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Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, head of UN Women, speaks at an event at the commission on the status of women, where the Vatican made its late intervention. Photograph: UN
The Vatican breaks its silence at UN gender equality conference

in UNITED STATES, 22/03/2014

Before the start of the commission on the status of women (CSW) – the annual two-week gathering of member states at the UN to discuss progress towards gender equality and women's empowerment – there was disquiet at the Vatican's apparent silence over the wording of the conference's outcome document.

Had the Holy See, which has a seat on the UN as a non-member permanent observer state, and which in 2013 proposed more amendments to the outcome text than any other member, decided to stay out of the discussions this year? Was it quietly influencing the actions of countries with a strong Catholic population without putting its head above water? Would it come into the negotiations late? It appears to have opted for the latter.

This week, the Holy See weighed into the discussions with demands to remove from the CSW outcome document references to sex workers, lesbian, gay, transsexual and bisexual rights, and some of the wording around sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) – specifically those related to abortion and sex education. It is also understood to want the document to include explicit references to the importance of the family – and when the Vatican talks about family, it means in the traditional, nuclear sense: a man, woman and their children.

Although there is no reason to believe these demands will derail the negotiations – the Vatican issued similar statements around SRHR last year, but, after a battle, a strong document still emerged from CSW – the particular reference to the "family" has set off some alarm bells.

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