Sunday, August 16, 2015

World Congress of Families Criticizes Amnesty International Decision

Last week, Amnesty International passed a resolution at its international council meeting in Dublin, Ireland supporting decriminalization of prostitution. The new resolution was condemned by some anti-trafficking advocates who warned that Amnesty's efforts would harm women in the sex trade. Critics of the resolution include Cindy McCain, SPACE International, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Prostitution Research & Education, Vancouver Rape Relief, Eaves, and AF3IRM. The resolution has proven divisive even within Amnesty International, alienating some of its members.

The World Congress of Families, a Religious Right organization best known for its global conferences, also condemned the resolution in an August 13th press release. Janice Shaw Crouse, executive director of the World Congress of Families IX meeting, called the resolution a "major blow for the protection of vulnerable women and children", adding that "Amnesty International has come down on the wrong side of history".
"This decision by a leading international human rights advocacy group is a major blow for the protection of vulnerable women and children. It is a pivotal victory for the brothel owners, pimps, sex traffickers and johns who can now claim that their actions are acceptable and there's nothing wrong with what they do.

"The Amnesty vote takes away the meager protections given to those who are exploited, dehumanized and in numerous other ways now have the last remaining human rights stripped from them. The vote greatly increases the inhumane power of the exploiters and significantly increases the likelihood that victims will be subjected to more abuse and brutality at the hands of their exploiters."
While I do not disagree with Crouse's assertions -- indeed, I too worry about the implications of Amnesty International's resolution -- I find the World Congress of Family's outrage disingenuous. For years, the WCF has adopted stances at odds with women's equality, opposing reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and women's prerogative to decide if and when to marry or bear children. The WCF might champion women in its latest press release, but that does not erase its long history of undermining women.

First, WCF has long opposed women's reproductive rights, as indicated by workshops at WCF conferences opposing abortion. One WCF leader frowned on contraception during a recent WCF event in Belgrade, criticizing contraception for "preventing life from happening", according to Right Wing Watch. Reproductive rights are vital for women, as they allow women to exercise control over their lives by determining if, when, and how many children they bear. WCF's opposition to abortion and contraception show that it does not always have the best interest of women at heart.

Furthermore, the WCF exalts heterosexual marriage and family as "the ideal, optimal, true family system", ignoring the many women who find single life, childfree life, or same-sex relationships much more satisfying. The WCF's stubborn defense of rigid gender stereotypes and default motherhood shoehorns women into narrow roles that would prevent many women from thriving. Its 2012 Madrid Declaration summarizes these attitudes succinctly.
"We affirm that women and men are equal in dignity and innate human rights, but different in function. Even if sometimes thwarted by events beyond the individual’s control (or sometimes given up for a religious vocation), the calling of each boy is to become husband and father; the calling of each girl is to become wife and mother. Culture, law, and policy should take these differences into account.

We affirm that the complementarity of the sexes is a source of strength. Men and women exhibit profound biological and psychological differences. When united in marriage, though, the whole becomes greater then the sum of the parts."
The brochure for the WCF's 2011 Moscow Demographic Summit opposes "radical feminists", the childfree movement, and the LGBTQ community, thereby condemning women whose lives deviate from their married, heterosexual, maternal ideal.
"World Congress of Families represents the most extensive and widespread association of a large number of organizations advocating for the preservation of the natural Family. Members of the Congress are opponents of the “childfree” movement, the radical feminists and various "sexual minorities". The Congress officially declares that the Family is the union of man and woman without any other options. The main objective of the Congress is to coordinate and unite all the healthy forces working for the strengthening of the Family and Childhood."
The idea that women can and should make their own decisions about their lives, including choices about when and if to marry or have children, is alien to the WCF. Feminists who defend women's autonomy are blasted or ignored.

Furthermore, WCF has a long history of resisting LGBTQ equality across the globe, showing us that the organization is no friend to lesbian, bisexual, or transgender women. In 2014, Human Rights Campaign released Exposed: The World Congress of Families, a report on the WCF's extensive anti-LGBTQ global activism. Moreover, a WCF press release downplayed the dangers of a 2013 Russian law banning gay "propaganda". WCF also signed a controversial statement praising the Russian anti-gay law (more here), ignoring the law's fundamental homophobia.

If the World Congress of Families truly had the best interest of women at heart, it would not only oppose sexual exploitation, but would also champion equality for all women. The organization's adherence to gender stereotypes, opposition to reproductive rights, and disdain for LGBTQ equality reminds us that it is not a friend to women. Thus, its recent criticism of Amnesty International strikes me as hypocritical, given its history.

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