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Holy See and Sex

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The declaration text at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development contains no references to reproductive rights.

The weak language pertaining to gender, health and education is largely due to the influence of the Vatican.

The Vatican's permanent mission to the UN, the Holy See, has been included in UN processes as a "permanent non-member observer state" since 1964.

At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the Holy See fought and failed to remove the clause calling for "include women-centered, women-managed, safe and effective reproductive health care," and at Rio+20 took up that mission again.

This time, they succeeded in removing any reference to reproductive health and rights from the text though. During the negotiations, the Holy See proposed nearly one hundred deletions and alterations to the text on gender, health and education. More than any member observer state present.

The Holy See's influence at the UN, despite not actually being a member state, is granted based on recognition of the Holy See's religious, spiritual and moral authority in the world.

This position is disputed by Catholics for Choice, who have lobbied against the Holy See's inclusion in UN negotiations since 1999. They argue that they have a "dogmatic agenda" and "[seeks] to use its privileged position under the banner of the Holy See at the UN to impose its agenda on everyone."

That agenda, at Rio+20, has largely been to block progress on advancing sexual health and reproductive rights.

The original text was endorsed by the Major Groups for Women and Children & Youth, with mention of "ensuring universal access to safe, effective, modern, affordable and acceptable family planning." The final text contains the somewhat less decisive verbs "recognise" "aim" and "support" in relation to women's health.

The consequences of the Vatican's agenda could be disastrous for women's rights and sustainable development as a whole.

"Everyone who cares about women should be very, very worried about the Holy See's interference with reproductive rights," says Tania Dethlefsen of a Danish family planning association.

Ensuring access to sexual healthcare, including contraception, is a millennium development goal, yetthe Vatican opposes the use of all types of contraception other than the notoriously unreliable "natural" methods.

Socially and environmentally, the Holy See's position on reproductive health is unsound. Population management through effective family planning is an essential component of sustainable development.

Family planning is the cheapest avenue to sustainable development with six dollars saved for every one invested. It is also a human right, and one which is too often denied to women, despite the profound influence on women's quality of life. The right to medical care is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and includes the right to reproductive healthcare.

The Holy See's claim to legitimate statehood - and thus permanent observer status at the UN - is tenuous at best. Unlike the Vatican, the Holy See does not have any permanent citizens or land and their representatives are only allowed in Geneva because other states have permitted it. If the Holy See were to be used as precedent then any religion could claim a seat at the UN, if only they were centralised enough.

The UN Charter expressly ensures "fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to religion." The Vatican's anti-choice, anti-women agenda is clearly a religious one. By blocking UN resolutions on these issues, the Vatican seeks to impose its religious dogma on all people, no matter their beliefs.

Religious dogma has no place at UN negotiations which seeks to improve the lives of many regardless of their faith. The Vatican must not be allowed to continue its anachronistic agenda in such an important international arena.

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