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UN body agrees on women’s rights policy

A UN policy-making body has agreed upon a declaration urging an end to violence against women and girls despite concerns from conservative Muslim countries and the Vatican about references to women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya, Nigeria and Sudan, along with Honduras and the Vatican, expressed reservations about the declaration of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, but did not block adoption of the 18-page text.

While the declaration of the commission, created in 1946 for the advancement of women, is non-binding, diplomats and rights activists say it carries enough global weight to pressure countries to improve the lives of women and girls.

Earlier in the talks Iran, Russia, the Vatican and others had threatened to derail the declaration with concerns about references such as access to emergency contraception, abortion and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, activists said. A proposed amendment by Egypt, that would have allowed states to avoid implementing the declaration if they clashed with national laws, religious or cultural values, failed. Some diplomats said it would have undermined the whole document.

But on Friday, Egypt’s delegation said it would not stand in the way of the declaration for the sake of women’s empowerment. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Islamists had warned on Thursday that the declaration could destroy society.

The United States welcomed the declaration but lamented that references were not made to lesbian and transgender women and that the term “intimate partner violence” was not used to capture the range of relationships in which abuse can happen.

Last year, disagreements over sexual and reproductive rights issues prevented the commission from agreeing upon a declaration of a theme of empowering rural women. The commission was also unable to reach a deal a decade ago when it last focused on the theme of ending violence against women and girls.

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