According to recent news reports, the Trump administration has instructed U.S. delegates to the United Nations to replace the term “sexual reproductive health” with those like “reproduction and the related health services” and the word “gender” with “woman” in documents and negotiations. These reports (and a resulting letter from members of Congress) stem from “leaked” State Department memos and warn that striking these terms will damage U.S.-foreign relations, hinder access to health care, oppress women’s rights, and “define transgender people out of existence.” These reports are at best misinformed about U.S. development aid and foreign relations and at worst sounding yet another false alarm to continue Obama’s legacy of “progressive” social ideology in U.S. foreign policy.
President Obama’s administration took a hardline approach in promoting legalized abortion, LGBT ideology, and fluid and multiple “gender identities” around the world through the UN, State Department, and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Yet promoting western social values has very little to do with improving U.S.-foreign relations or reaching development goals.
Instead, this is the newest form of colonialism imposed upon vulnerable countries under the guise of foreign aid. It disrespects national sovereignty and individual freedoms of religion and belief. The result: to erode public goodwill toward the United States and endanger U.S. relations with the majority of socially conservative and religious countries of Africa, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East—as well as populations in Latin America and Eastern and Southern Europe.
Several U.S. nongovernmental organizations working closely with member states at the UN report that foreign delegates often feel coerced to accept western social values during negotiations in order to receive funds. Pope Francis’s 2015 address to the UN General Assembly reminds states that even well-intentioned foreign aid risks becoming “cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption, or for carrying out an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.”
Abortion Is Not Women’s Top Health Need
The term “sexual and reproductive health” has been used at the UN to refer to the inclusion of abortion services since negotiations in the Cairo 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). In the conference’s resulting Programme of Action, these and similar terms are clearly defined to include abortion (13.14 and 7.6).
However, contrary to assertions of abortion advocates, legalized abortion is not an international right but under the sovereignty of UN member states. The Programme of Action says any changes related to abortion are determined “at the national or local level according to the national legislative process” (8.25) and even adds that “governments should take the appropriate steps to help women avoid abortion, which in no case should be promoted as a method of family planning.” (8.25 and 7.24)
If U.S. delegates push “sexual reproductive health,” it ultimately undermines the national sovereignty of member states and the U.S. position on funding abortion overseas—i.e. the Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and President Trump’s executive action reinstating and extending the Mexico City Policy through Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance.
Meanwhile, western-based organizations spend billions to push “comprehensive” reproductive services (emphasis “abortion”) on the premise that these promote women’s rights, health, education, and economic prosperity. In developing countries, these organizations widely promote legalized abortion as an integral part of maternal health and decreasing maternal mortality.
But according to the UN and World Health Organization, of the 289,000 women who died in pregnancy or child birth in 2013, only 8 percent died from unsafe abortion. The other 92 percent died from direct and indirect causes like hemorrhaging (leading cause), sepsis, hypertensive disorder, HIV, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease. Why, then, is abortion promoted in a much greater capacity than services that could actually combat the majority of deaths—like skilled birth attendants, antibiotics, blood banking, and uterotonics?
The bottom line is that “vast resources” of global organizations fail to focus on the real causes of maternal mortality—causes the West has effectively treated for almost 100 years. The tragedy, according to two Africa-based maternal health doctors, is that “In the middle of the night, a woman bleeding to death from a post-partum hemorrhage cannot be saved by…a reproductive health mandate.”
Foreign Countries Resent U.S. Abortion-Pushing
In addition, the concept of abortion isn’t accepted within the cultures of most countries. Pew Research Center shows that in 26 out of 40 countries surveyed, the majority of populations believe abortion is “morally unacceptable.” Most of these countries lie in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Muslim-majority countries of Asia and the Middle East. In Africa, all countries surveyed believe abortion is morally wrong by the vast majority of their populations.
