We aren't entirely opposed to the use of the 'F' word," the State Department official quipped. Her "F word" was family, but this gave me scant comfort. Instead, it revealed the indifference of the U.S. Government to the idea of the family as a basic unit of society. The occasion was a briefing this spring at which U.S. diplomats were reporting to nongovernmental organizations on preparatory negotiations for September's Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (see "Beijing's Bewildering Agenda" on p. 55).

The danger of the Beijing women's conference is that it attempts sweeping and unnecessary social change, which will not enhance the rights of women. Women are brutally denied basic human rights in many parts of the world. There are forced abortions and sterilizations, genital mutilation, forced prostitution, and denial of basic education and property rights. But the Beijing platform avoids naming not only many specific problems, it also does not list the guilty countries.

This United Nations conference in Beijing, activists hope, will adopt a massive Platform for Action, which aspires to transform the social order of every nation. For Christians, there are many critical matters at stake:

- Centrality of the family: The 1948 un Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society." But the Beijing platform downplays the family, while exalting the autonomous individual.

- Support for mothers: Similarly, motherhood is largely dismissed within the platform in favor of greater public responsibilities for women. These new responsibilities are linked to an understanding of "gender roles" as being "socially constructed," rather than having any biological basis. Eventually, ...

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