by Marcela Valente
(IPS) BUENOS AIRES -- Four more years of President George W. Bush in the White House will pose a major obstacle for efforts to promote sexual and reproductive health in Latin America, according to Monty Eustace, the president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region (IPPF/WHR).
"The next four years are going to be very difficult for the United States and for Latin America," he told IPS.
Eustace was recently in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to participate in an IPPF/WHR-sponsored symposium on the Millennium Development Goals and sexual and reproductive health in Latin America and the Caribbean.
When Bush first became president in 2001, Eustace noted, he adopted a series of measures that violated the principles of sexual and reproductive health adopted by the international community at the International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo, Egypt in 1994.
The Cairo conference gave rise to a new paradigm for population policies, shifting the focus from demographic objectives to the human rights of individuals, and particularly the need to empower women.
Through a program of action known as the Cairo Consensus, the international community pledged its commitment to the goals of universal access to family planning services and sex education, as well as facing up to such sensitive challenges as HIV/AIDS and unsafe abortion.
Many of these breakthroughs were made as a result of the demands of civil society.
The goals put forward in Cairo were duly pursued under the Clinton administration, but the advent of Bush brought an abrupt change of course.
On his very first full day in office in January 2001, Bush reinstated the Mexico City Policy, better known as the Global Gag Rule, originally enacted in 1984 by then president Reagan.
The policy prohibits the allocation of international family planning funds to foreign or international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide abortion-related services, including information on abortion and lobbying to change their countries' abortion laws, even when they are not using U.S. money to conduct these activities.
Under the policy, the NGOs are even forbidden from participating in public debates or discussing abortion-related issues.
As a result, a great many organizations that provide crucial sexual and reproductive health services in developing countries are denied an urgently needed source of funding.
According to Eustace, the work of the IPPF has entailed 50 years of struggle, and despite the obstacles raised by governments and churches along the way, significant progress has still been made.
But with Bush in power for another four years, the organization's work in Latin America will not be easy, he added.
The region is highly influenced by the United States for economic reasons, which has allowed the wave of U.S. neo-conservativism to affect the entire hemisphere.
Representatives of women's organizations participating in the Rio de Janeiro symposium concurred with Eustace.
Maria Jose Lubertino, of the Argentine Political and Social Institute on Women, told IPS that the results of the recent U.S. elections leave little room for optimism.
Some, however, prefer to accentuate the advances that have been made in the civil society sphere.
The neo-conservative influence can be seen in the spheres of power, such as governments, businesses and the Catholic Church, said Marta Lamas, a Mexican anthropologist and president of the non-governmental Reproductive Choice Information Group.
But in civil society, the advances that have been made will be impossible to revert.
"As strong as the conservative influence may be, there are certain ideas and practices that have begun to take root, and there is no going back. Young people have had a taste of sexual freedom, and they're not prepared to lose it," she said.
In this context, Bush's re-election is nothing more than a "critical stage" of "a battle won over a long haul," which will eventually oblige the Church and governments, even the most conservative in the hemisphere, to adapt their approach to the subject.
But this process will take years, she noted.
In the meantime, the "demonization" of sex by conservative sectors, which promote celibacy as the only way to avoid pregnancy and prevent AIDS, could keep sexually active young people, and others, from getting both the information and the means they need to protect themselves.
Without access to the necessary precautions -- like condoms and other forms of birth control -- there will undoubtedly be an increase in teenage pregnancy, unwanted children, unsafe abortions in countries where they are still illegal, and HIV/AIDS infections.
"Lives are going to be lost, and that's what worries me most," said Lamas.
December 8, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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