Ms. Germain: Thank you very much Dr. Bista. Now I will introduce Lucy Atkins, who is the Director of the Margaret Sanger Center International for our final comment.
Lucy Atkins: Inspiring presentations we have heard tonight speak to us of two opposing forces: on the one hand we heard about the slow but inexorable progress being made throughout the world towards women's empowerment and freedom of choice; on the other hand we hear and see the dramatic crusade being waged by the ultraconservative opposition against that very same progress. In many cases, such as India, this opposition arises from traditional patriarchal culture, laws and practices. Many of the customs there probably seem foreign to most of us in this room. But ironically, we, as citizens of the world's most developed nation, need to realize that our own government, the most fundamentally religious government we have ever had, has joined the battle -- and in some cases is leading the charge -- against women's empowerment.
My message tonight is simple: we are in the midst of a major cultural struggle between two very different world visions. This is not just a political disagreement on any specific policy or piece of legislation. This is a battle between two very different ways of viewing the world. And at the root of this conflict lie opposing views on women, power and sexuality. That's right: women, power and sexuality.
We at Margaret Sanger Center International have a vision of a world where healthy sexuality, reproductive choice and gender equity are accepted parts of life. I believe most of us in this room share this vision. Our vision is of a world where:
However, the ultraconservative, religious opposition does not share this vision. On both sides we believe fervently in the honor and goodness of our visions, however we disagree totally on issues around women, power and sexuality. The religious extremist opposition in this country - the Evangelical Christians who accounted for 40% of the President's vote and who increasingly control domestic and foreign policy -do not share our vision of the world we are working towards. In their vision, the "natural family" is dominated by the male and women dedicate themselves to raising all the children that come their way. Sex is only to take place within the confines of heterosexual marriage for purposes of procreation. Indeed, in their worldview, sexuality and particularly women's sexuality, is the root of man's downfall. It must be controlled, so that women remain subordinate to men. It is only by understanding this opposing world view that any sense can be made of the kinds of policies that the current Administration has been pursuing in relation to family planning, reproductive rights, HIV/AIDS and sex education.
These policies are consistent with their worldview and they are intended to be imposed throughout the world and here at home. Make no mistake about this; policies we are seeing imposed overseas, that are affecting the women of India and Nepal, are policies that this Administration intends to apply in the United States as well.In our video, Sapna Malla was incredulous about how the US government could apply the GGR abroad when abortion is legal in the US. What she didn't know is that this Administration is also upset about that inconsistency: it intends to make abortion illegal in the US, too.
We heard from Nirmal Bista about the devastating effects of the Global Gag Rule. What Dr Bista told us is happening in Nepal is happening around the world. It is happening also in Zambia, a southern African country plagued by excruciating poverty and staggering rates of HIV/AIDS. At Margaret Sanger Center International we have been working for years with Planned Parenthood of Zambia to help build up their youth-friendly services and support their pioneering collaboration with faith-based and governmental agencies. Despite their ideological differences, religious and secular agencies in Zambia have joined forces, since -- in their words -- "the future of Zambia depends on the sexual health of its youth. Youth need to have access to accurate information so they themselves can choose the path that will help them stay alive." But now Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia, just like FPAN, is struggling to survive because it stood up for its principles; because it stood up for women. It too has lost major funding, has had to cut back on vital services, has lost access to condoms and other contraceptives, and can no longer provide life-saving services to youth. This is how the US is exporting its conservative agenda - designed to keep women subordinate, and youth ignorant about their sexuality.