THE ROLE OF NGOS AT PREPCOM III:
NGO participation at
PrepCom III was unprecedented at all levels. The sheer numbers
alone were impressive. Over 1200 people from 500 different NGOs,
most of whom were women, came from all regions of the world. Never
before had NGOs been so mobilized, so well-organized and so
prepared for serious and systematic advocacy and lobbying. They
came from as diverse backgrounds as the governments they came to
lobby: feminist activists; family planning and women's health
service providers; population control advocates; environmentalists;
religious groups; and "right-to-life" organizations.
They met each day in regional caucuses; lobbying strategy sessions;
issue-based task forces, and the Women's Caucus, which became such
an institution that it took over Conference Room 1 each morning to
accommodate the large number of participants. But unlike other
negotiating processes, the NGOs did not restrict their role to
meeting among themselves at the Church Center and planning their
own political agendas. NGOs, especially the Women's Caucus, played
an extremely active role inside the UN. They were on official
government delegations. They enjoyed unprecedented access to closed
drafting sessions; monitored the negotiation of each chapter;
advised "friendly" delegations and the Secretariat; lobbied
potentially "unfriendly" delegations; and, generally, ensured that
not a single paragraph of the Programme of Action escaped their
Some specific examples of NGO influence at PrepCom III include:
- The chapter on NGOs (Chapter XV) was almost completely free of brackets by the time it was transmitted to the Plenary. It is a strong chapter on partnership, with specific mention of concrete roles for women's groups;
- Most of the brackets were removed in the chapter on gender equality and empowerment of women (Chapter IV), the strength of which reflects persistent NGO pressure;
- The chapter on the family (Chapter V) recognized diverse family forms in the final text that went to the Plenary, in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution on the Year of the Family. NGOs worked hard, in the face of strong opposition by the Holy See and other conservative delegations, to ensure that the concept of the family represented in its plurality of forms remained in the text. The Women's Caucus also succeeded in inclusion of a reference to discrimination based on sexual orientation. Although the reference to sexual orientation was later on removed, the new language refers to elimination of "all forms of discrimination," a much broader concept.
- The inclusion of the reference to "sexual" in the context of "reproductive health" also originated from the Women's Caucus. Indeed, all the definitions on reproductive health were introduced by the Women's Caucus. The concept of reproductive health care represents an important breakthrough. It will be the key to ensuring a more integrated range of services for women, including much- needed early detection and prevention of STDs and AIDS.
- NGOs were also instrumental in raising the issue of accountability of funders, international agencies and governments in the reproductive health care and family planning domains; and
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- The Draft Programme of Action contains considerably stronger language against coercive practices.