The biggest flashpoint of controversy was the presence of Katalin Novák — Hungary’s first female president — at the opening ceremony alongside the presidents of Rwanda, Senegal, and Ethiopia.
In her remarks, Novák spoke about the need for women in both the workforce and the family, and highlighted some of Hungary’s policies to ensure that families do not have to choose between having children and financial stability.
Other speakers and attendees were outraged over Novák’s presence. Dr. Angela Akol, the head of the pro-abortion organization Ipas Africa Alliance, referred to the conference being “penetrated by people who have espoused anti-rights opinions.”
Both Akol and Datta received loud applause for their comments.
Dr. Maliha Khan, the president and CEO of Women Deliver, responded to the furor in a statement saying that Novák was there at the request of the host government of Rwanda, which had organized the opening ceremony.
The conference featured several events on abortion, including one focusing on the international reverberations of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision from last year, where the constitutional right to abortion was overturned. A poll of participants found that 87 percent said that Dobbs is influencing the abortion debate outside of the U.S.
One session was about the rise in opposition to “sexual and reproductive health and rights” (SRHR), the umbrella term used by activists to refer to a variety of controversial topics, including abortion, issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, and comprehensive sexuality education for children at all ages.
Several speakers commented on the international pro-life and pro-family movement’s increased professionalism, expanding network, and recent successes both at the national and international level.
Stephanie Copus Campbell, Australia’s minister for gender equality, spoke revealingly about the priorities of more progressive governments when asked what her country’s “red lines” were. “We have to go out and fund a ‘pushback to the pushback’…that’s money that we could be using to address climate change, to address maternal health, to address better access to water and sanitation.”
Some, including Datta, urged attendees to go after pro-life and pro-family groups’ sources of funding, especially if it includes public funding, while demanding that governments and other donors pour unrestricted funds into feminist organizations.
Khan pointed toward the importance of wealthy progressive government funding while expressing pessimism about international forums such as the UN for advancing her agenda. “We need to bring together the bilateral agencies which have the ability to not only fund but, also help us retake the multilateral spaces which have been taken away from us—or, are nearly taken away from us, but they’re certainly not making any progress.”
Khan’s advice to the conference attendees: “Stop being nice. We’ve been nice for too long.”
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