A Blueprint for the Way Things Ought to Be


In the end, some will say, it’s just words on paper with a fancy-sounding name attached.

A Platform for Action, it is called, and it emerged after 12 days of wrangling in Beijing at the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women. It is the product of the imaginations, the indignation, the tears and sweat and hope of women from 189 nations around the globe.

And what, I have heard women here wonder, can this manifesto do for me? What possible difference could such a thing make in my life?

After all, they may say, we are not Nigerian peasant women who are legally enjoined from inheriting land. We are not dirt-poor Bangladeshis who need $100 micro-loans to plant our crops. We don’t subject our daughters to genital mutilation. We already have laws here against spousal rape. We already have mandatory education for girls.


Even Bella Abzug, the former New York congresswoman who was active at the conference, admitted to a reporter that “What American women struggle for is the icing on the cake compared to women in developing nations.”

Funny, though. Efforts to make tiny loans to poor American women have taken root all over the country. Doctors who serve immigrant communities in San Diego can tell you that genital mutilation is practiced on our very shores. And American shelters for battered women are full of wives who will tell you just how hard it is to sexually refuse a batterer.

It may be helpful to look at the Platform for Action this way: Would you rather have the Bill of Rights to rely on in a court of law, or would you prefer to put your faith in the wisdom and compassion of the system and just hope things turn out for the best?

The Platform for Action may just be words on paper, but it is also a blueprint for the way things ought to be.

Which is why, from some corners of America, there have been howls of protest. Before, during and after the conference, which ended Friday, conservative religious groups raised objections to a laundry list of words and phrases in the Platform for Action.

The inclusion of “sexual orientation” as a human right was opposed by some who claimed that this would lead to the legitimization of bestiality and pedophilia. (Some gay women said they felt betrayed when, in a last-minute compromise, the phrase was dropped in favor of the word sexuality .)

There were objections to the use of the word families as opposed to family because the plural implies (to some) a denigration of the heterosexual family unit of father, mother and children. (In the end, the document used family but allowed that people have different definitions of the word.)

A nutty controversy over the use of the word gender instead of sex was stirred up by some conservatives who claimed that this was a transparent attempt to legitimize homosexuality, transsexuality and bisexuality. (In truth, gender was used merely to describe the social roles of men and women, which differ between cultures and which change over time, as opposed to sex , which has a fixed, biological meaning.)

Perhaps the strongest criticism of the Platform for Action, and indeed the entire conference, was that it was anti-family.


James Dobson of the radio ministry Focus on the Family said the conference represented “the biggest threat to the family that has ever occurred in the history of the world.”

Beverly LaHaye of Concerned Women for America said that in the conference document, “Motherhood is belittled and the family is seen as the foundation of abuse.”

In response to the platform’s assertion that “the right of a woman to control her own fertility is basic to a woman’s enjoyment of all other rights,” Diane Knippers of the Institute on Religion and Democracy said: “This is simply, factually inaccurate. I am unable to have children and therefore cannot ‘control’ my fertility. It is ludicrous to suggest that somehow this inhibits my enjoyment of other human rights.” (Is it just me, or is she, by personalizing the issue, missing the point about the relationship between family planning and economic independence?)

As you wonder just what this document may mean to the life of the average American woman, bear in mind the agendas of those who have raised their voices in opposition.

Beware the people who would deny you the icing on the cake.