For These Reasons

By Amparo Claro
Summer 1999

Why did the Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Health Network take this stand even before Cairo? The following arguments justify our position.

Presently, in a large majority of countries in the world, church and state are separate entities. As we all know, separation between church and state can be traced back to the eighteenth century. Even in Latin America, where for centuries state machineries have been heavily influenced by the Catholic church, the majority of countries have clearly established the differentiation between state and church in the course of this century.

In our view, the United Nations is part of a global and secular governance system. Its principles and rules are fundamentally inspired by the same concepts and ideas that, since the eighteenth century, have gradually led to the separation of church and state: democracy, citizenship, equality, and human rights. As a global governance institution, the United Nations’ decisions must be grounded in a “social contract” between member states. This necessarily implies respectful dialogue across differences in view of reaching consensus on matters that directly concern the well being of people, including the respect and observance of women’s rights. At the ICPD, reproductive rights were accepted by the world’s governments only after a bitter battle with the Vatican.

In light of this, we consider it entirely unacceptable that UN negotiations and decisions are influenced by exclusive and dogmatic ideologies and moralities permanently imposed on other members by a unique and privileged observer.

Let’s imagine that the Vatican could be considered a state and, consequently, would have full rights as a UN member party. Even in that case, its position in contemporary global debates should be extremely humble and cautious, particularly when the subject is women’s lives and rights. As we know, the Vatican does not represent or express the diversity of opinions and ideas within the larger Christian community. It does not even reflect the multiple voices of the Catholic community.

The historical record concerning the Catholic church toward women is not inspiring for a twenty-first-century agenda. Remember the portrayal of women as evil powers, so evil they were burned as witches, images the West has inherited from Catholic discourse and practice of the Dark Ages.

In the contemporary era, if the Vatican were a state, it would be one in which women and children, especially girls, would be extremely under represented. As we all know, the Vatican is governed by men who have chosen celibacy and who are quite distanced from the concrete and daily experiences of ordinary people, most particularly women, who have not abandoned sexuality, who may or may not have children, who are in search of well being. The Vatican should be very humble and cautious when it is tempted to impose its views on matters outside its experience, knowledge, and awareness.

For all these reasons, the Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Health Network, encompassing more than 2,000 organizations, calls for the review of the Vatican’s status at the United Nations.


Amparo Claro is general coordinator of Red de Salud de las Mujeres Latinoamericanas y del Caribe (Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Health Network). This article is adapted from a speech given at the kickoff of The “See Change” Campaign at the United Nations in March.


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