Robes, relics and rights: The Vatican and the Beijing conference on women
Over the past decade, the United Nations conference has become an increasingly important site for contesting views on social relations. Although UN conferences cover a broad range of topics, from the environment to development, a recurrent focus of international debate has been on gender, and particularly, women's sexual and reproductive autonomy. The Beijing Conference on Women (1995) represented, in some respects, a culmination of international positioning around gender and women's rights. As such, it attracted the participation of not only a large contingent of women's organizations, but also a significant number of fundamentalist and conservative religious groups. In this article, I explore the participation of the Vatican in the Beijing process. The Vatican has a long history of involvement in international population issues which has positioned it as a leading international actor in opposing women's rights to reproductive freedom. This article focuses on the rhetorical and discursive strategies used by the Vatican at Beijing. By focusing on how the Vatican has responded to a women's human rights agenda, the paper explores some of the tensions and contradictions not only in the Vatican's position, but also in the campaign for women's rights. Through an examination of the Vatican's position at Beijing, the article offers some insight into the internationalization of rights debates and the significance this has for those on the religious right.