Fear GEAR: A United Nations Effort to Enforce Gender Equality

Steven Mosher
by Joan Claire Robinson
PRI Weekly Briefing
08 March 2010, Vol. 12 / No. 8
© 2007
Reproduced with Permission
Population Research Institute

Going up to New York for the Beijing + 15 meeting at the U.N., I expected to be on the hunt for the hidden agenda behind dull, bureaucratic rhetoric. But attending the 54th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), I found that this year's radical feminist agenda was everywhere emblazoned onto lapels, laptop cases and hatbands. The printed slogans shouted a single message: GEAR UP!

GEAR is short for the Gender Architecture Reform Campaign, whose goal is to establish a new radical feminist superagency with a billion-dollar budget.

The superagency would consolidate four existing U.N. women's rights entities: UNIFEM, OSAGI, DAW, and IN-STRAW.1 Vaulting gender equality to the top of the U.N. agenda, this new agency would influence global policy, control funding, and run the UN global, national and regional women's programs.

On the opening day of this CSW, lesbian activist Charlotte Bunch and her collaborators held a GEAR campaign rally, making absolutely clear that the chief goals of the new U.N. superagency would be (1) the eradication of traditional genders and (2) the universal use of reproductive health care, which is to say, the family planning package of abortion, sex education, contraception and sterilization.

Executives from the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) were in closed-door meetings with Denmark as the conference progressed, strategizing on how to promote the superagency. IPPF is a leading member of the GEAR campaign, perhaps because it sees that the new agency's abortion and reproductive health programs would pour hundreds of millions of dollars into IPPF's pockets. Denmark is among the states that are backing it.

GEAR campaigners at the CSW have already garnered the support of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for the establishment of their new "hybrid" agency devoted to gender equality and women's empowerment. The Obama administration, Mary Robinson - the former President of Ireland - and Spain's Prime Minister José Zapatero are among other open GEAR supporters. They point to General Assembly Resolution 63/311, passed last fall, which calls for "strengthening the institutional arrangements for support of gender equality and the empowerment of women."

All this activity does not mean that GEAR is a done deal. A general consensus around the new agency will be hard to achieve. Any tough, sustained opposition to GEAR will be sufficient to delay, if not derail, the initiative.

Answering questions about the possible challenges the GEAR effort could face in the months ahead, a senior IPPF executive gave his private opinion that the main challenge lies between this CSW and the UN Annual Ministerial Review in June. He explained that if the reports presented by the member states to their ministers are favorable to the GEAR campaign and show, for instance, high maternal mortality rates, the ministers will be much more likely to promote GEAR at their meeting. This would smooth the way for an approval of the superagency in the 2010 General Assembly.

"If the Danes cannot garner enough support from the other member states, that will be a major setback," he continued. The two chief concerns to the GEAR campaign, the executive said, are the pro-life, pro-marriage stance of the current President of the UN General Assembly, Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, and the economic crisis that makes it difficult to raise the massive funding needed from donor countries.

Other UN agencies, chief among them the UNFPA, are worried that GEAR's funding drive could negatively impact their own donations. Developed countries, facing in most cases huge current account deficits, are unlikely to want to shell out hundreds of millions for a new, highly controversial U.N. agency.

But funding and Dr. Treki are not their only worries. A number of South American countries are also working to block the effort. The ambassador of a Central American country, who describes himself as "100% pro-life," has said privately that IPPF is overreaching, and that there are a number of ways that GEAR might be stopped.

He is not alone in thinking that the General Assembly resolution mentioned above is insufficient to justify the huge GEAR initiative. In times of budgetary crisis, a mandate to consolidate four existing U.N. agencies into one could well result in a smaller budget, not a billion-dollar one.

PRI, together with other Latin American pro-life groups, have brought lawyers, researchers, professors, and politicians to this year's session of the CSW. This team of Latin American professionals - four as official delegates - is working with their countries' UN missions to oppose the GEAR superagency. Other hidden warriors are here from other parts of the world as well.

As IPPF, IPAS, UNFPA and others are stridently promoting population control and libertine sexual agendas to receptive feminists, these pro-life professionals are quietly working away, speaking with delegates, attending side events, and participating in negotiations. Almost every day I meet a few more of these hidden warriors from other parts of the world.

This year will make or break the initiative. If the radical feminists do not get nearly unified support for GEAR at the current CSW, at the upcoming ministerial meeting, and from the various nations of the world before the next U.N. General Assembly in September of this year, then IPPF's vigorous push for a superagency may well fail.

"The pro-life pro-family movement should absolutely oppose the creation of a UN superagency dedicated to radical feminist goals, which undermine marriage and endanger unborn children," says Steve Mosher, President of the Population Research Institute.

Even if GEAR fails, other U.N. threats to Life and Family will emerge in the months and years to come. And we will be there to meet them.

As PRI's Latin American Director, Carlos Polo, who heads our U.N. delegation to the CSW, says, "We are not here for a single meeting, or to fight a single IPPF initiative. We are here to stay."


1 UNIFEM (UN Development Fund for Women), OSAGI (Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues), DAW (Division for the Advancement of Women), and IN-STRAW (International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women). [Back]

Joan Claire Robinson is Assistant Editor at the Population Research Institute.