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Contentious Debate Marks Final Day of UN Women's Conference


The final day of a United Nations conference on the status of women has ended with strong calls for governments to do more to achieve gender equality. The conference concluded the same way it began - with verbal battles over contentious political issues.

Delegates from 165 countries ended their often-rancorous debate Friday with adoption of 10 resolutions aimed at moving forward the women's rights agenda. But one measure - on the economic advancement of women - was adopted only after its main sponsor, the United States, withdrew its sponsorship to protest what it considered hostile amendments, including one that contained a reference to women's reproductive health.

In the end, the measure was approved by consensus. But the U.S. delegate, Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey told reporters afterward she felt she had been ambushed. "We thought coming in today that we were close enough to consensus that we would not have an effort to throw in all kinds of new language at the last minute on the floor. And we ultimately withdrew our sponsorship because it had gone so far from what we, the intent, the original intent of our resolution was," she said.

The 10 resolutions adopted Friday reflect the progress made in the struggle for gender equality since a landmark conference in Beijing ten years ago. They address a wide variety of issues - from the trafficking and exploitation of girls and women to providing assistance to Palestinian women, and the status of women and girls in Afghanistan.

Throughout the two-week proceedings, the United States found itself on the defensive, particularly on the issue of women's reproductive rights. Ambassador Sauerbrey initially asked the conference to adopt a statement reaffirming that the Beijing declaration did not create a right to abortion.

In the end, the United States withdrew the request in the face of stiff opposition. Several women's advocacy groups claimed victory in forcing Washington to retreat. The Women's Environmental and Development Organization issued a statement saying they had proved "the United States can't bully the world when it comes to women's human rights".

But Ambassador Sauerbrey said she was satisfied that there was a broad consensus in agreement with the U.S. position. "Last week we made the point we were determined to make when we came, which was the issue that Beijing is a policy document, does not create new international human rights and does not create some new right to abortion which many people were trying to assert," she said.

Ambassador Sauerbrey said she was most pleased with adoption of a resolution calling for tough action against the trafficking of women, most of which involves buying and selling of women for sex. She said the measure encountered opposition from countries that did not want to recognize the relationship between trafficking and sexual exploitation.