A voice for African women, Nigerian-born Obianuju Ekeocha, echoes Pope Francis’s statements, calling the push of abortion by western organizations “Ideological Neocolonialism.” At a UN panel she remarked: “At the core of my people’s value system is the profound recognition that human life is precious, paramount and supreme.”
She explained that in traditional African languages, phrasing abortion in a good light is impossible and colonialization occurs when westerners introduce language and concepts that redefine African culture. She drove the point home: “to convince … any woman in Africa that abortion is … a good thing, you first of all have to tell her that what her parents and her grandparents and her ancestors taught her is actually wrong … and that…is colonialization.”
Gender Identity and U.S. Foreign Policy
In addition, clarifying the word “gender” to refocus “gender empowerment and equality” on women’s needs and inequalities is sorely needed in U.S. domestic law and foreign policy. For decades, these terms have referred to empowering women and decreasing the many historically and statistically documented inequalities between men and women. But since Obama’s administration, the term “gender” has more often been used to promote social acceptance of homosexuality and transgenderism domestically and internationally.
If one doubts the extremity of Obama-era “gender” programming, one example of many is USAID’s Health Policy Plus (HP+) and its Gender and Sexual Diversity training module. It promotes the concept that an individual’s gender identity, defined as “one’s internal or inside experience of gender (or) how one wishes to define their own gender,” doesn’t always correspond with their biological sex (12.2.3).
It also teaches “biological sex, gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation all exist on separate continuums,” and is cautious to explain that “attempting to guess where someone is on one continuum based on where they exist on another is not only often wrong, it can be insulting” (12.2.5). Question: even if Americans agreed on this concept (and they do not), what does this have to do with U.S.-taxpayer funded foreign development and aid?
Let’s Help Women by Ignoring Them
Obama’s foreign policy actually turned funds allocated for “gender empowerment” away from supporting women and girls around the world. How terribly unfortunate, considering that initiatives to protect women and girls and advance their participation and rights are severely lacking in funding.
Consider that of the millions of victims of global human trafficking each year, 52 percent are women and 22 percent are girls under the age of 18 used for sexual exploitation and forced labor. Also consider that 40 percent of girls in the least developed countries are married before age 18, and 12 percent before age 15. These are only two critical areas where gender foreign aid should focus.
Even with Obama’s foreign-policy push, LGBT activists failed to get “sexual orientation and gender identity” (SOGI) terms into any binding treaty at the UN. The terms are “mentioned in only a few non-binding resolutions … suggestions governments are free to ignore.”
Neither does international law recognize SOGI terms, in large part due to non-consensus among UN member states on their use. Furthermore, most countries don’t consider LGBT people a distinct class in need of special protections beyond those of other citizens.
The citizens of these countries don’t agree, either. Pew research shows that in most of 40 countries surveyed, half or more of their populations believe homosexuality is “morally unacceptable.” In seven countries, 90 percent or more of the population holds this view.
Another survey found “widespread rejection in predominantly Muslim nations and in Africa, as well as in parts of Asia and Russia” mainly in religious countries. Surely, based on these facts U.S. foreign policy and aid should be more sensitive to the traditional beliefs and cultures of other countries.
Public Diplomacy and Foreign Policy
In 2003, an independent task force was sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations to develop a strategy to respond to an alarming rise in anti-Americanism. The task force concluded that Washington faces challenges overseas that can’t just be won with military force, but with “willing” foreign partners created by “a strong and robust public policy—one able to win hearts and minds and show people that the United States can once again be trusted and admired.” And, to be effective, public diplomacy must help “explain how U.S. policies fit the values and interests of other nations.”
The Trump administration’s instruction to strike references to “sexual reproductive health” and clearly define “gender” terms at the UN makes sense for U.S. foreign policy. It is one small step towards considering how U.S. policies fit the “values and interests of other nations,” respect national sovereignty, and focus on the real objectives of foreign aid and relations. This step will go a long way in improving U.S. public diplomacy and foreign relations around the world.