UNITED NATIONS: by Anna KrohnNews Weekly
Pro-life voices heard at Melbourne UN conference
, October 2, 2010
During the third week in September, heads of state and leaders of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other entities, some of them larger and more powerful than many sovereign states, gathered at a United Nations summit in New York to discuss the implementation and interpretation of the so-called Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The MDGs are eight targets determined in 2000 by United Nations signatories and designed to overcome extreme poverty at a global level by the year 2015.
No one disputes the desirability of attempting to develop and carry out a comprehensive approach to promote the common good worldwide. However, it is no surprise that the various competing economic, political and religious interests that make up our diverse world have come into conflict over important issues such as: a) poverty and work, b) food and hunger, c) maternal and child mortality, d) infectious and chronic disease, e) inadequate housing, f) inequality based on gender, and g) the relationship between poverty and environmental degradation.
Many readers will recall the fraught ideological disputes over "gender politics", reproductive rights, population policy and the social causes of "need" which took place at the UN's International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994, and again at the UN's Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. These were forerunners, or dress-rehearsals, for many of the contemporary ideological disputes at UN conferences.
It was particularly the presence of young people - especially those inspired by and open about their religious faith - who impressed many of those who attended the recent 63rd United Nations Department of Public Information/Non-Government Organisation (UN DPI/NGO) conference held in Melbourne from August 30 to September 1, 2010.
Delegates from a number of pro-family and pro-life groups participated at the conference, including members of the Australian Family Association, Endeavour Forum, the Catholic Women's League of Australia and Salt Shakers.
The conference theme, "Advancing Global Health", was discussed from the vantage point of agencies and locals who came from the most desperate areas on the planet.
The UN is well aware that it must form successful partnerships with churches and non-government organisations (NGOs), since they are the first to care for those devastated by recent natural disasters, population displacements and the fall-out from the global financial crisis and subsequent economic downturn. They also stay on to minister to the suffering long after government foreign aid runs out and the world's attention is distracted by other issues.
Participants at the Melbourne UN conference were confronted with statistics of the sheer scale of global human suffering: 1 billion people lack access to adequate food; 2.6 billion lack access to improved sanitation; eight out of 10 have no access to safe drinking-water; nearly 9 million children die before the age of five; and at least 340,000 women die during pregnancy and childbirth.
Matthew Restall, organiser of the Australian youth organisation RISE (Restoring Integrity and Sexual Ethics), and his colleague James Leach were among the young delegates attending the conference. Mr Restall made some interesting observations about their time there.
He said: "One of the really important elements to the conference was the Youth Breakfast program. Each morning, young people from the NGOs met to share ideas and to network.
"I was at each one of these and it struck me that there was a great deal of common ground amongst us younger people on the urgent need to overcome poverty.
"These young people did not all agree with my thoughts about sexual integrity and the right to life, but they all were willing to listen with respect to my contributions."
The joint youth statements seem to capture a fervent desire on the part of the younger generation to contribute to the promotion of basic human needs such as water, sanitation, nutrition, economic justice, environmental sustainability and stewardship, and basic maternal and infant welfare.
The concluding declaration of the UN conference in Melbourne acknowledged that some of the Millennium Development Goals - all of which are aimed to improve the health and well-being of the world's population - have been difficult to achieve in the absence of wholesale support from governments and agencies.
Declaration signatories lamented that the MDGs "are significantly off-track for the poorest and least politically powerful people". Although there were many well funded NGOs agitating for "contraception, abortion and sexual health rights and programs", the final declaration managed to steer clear of ratifying any of their controversial demands.Anna Krohn is an educator and educational writer, and is currently a tutor in ethics and spirituality in the department of nursing at Australian Catholic University, Melbourne.