Thu, 11 Aug 1994

Cairo summit to focus on sexual rights, abortion

JAKARTA (JP): The issues of abortion, reproductive and sexual health and rights, as well as gender equality, are likely to grab major attention during an upcoming population summit in Cairo, says State Minister for Population Haryono Suyono.

The minister called on government officials and activists of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who will attend the International Conference on Population Development (ICPD) next month to present a unified stance on the controversial issues.

Opening a preparatory population workshop involving some 70 government officials and NGOs activists yesterday, Haryono said he was aware of differences of opinion among them but hoped that they put their "national identity" first.

"I'm asking the NGOs to be partners of the government, instead of opposing the government," he said after the ceremony.

Haryono's attempt to woo the NGOs, known for their frequent anti-government criticism, surprised the activists.

"This is going to take me a while to absorb," said Sita Kayam, leader of the Kalyanamitra women's group.

In his speech, Haryono suggested that government officials and NGOs activists, who will hold parallel meetings in Cairo, also have a unified voice when they discuss the concept of family.

"We only recognize the form of family which is based on the legal marital institution," Haryono said, adding that Indonesia, however, "respects other nations who adhere to other forms of family."

A preparatory committee meeting held in New York in April was reported to have been beset by controversy over the concept of family, and efforts to separate reproductive rights from sexual rights.

Some activists participating in the New York meeting have demanded that the conference recognize the right to choose in matters of sexual preference, and accept homosexual relationships.

They also demanded that the United Nations amend the UN Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to incorporate, among other things, the right to homosexuality.

Haryono also suggested yesterday that the activists pursue the concept of gender equity, rather than gender equality, in Cairo.

Though expressing support for Indonesia's notion of "harmonious gender partnership," which was endorsed at the recent Asia-Pacific meeting on women in Jakarta, Haryono warned that "demanding equality in every respect ... would become a boomerang for women."

"Equity is a much better concept than blind demand for equality," he claimed.

Later in the day, several female experts presented their papers on the controversial issues. Dr. Saparinah Sadli from the University of Indonesia applauded the inclusion of women's reproductive health among efforts at population control.

She said the Indonesian family planning program will benefit by accepting the UN definition of reproductive health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely as the absence of disease, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes."

The other speakers in the workshop yesterday were Enny Busiri from the Indonesian Women Congress (KOWANI), Titi Sumbung from Melati Foundation, an NGO, Zubaidah Muchtar from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and Haryono's assistant Dr. Abdullah Cholil.

President Soeharto is one of several heads of state scheduled to address the population summit in Cairo. He is expected to speak on Indonesia's experience with population development programs. (swe)