The World’s Women According to the UN

Arzu Merali provides a brief critique of UN literature compiled for the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China, September 1995, based on a review of some of the agency literature she found there.

Download the report here.

The report gives examples of racist and Islamophobic imagery and text used in UN agency materials. Racism and Islamophobia feature heavily in much of the output in an unthinking manner calling into question the UN’s role as an objective arbiter of morals and standards.

An example from the report:

“The World Health Organisation and the UN Fund for Children both produced masses of literature about women’s and girls’ health issues. In all the literature examined, all images of disease were illustrated by non-European origin faces and examples. In particular, the concept of the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STDs was one firmly rooted in the developing world. Women of colour are used as examples of victims of male promiscuity and as promiscuous themselves in contracting and spreading infection. This is then, an argument for greater family planning in the Southern world. The woman of colour’s fertility is indissolubly linked with the idea of the spread of disease.”


Some of the imagery referred to can be found in the appendices of the report, Other Voices in the Garden: Why Muslim Women Don’t Have Human Rights, which can be downloaded here[external link].

Photo: Hillary Clinton addresses the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, 1995, PDM 1.0