The UN’s Mixed Message on Girls


Last week the UN drew attention to the International Day of the Girl, a day set aside to raise awareness of the disadvantages that still plague many girls around the world: poverty, unequal access to education, and the potential to be forced into early childhood marriages or sexual slavery.  According to the UN, if you educate a girl, you are already bettering humanity as a whole.  No doubt the work that the UN is doing should be celebrated by feminists worldwide.  I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting UN representatives from GirlUp, the organization that tries to empower girls who are well off to help their sisters in need through advocacy, education, and outreach.

However, there is a dire poverty and paradox in the U.N.’s campaigning for girls. For as long as the U.N. is a friend to abortion advocates who want to support abortion as a human right, it’s sending mixed messages, at best, about women, freedom, and flourishing.

Members of the UN repeatedly pass resolutions, with the encouragement of abortion advocates like Planned Parenthood and Amnesty International, to support abortion as a fundamental human right.  Last October, a resolution was adopted without a vote to include abortion under the phrase “sexual and reproductive rights” and “maternal health” which would have required member nations to uphold unrestricted access to abortion.  This past spring, pro-life advocates were able to prevent it from being included in the language of human rights, primarily due to the efforts of the Vatican and eight other member states.

What would this mean, for women to have a human right to abortion?  It would mean that girls and women have the fundamental right to terminate the lives of their unborn daughtersNothing could be more self-contradictory for the UN to propose than this.

Though the UN, along with groups like Amnesty International, are successful in drawing attention to human rights abuses, it seems that they are turning a blind eye to the gendercide taking place in countries like China and India…and now perhaps in the West.  Little girls are disappearing at an unforgiving pace.

The Washington Post reported on Friday that in England, several lawyers have brought a lawsuit against doctors for performing abortions based on sex-selection; the abortions were performed on girls, because their parents preferred to have boys.  Though the former health secretary, Andrew Lansley, is quoted as saying he is disturbed by the revelation and that “sex selection is illegal,” the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, said that in England, there is no clear prohibition of gender selective abortions.

Our own country, also member of the UN, also has failed to stand up against sex-selective abortions which harm our nation’s girls.  According to an article from Duke University, “although Western societies’ attitudes towards women differ significantly from other parts of the world, the demand for male offspring is still apparent with 81% of men and 94% of women stating that they would desire to ensure their first child was a boy.”

Last spring, the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (also known as PRENDA), was struck down by Congress with the approval of President Barack Obama who said, “The Administration opposes gender discrimination in all forms…but the government should not intrude in family or private matters in this way.”  So, the United States is against gender discrimination, unless it’s taking place in the privacy of someone’s home.  Unborn American girls are at the mercy of whether or not their parents are content with having a daughter.

How can we stand with the UN for the education and empowerment of young girls around the world if we don’t consider the plight of girls still in the womb?

In the days following the International Day of the Girl, let’s work toward achieving real equality for girls, beginning with their right to life.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Elise Italiano teaches bioethics in Washington, DC, and is a volunteer for Catholic Voices USA.  She is a contributor to the book Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves, ed. Helen Alvare.

Leave A Reply