St. Joan’s International Alliance
Special consultative status at the United Nations since 1971
Our Alliance, founded in London in 1911, seeks to ensure that the practical equality of rights between women and men is recognized in all fields and on all continents. It is the only Catholic feminist organization that is recognized by both the United Nations and the Vatican (associate member of’ the Conference of International Catholic Organizations). It is therefore in a crucial position to promote women’s advancement throughout the world. Over the past 20 years, the feminist movement has weakened considerably in Europe and in every country in which civil laws have greatly improved. The lack of any progress in the Catholic ecclesiastical sphere has driven many feminists away from Catholic institutions. Despite our recruitment difficulties and our dwindling numbers, we have always maintained our frankness on these burning issues, on which we have acquired recognized experience.
The need to protect and promote women’s rights in many countries of the South has prompted us to pay special attention to these countries. Since 1993, to the extent that we can afford to do so, we have distributed, free of charge, our new quarterly magazine Terre des Femmes. Sociétés el Religions. Nouvelles Internationales in these countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. This publication provides information on progress, obstacles and initiatives concerning the civil, individual and family rights of women of every continent and every religion. Our most effective efforts today are made by means of this publication and the contacts it affords. The arrival of the Internet has opened up new opportunities and means of action.
Participation in United Nations meetings
(a) World Conference on Women. Four of our delegates took part, and also took part in the “parallel” Non-Governmental Organizations’ Forum on Women in Huairou Active participation in the debate on female genital mutilation;
(b) Non-governmental organizations’ consultation preparatory to the World Conference on Women (Vienna, March 1993). our delegate in Vienna took part and, following various contacts there, wrote to the World Council of Churches in Geneva asking it to organize a pluralist “Women and Religions” centre at the NonGovernmental Organizations’ Forum in Beijing This was done in Huairou and was called the “Dialogue among Women of Faith Centre;
(c) International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (Paris, UNESCO, 30 and 31 May 1995). Workshops preparatory to the World Conference on Women: “Towards a ‘Platform Plus”‘. Our association had been invited to attend, the president of’ our French chapter helped draft the joint “Platform Plus” document which we signed;
(d) Symposium of International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) on “Family Rights of Women” (Vienna International Centre, January 1993). Participation of our delegate in Vienna and publication of the proceedings of this meeting;
(e) Non-governmental organizations’ conference at the United Nations (New York. September 1997). Our international president participated;
(1) Training. Our Alliance sent one of’ our members from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a sociologist who had worked as a “rural development agent” in various provinces of her country, to two training sessions on international realities, organized for delegates of nongovemmental organizations to United Nations bodies by the International Catholic Centre of Geneva ( 1994 and 1995).
Efforts to promote United Nations resolutions
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
Absolutely ALL of our activities and publications support this Convention and call for its practical implementation in all areas. Our magazine regularly reports on the achievements, obstacles, initiatives and progress noted in each State. At the national level, our United States chapter, particularly in the state of Missouri, has fought for government ratification of this Convention. For States in the process of drafting a new Constitution (in Africa, for example), our magazines explain the most effective strategies for ensuring that the principle of equal rights between women and men is included. We seek to ensure that religious organizations, especially Catholic ones, in the educational and social fields combat traditional prejudices that bar women’s access to knowledge, property and power. See, for example, our critique of the document World Hunger, presented by the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (Rome, October 1996). This document praises women’s contribution to development in poor countries, but advocates the preservation of traditional structures in terms of women’s status. In preparation for the Synod of Bishops for Asia (Rome, April-May 1998), we expressed appreciation to the Bishops’ Conference of Japan, which had demanded that the grave problem of women’s status in Asia should be seriously addressed on that occasion and that women should be invited to participate. Our Alliance sent five specific requests to the bishops of Asia in Japan, the Philippines and the Middle East. At the opening of the Synod, the Catholic press agency ADISTA (Rome) sent these requests to all Roman Catholic institutions hosting bishops from Asia on that occasion.
Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others
We continue to lobby the Holy See to accede to this Convention, inter alia through our official request to the bishops of Asia, meeting in Rome for the Synod for Asia. This request, which recalled that the Holy See is not a party to the Convention and noted the ravages of the international sex trade in South-East Asia, was widely disseminated in the Catholic world by the Catholic press agencies ADISTA (Rome) and CIP (Brussels). This is a continuation of the direct (and fruitless!) efforts made in this regard by our Alliance in relation to the Holy See in 1981, at the suggestion of the President of the International Abolitionist Federation. We had already published a critical study on “The Catholic Church and Procuring”.
Continued cooperation with the International Abolitionist Federation to publicize their warnings and those of the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues and the “Le Nid” Movement against any regulation of the profession of prostitution, as is currently being proposed for Europe, inter alia by the Netherlands. Such regulation leads to the legalization and encouragement of procuring. Many articles have appeared in our magazines on the horrors of the international sex trade.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Campaign against female genital mutilation, which has been waged continuously since our first report on this subject in 1952. Despite all our efforts, the Roman Catholic Church, in contrast to the Lutheran and Orthodox Churches of Ethiopia, has never expressly condemned this type of mutilation, which is practised on so many African women, including thousands of Catholic girls. In preparation for the Synod of Bishops for Africa (March 1994), we sent a detailed request on this subject to many African bishops. It had no direct results: the subject was not discussed at the Synod. However, our articles on the Catholic Church’s silence on this subject were mentioned and partially reproduced in a major French Catholic magazine, and two months later, in 1997, some very subtle practical responses on Rome’s part were observed. In preparing a draft law in Belgium against the sexual abuse of minors, we supported the proposal of the government commission to include an article condemning the practice of female genital mutilation on minors in Belgium. We then publicized in the press our disappointment (July 1997) when, in the end, this article was deleted and no prevention and education plan was proposed. Since Belgium now has an entirely new Government and Parliament (1999), we plan to renew our efforts.
1992 UNESCO Prize for Human Rights Education. We nominated the Institute of Women’s Law of the University of Oslo, which, in collaboration with the Private Law Department of the University of Zimbabwe at Harare and with financial assistance from NORAD (Norwegian Agency for International Development), had organized, in 1987, a postgraduate course on women’s rights law for African jurists, complemented by a master’s degree course and a doctoral course in this area. This example spread quickly to nine South-East African countries, with tremendous practical results, down to the “grass roots” of the population, for social justice and development. Our information packet on this subject may prompt some French language universities to take similar initiatives in the French-speaking African countries.
Population, demographics, family planning assistance. We have long criticized the Vatican’s position on these problems, particularly in the preparations for the International Conference on Population and Development (1994). We have denounced Rome’s obscurantism with regard to the population problem; the Holy See’s systematic obstruction of the Preparatory Conference (April 1994) through its 147 objections to terminology used in the proposed text; and especially its ban on all contraception, despite the opposing views of the experts convoked by Pope Paul VI to study the issue. These problems are discussed regularly in all issues of our magazine. In our view, their real impact on women’s health and lives and on the future of humanity is extremely serious.
Lecture on Women’s Rights Education Courses for rural African populations, given by a member of our organization, Charles Ntampaka, a Rwandan law professor, who had established and organized these courses at three different levels throughout his country and who discussed his method at our 1997 General Assembly.
Our Catholic feminist struggle is harsh, but exciting. Despite our great weakness at the present time, we know that our efforts, limited as they may be by the forces at work, are important in some circles. We trust that the small seeds of information we are sowing through our publications, in a somewhat random fashion, will take root one day, here or there, in some part of the world, and will bear fruit for justice and the harmonious development of humanity. It is vital that we retain our status at the United Nations for the survival and development of our activities, which, at this time, would be hard to replace in our specialized area.