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When Zealotry Overwhelms Compassion
April 8, 2003
by Carey Roberts

On March 8, persons around the globe observed International Women's Day. On the occasion of this gala event, United Nations representatives delivered numerous speeches and articles to mark the day.

On the surface, these statements purport to promote gender equality and fairness. But further examination of statements from three U.N. representatives becomes a case study in how the radical feminist agenda can overtake logic, compassion, and fairness.

Noeleen Heyzer

On March 8, the Boston Globe ran an op-ed column entitled, "Boosting Women and the World".

In this essay, Ms. Heyzer cited a number of statistics that purported to show that women are subject to a disproportionate share of suffering and misery around the world.

For example, she noted that "Today, like any other day, hundreds of women will lose their limbs on landmines." What she forgot to mention is that the great majority of landmine victims are male. According to one Red Cross report, 93% of victims of landmines in Afghanistan are men and boys.

But her most defamatory statement went like this: "When women are denied the democratic right to participate in decision-making, the insecurities women face become invisible." The implication of this sweeping generalization is that men are callous to the needs and welfare of women.

Apparently, Ms. Heyzer did not consider the fact that husbands around the world accept jobs that are dirty, dangerous, or tedious in order to provide for their families. When men take on a second job, or accept employment that removes them from their families for extended periods, it's women and children who are the primary financial beneficiaries.

Noeleen Heyzer's column could be easily dismissed as the rant of a low-level U.N. functionary. But Ms. Heyzer is the Executive Director of the UN Development Fund for Women.


UNICEF, headed by Carol Bellamy, also issued a Women's Day statement. The release made the claim that more girls and women died from complications of childbirth in developing countries than from any other cause.

The factual basis of this statement is plain wrong. According to the 2001 World Health Report, the number of deaths from maternal and perinatal conditions in both Africa and Southeast Asia is far lower than deaths from infectious and parasitic diseases in those areas.

The UNICEF statement then went to claim that high maternal mortality rates represent a "shameful" record of discrimination and apathy toward women and their rights.

This explanation strains credibility. Complications of childbirth are primarily caused by poverty, which gives rise to poor nutritional status and unsanitary hygenic conditions. Poverty, of course, causes suffering to men and women alike.

So the UNICEF assertion that maternal mortality is the result of discrimination against women is simply absurd.

Louise Frechette

At an International Women's Day observance in New York, Louise Frechette made this remarkable statement: "all our work for development -- from agriculture to health....must focus on the needs and priorities of women".

Of course, it has been shown that in the area of health, it is men who are disadvantaged and vulnerable. In almost every country, male life expectancy lags behind the life span of women, in some cases, by 15 years. And the Global Burden of Disease study predicted this disparity will actually get worse in the next 20 years.

Like Ms. Heyzer, Ms. Frechette is also highly placed within the United Nations bureaucracy. As Deputy Secretary-General, she reports directly to Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the U.N. Security Council.

Message of Enlightenment?

Noeleen Heyzer's Boston Globe one-sided column makes slanderous insinuations about men. Carol Bellamy's UNICEF makes false statements, and then draws erroneous conclusions about gender discrimination. And Louise Frechette's argument is simply illogical.

Many have claimed that promoting women to the highest echelons of power will bring greater compassion and sensitivity into the political realm. And there is no doubt that one day, women will infuse the priority-setting process at the U.N. with a more caring perspective.

But that message of enlightenment is unlikely to heard from the current crop of gender zealots at the U.N. who purport to speak for the needs of women.

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