(CNSNews.com) - Five years ago, at the Beijing Women's Conference, First Lady Hillary Clinton addressed the delegates as the American representative, but at this year's follow-up, Clinton plans to play a much smaller role.
"By gathering in Beijing, we are focusing world attention on issues that matter most in the lives of women and their families," Clinton told the UN's Fourth World Conference on Women in September, 1995, in a speech that won widespread press acclaim.
In Beijing, Clinton also called for increased access to abortion and contraception for women worldwide, but criticized Chinese human rights abuses such as forced sterilization and force abortion.
But this year, Clinton has kept a lower profile, speaking only briefly Monday at the five-year review of the Beijing Programme of Action as part of a panel discussion on Microcredit, an international program that loans money to women in developing nations to start small businesses.
A press spokesperson for Clinton's campaign confirmed that the First Lady would not return to the UN session, saying she is too busy campaigning for the Senate seat of Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY).
Many observers say that the controversial proposals of this year's conference, commonly known as Beijing+5, make it necessary for Clinton to disassociate herself from the proceedings.
"[Clinton] can't be too closely aligned with the women's conference," said George Marlin, former Conservative Party candidate for mayor of New York City. "It would be political suicide."
Austin Ruse, head of the New York-based UN observer C-FAM, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, said that Clinton's lowered profile "has a lot to do with how very radical this conference is, and she's running as a centrist. . . . She probably loves every jot and tittle of this, but is afraid it will hurt her upstate."
The Beijing Conference has long been a target of conservative ire for its espousal of increased worldwide access to contraception and abortion, redefinition of "family" to include alternative configurations such as single-parent and homosexual-headed households, legal protection of homosexuality, gender parity in national legislatures, "gender mainstreaming," government day care, and children's rights.
"Some women continue to encounter barriers to their right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including sexual and reproductive health," says proposed language in the Beijing+5 document.
The document also says that "adolescents, particularly adolescent girls, continue to lack access to sexual and reproductive health information, education and service/care."
The World Health Organization defines reproductive rights as including abortion, and defines adolescence as beginning at ten years old.
Critics say the proposed document would scrap the Beijing Conference report, which the UN agreed to maintain. The Beijing report called for international efforts to decrease the number of abortions worldwide.
Said Ruse, "What they're trying to do is introduce all these new terms, like sexual rights, . . . . It's a completely empty term and they'll fill it any way they want, which means anybody can do anything to anybody anytime beginning at age ten."
The opening of the conference was marked by increasingly sharp criticism of a loose coalition of Catholic and Islamic nations, headed by the Vatican, whose efforts halted many of the controversial proposals at the Beijing Conference.
"The few [countries] that don't want progress are very effective, and that's a problem ... because the gains made are still fragile," said UN Human Rights High Commissioner Mary Robinson in a pre-conference symposium.
Robinson declined to name the nations she was referring to, but Monday, Amnesty International Secretary-General Pierre Sane accused Algeria, Iran, Libya, Pakistan and especially the Vatican of playing "a very destructive role" at the conference.
General Assembly President Theo-Ben Gurirab, who is heading the conference, called on governments to place gender equity programs at the center of social concern.
The Beijing platform, he said in his opening address, "cannot be an afterthought or remain simply at the level of political pronouncements or election ploy. . . . Resources for gender equality goals must be mobilized and utilized."