feeds them.” All those “incomplete” grades were there alongside the “Fs” in hopes that the welcome mat would stay in place for them at the trough. The speakers repeatedly stressed how they have “worked with” this administration. And, truly, they have had unprecedented access to a Republican administration whose ideology is distinctly different from the feminist agenda. Some would say they have had far more access than the female leaders whose agenda is aligned with this president’s beliefs and values; they have been appointed to international delegations, have had voice in deliberations both at the White House and at the State Department, and they been speakers at prestigious conferences on global issues. Their friends — holdovers from the Clinton administration — have kept them in the loop in ways that conservative women plainly envy. Democrats did not accord such respect to their ideological opponents in the previous administration.
While the feminists accused the Bush team of “politicizing” global women’s issues, it was plain that these radical liberals were skillfully playing their political cards. They were playing both sides — trying to make their points for the media without alienating the administration in power. They couched statements carefully. For instance, one speaker expressed her disappointment this way: “our hopes were high, but reality didn’t meet expectations.” “The clock is ticking,” said another, “so the president cannot lose time in getting the funding out to meet these needs.” Another said, “This administration has demanded accountability everywhere else; now the Bush administration must be held accountable.”
As the nation’s largest public-policy women’s organization, Concerned Women for America (where I work), is glad to hold the administration accountable on the real women’s issues. We give the Bush administration high marks for holding firm to pro-women, pro-family, pro-life, and pro-marriage policies. Instead of exhibiting cultural arrogance by funding forced abortions, condom-distribution programs, and exporting the radical feminist agenda, the Bush administration is concentrating on providing helpful services abroad.
Yet, at the feminist press conference, each speaker provided a litany of the problems of women around the world, without discussing solutions. Liberals and conservatives actually agree on the general problems faced by women around the world; we differ primarily on the solutions to those problems. The question I was prevented from asking during the Q&A was, How can you get the results you are demanding in Iraq and Afghanistan without colonialism, without trampling on the cultural integrity and traditions of those nations? Clearly, these women would be the first to call a “foul” if the United States established a police state in either country. Equally clear was their desire to export and impose on third-world nations a radical worldview and values that are anathema to those countries’ culture and traditions.
One questioner asked if, in light of the feminist complaints about the failure of the their international family-planning agenda , the pro-life forces should be pleased and declare victory. Jodi Jacobsen, executive director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), in a logically convoluted, carefully rehearsed response, asked if being “pro-life” meant being concerned about “women who bear children” or “disturbed by the 600,000 women who die each year from complications of pregnancy and illegal abortions?”
In the grand-finale speeches, the speakers shamelessly adopted Republican rhetoric about the vital role women play in families and communities and how these issues are more than women’s issues; they are equally important to men and are essential for children’s futures. But a key phrase plainly revealed their agenda. June Zeitlin, executive director, Women’s Environmental and Development Organization (WEDO), commented that the feminist reforms “must” be enacted so that we can have “a different kind of society.”
In other words, it is not enough that the Bush administration is working to improve the lives of women around the world by (1) increasing women’s economic opportunity and (2) broadening women’s political participation. Take, for instance:
Congress passed the Violence Against Women Acts and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act — both legislative measures have produced dramatic steps forward in protecting women. This year alone, the U.S. government supported nearly 100 programs worth over $50 million worldwide to combat trafficking in persons and focused on more than 40 countries seeking to end trafficking.
The United States has effectively worked to end female genital mutilation (FGM).
The Bush administration is empowering women business owners by providing more than $160 million in small-loan and technical-assistance programs — three quarters going to women.
The president’s “Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief” is a five-year, $15 billion initiative that includes $500 million to combat mother to child transmission of the virus.
Globally, the U.S. has spent $850 million on maternal and child health care and family planning.
The United States has promised $840 million in aid to Afghanistan and has already provided more than $300 million. In addition, American troops are restoring peace and rebuilding the infrastructure of that war-torn nation. And, while “war lords,” restrictions, and intimidation of women still exist, the United States is spending millions to “promote the self-reliance of women.” The 14 Afghan women’s resource centers, which received $2.5 million, will provide much-needed services to the Afghan women, in addition to training women on “NGO management, political participation, and girls’ education.”
Instead of blindly signing onto the U.N.’s CEDAW treaty (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women), the Bush administration recognizes that there is nothing in the treaty that will enhance the rights and privileges that American women already enjoy. Instead the treaty is a way to slip in the radical agenda that is being advanced on so many fronts today — the agenda of abortion, sexual promiscuity, and redefinition of the family.
The press conference on Women’s Equality Day illustrated a sad reality. The legitimate needs of women around the world are being subverted at the same time that privileged women are shamelessly using the desperate needs of third-world women and children to push a frivolous and morally corrupt agenda. The feminists at the press conference readily admitted that the United States provides a quarter of the total funding for United Nations programs, yet they called the U.S. “stingy.” In light of the millions of dollars the United States is investing in global women’s concerns and the technical services and personnel that the Bush administration is providing to other nations around the world, it was understandable that the feminist evaluators looked uncertain and ill-at-ease when releasing a report card based on such biased perspectives and with grades so clearly politically motivated and self-serving.
No wonder they wouldn’t take my question — why would they want to make it obvious to a national C-SPAN audience that not only is utopian, radical feminism hopelessly out of touch with reality; feminist leaders are equally out of touch with American women today?
— Janice Shaw Crouse, is a senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute: A Center for Studies in Women’s Issues, was an official United States delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. She has been an activist and writer on women’s issues for over a decade.