U.S. to Fund Gender Feminism in Africa?

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On Friday, the Senate passed H.R. 1298 (search), a $15 billion bill "to provide assistance to foreign countries [mostly African] to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, and for other purposes."

One of the "other purposes" is to teach gender feminism to African men and boys. American tax money will re-educate African men to "respect" women, presumably in the belief that men's bad attitudes cause AIDS.

How did this happen?

The Bush administration had pushed hard for quick passage. Bush wanted to arrive at the Group of Eight (G8) Summit (search) on June 1 with clear evidence of America's support for the global fight against AIDS. This would stress "compassionate conservativism" in the wake of war. In other words, H.R. 1298 suffered the same fate as other fast-track bills: opportunistic amendments were attached.

Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., attached an amendment that called for educating African men and boys about gender equality. Crowley explained, "In addition to ABC, they [men] should also learn the big 'R,' respect [for women]." (ABC refers to the AIDS-prevention approach favored by the Bush administration: A for abstinence, B for be faithful and C for condom use.)

By contrast, Crowley's amendment demanded funding "for the purpose of encouraging men to be responsible in their sexual behavior, child rearing and to respect women." It provided for programs "reducing sexual violence and coercion, including child marriage, widow inheritance and polygamy."

The Senate accepted the amendment almost as a matter of rote. Someone should have asked, "Why should the average American, already staggering under the twin burdens of taxation and a weak economy, foot the bill for teaching gender sensitivity to men in Africa?" Why is re-educating men and boys on gender attached to a bill meant to provide emergency medical care?

No one asked these questions because the amendment was overshadowed by other controversies surrounding H.R. 1298, especially the bill's stance on condom use and its promotion of abstinence (search).

Condom Use. Under H.R. 1298, no group will be denied funding because it refuses to distribute condoms. One reason: The Catholic Church cares for approximately 1 in 4 people afflicted with AIDS worldwide. H.R. 1298 wanted to work with, not against, one of the largest "AIDS organizations."

Abstinence. Twenty percent of funding is directed toward prevention programs. Of that amount, one-third is for programs promoting sexual abstinence -- a hot potato topic that was debated on the floor and in the media. Referring to the abstinence provision, Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America, declared, "The passage of this bill may prove to be one of the greatest events in the history of Africa." Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., stated that abstinence was "not in the interest of global health, but in the interest of an American political agenda."

Both issues deserved debate. The imposition of social programs as a condition for or as a part of receiving essential medical care should be questioned. Ideally, prevention and treatment should be science-based, not politics-driven.

Abstention and condom use, at least, have immediate relevance to the science of AIDS prevention. The same cannot be said of the issues raised by Crowley's amendment. For example, how does "widow inheritance" figure into the vector of disease? Only by torturing logic can you arrive at a distant connection: Prosperity contributes to a person's general health and well-being. But this link is so vague that teaching women how to open bank accounts could also be categorized as AIDS prevention, which would make not knowing how to open a bank account into a "cause" of AIDS -- or a contributing factor.

Nevertheless, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., made such connections when he explained, "Much of the transmission of the HIV virus is facilitated by culture, and issues surrounding injustice against women should be addressed."

In his haste, Bush may be forgetting a lesson. In July 2002, the Bush administration withheld $34 million from the United Nations Population Fund largely due to the U.N.'s probable complicity in China's forced abortion policy. The lesson: In the last decades, global agencies and policies have become vehicles to impose political correctness, especially gender feminism, on nations in need.

The Crowley amendment cements political correctness into H.R. 1298. The bill also calls for up to $1 billion to be diverted into the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS. (Bush asked for only $200 million.) The Global Fund is an account at the World Bank -- an organization closely aligned with the U.N. and its policies. The fund is managed by a board composed of donor and recipient nations. Although the U.S. is the largest donor by far, it has only one vote on how money is used and there is no accountability to American taxpayers.

There is reason to hope that the worst aspects of H.R. 1298 -- the imposition of gender feminism, the slighting of male AIDS victims, the enrichment of the World Bank -- may not be realized. The bill does not provide actual funds, which must come from congressional committees. Perhaps in arguments presented in that arena, science will triumph over politics, men and women will be treated equally and expenditures will be tied to accountability. Perhaps.

Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.

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