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Saturday, September 03, 2005

UN Program Rejects Abstinence Group for Criticizing Condoms

UN Program Rejects Abstinence Group for Criticizing Condoms
A Nigerian organization was denied admittance to a United Nations program that solicits volunteers because the organization's leader criticized condoms in the prevention of HIV on the African continent. The Action Family Foundation (AFF) was told that they are at odds with the UN's official position on AIDS prevention known as the ABC method which promotes abstinence, sexual fidelity and condom use. But the Friday Fax has learned that the UN program has granted admittance to several groups who are highly critical of abstinence and critical of the entire ABC approach. In an e-mail dated July 22, Dr. Emmanuel I.B. Okechukwu, president of AFF, was told his organization could not participate in the UN Volunteer's Online Volunteering service, which matches organizations with volunteers who can provide services from their own homes. Annika Diederich, who works for the UN Online Volunteers office in Bonn, Germany, wrote in the email that "UN policy, as you must be aware, clearly outlines an approach with balanced A B C components as the most effective tool in the fight against HIV/AIDS." Diederich said the UN Online Volunteers had "reservations about Action Family Foundation's position and information dissemination on the use of condoms as a legitimate method of HIV/AIDS prevention. UNV cannot endorse your criticism of condoms as voiced in your articles on the Abstinence Clearinghouse web site, for instance." In the offending article, found on the AfricaAbstinence.com website, Okechukwu argued that widespread condom distribution in Africa has resulted in a "sense of false security" and "subtly engenders sexual initiation/experimentation by young people who otherwise were abstinent, and emboldens the already sexually active into multiple sexual partnering." The result, he says, is "that [the] condom and the activities it engenders constitute the single most important factor promoting HIV spread around the world." But despite the insistence of UN Volunteers officials that groups admitted to their program cannot criticize any part of the ABC approach, several member groups are openly critical of the ABC approach in general and abstinence in particular. One such organization is the Voluntary Service Overseas. In a report on the 15th international conference on AIDS and HIV in Bangkok, the UK-based organization said that because of "gender" inequality "initiatives that promote ABC alone (Abstinence, Be faithful, Condom use) so heavily advocated by the US, are unlikely to be successful." A UN affiliated organization, the World Food Program, said that "For an alarming number of women, HIV prevention is not as simple as 'ABC,'". The Center for Reproductive Rights website features numerous criticisms of abstinence, including an article by a Dutch senator saying that the "US reproductive policy overseas has dangerous consequences for women" because it "over-emphasizes abstinence education." In an interview with the Friday Fax, Elise Bouvet, Online Volunteering Program Specialist, defended their rejection of the Nigerian group for their criticism of condoms while admitting organizations critical of abstinence and ABC. She said stopping the spread of AIDS is a "complex" issue. "To be critical of the ABC approach is fine -- to say that it's maybe not the best solution," Bouvet said. But the AFF's rejection of condoms was too dogmatic. The article by Okechukwu "is straightforward [in saying that condoms were] the thing responsible for the HIV increase in Africa. It's written like the single most important factor promoting HIV . . . around the world." That position means "you cannot dialog; it's not about criticism. It's . . . a very strict position." But Bouvet did acknowledge that many of the groups had been admitted to UN Volunteers early in the program's existence before admittance guidelines had been put firmly in place and she promised that a review of current member organizations was underway. "[W]e are working on revamping the website, reviewing the content and reviewing the criteria [for admission]. We will go group by group to see if the criteria still matches their policy [and to approach groups that are problematic or borderline]. We may have to re-contact Voluntary Service Oversees given the clearer policy on the website. I think you are right that we should treat all the same groups the same way. This is in the plans to review all the groups." An experienced UN observer told the Friday Fax "this is typical of the hypocrisy of the UN. They bend over backward for their ideological soul-mates and punish those they don't like." The Friday Fax will continue to monitor the situation.

From the Friday Fax of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute.
Did I ever write about that Scottish chap who told me he used to work for some publicly-funded sex ed thing, thinking that the folk in it were no doubt sincere and that perhaps one might get further by working with the sex ed thing rather than criticising it from outside, and who several times heard conversations in which the complete failure of the "more contraception" approach was acknowledged by these public servants, who however agreed that the main thing was to keep going.
There should be a question mark at the end of that, but it would look silly.