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Is Religion a Stalemate in International Debate?

April 30, 2014

This post was written by Anais Carmona, a member of Georgetown's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service Class of 2014, who was a member of the International Relations Club delegation to this year's WorldMUN Model United Nations Conference in Brussels, Belgium

Imagine walking into a room with two hundred chairs, each to be filled by delegates from over fifty countries. Excitement and fear are condensed into a room where four or five different languages are heard discussing travel, the city of Brussels, but more importantly, what topic we’d like to set for the agenda. Within a matter of seconds, the choice between mental illness and reproductive education was everything but simple. While one is widely unrepresented and has tremendous social and cultural stigmas, the other seems to be tied down by religion and its effect on social policies. Ironically, in a room with individuals whose religious beliefs shape laws and culture, the room was everything but divided. Within thirty minutes, the Social Humanitarian and Cultural Committee chose to set the agenda to reproductive education and control.

For an entire week, debate revolved around family planning, accessibility, reproductive education reform, and birth control, which some countries in the world refuse to acknowledge, let alone negotiate. Georgetown represented Mexico, and we walked a thin line between urging international reform and sticking to our conservative Catholic ideals. As the days went by and resolutions were drawn up, it was difficult to get conservative religious countries to consider looking at resolutions that established minimal reproductive education standards. They constantly aimed at watering down the language and eliminating words like “sexual” and “comprehensive” from the resolutions, as these became points of contention. Creating agreements with countries whose culture and religion act as barriers to promote reproductive health was difficult. In the end, a bloc was created with delegates representing Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other countries, which refused to negotiate or discuss the other two resolutions on the floor that made a more in-depth effort to address the issue. They continued to work tirelessly against us, speech after speech, trying to protect their interests, culture, and religion by directly undermining the efforts of the rest of the international community.

Although this was all a simulation, and each person in that room was playing a role and representing a policy other than their own, the situation could not be clearer. As soon as the word sovereignty is thrown around in order to protect culture and religion, policy recommendations become paper-thin. Although true efforts and negotiations were made, at the end of the day, when issues directly challenge religious practices or culture, it is very difficult to implement international policies dealing with convoluted topics like reproductive education. The entire process was a learning experience, where problems in society are not limited by funding or an agent of action, but by countries themselves that see certain actions or ideas as a direct threat to their culture, or even worse, their religion. The issues that come attached to bringing reproductive education to the table revolve around female empowerment and rights which are difficult to debate, let alone come to solutions about. After all the debate, we enjoyed WorldMUN’s closing ceremonies in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, perhaps one of the most beautiful Roman Catholic churches in the world, where we were reminded that religion and its influence is everywhere.

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Is Religion a Stalemate in International Debate?