Geneva Conference Links Family Values to Economic and Social Well-being
Written by Mrs. Carolyn Handschin, Women's Federation for World Peace UN Office
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Geneva, Switzerland - In commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the International Year of the Family, the Women’s Federation for World Peace, International (WFWPI) and the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) - together with the support of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe (FAFCE) and the Fondation L’entreconnaissance jointly sponsored a two-day conference at the United Nations’ Palais des Nations June 30-July 1, 2014.
The conference aimed at showing the significance of family values as a remedy, as preventative and as a guideline for a healthy and prosperous Europe and world. The conference brought together experts from European nations and the United States in order to build capacity among allies in civil society and government, to work upon a proactive and convincing strategy and to regain momentum in reversing the current trends.
Heiner Handschin, director of the UPF Office for UN Relations in Geneva, opened the conference, referring to the Human Rights Council Resolution on “Protection of the Family" that was passed just a few days before (June 26), calling for a new era of family mainstreaming. The internationally agreed reaffirmation of the value of the natural family to society and to peaceful development was the result of a hard-fought battle within the UN Human Rights Council over more than one year and many consultations, led courageously and persistently by a coalition of 16 governments. “We greatly appreciate the information and the engagement on this important topic,” read a letter from the Office of the Director General of the UN in Geneva.
Welcoming remarks were delivered by Mr. Paul An, chairman of UPF-Europe. “The institutions (marriage and family) have been increasingly weakened, especially in Europe and the United States, due to a whole variety of social trends and forces. These include, of course, the decline of organized religion and of traditional morality, the increasing number of couples who decide to live together without getting married and the advocacy of various diverse forms of family and alternative morality that have increasingly gained legitimacy.
Session I: Sustainable Family Values as a Means to Create a Stable and Prosperous Society and Nation
The first presentation was given by Mrs. Lynn Walsh, director of the Office for Marriage & Family of UPF and co-chair of the UN NGO Committee on the Family in New York. She mentioned the consistent failure to include the family in policy at the UN. Even international wars can be traced back to a lack of empathy and a properly developed conscience in individuals. Marriage and family are the very cells for nurturing individual character and building trusting relationships in society. We need to address the lack of human attachment.
Mr. Richard Kane, founder and CEO of Marriage Week International, spoke about his NGO’s work to make couples’ relationships “intentional” through the instrument of marriage, believing that it is the best relationship in which to raise a child. Although we must be compassionate of those who live together, they have fallen for a counterfeit- unintentionally. Although the West boasts its human rights, we need to reconsider the unlimited exportation of western irresponsible morality that seems to be fueling discontent and reactionary agenda among more conservative peoples in the world.
Director of the Women’s Federation for World Peace UN Offices, Mrs. Carolyn Handschin explained that the mere existence of Human Rights, or a universally agreed Declaration on them, will not automatically bring a culture rooted in the values and behavior described within. A built-in incentive towards empathy and “human responsibility” that overrides the need for an elaborate system of enforcement is necessary. Weakened families disrupt gender roles, as seen in the impact on children in cases of domestic violence, and have sparked “trends” in the definition of family. It is important to maintain an awareness of the optimal norm/form for family while identifying causes of breakdown (prevention), similar to the way that the medical field handles sickness of the body. A healthy body is always the reference point.
Session II: Family Breakdown and the Weakening of Marriage and Family through Current Family Policies
This session brought to the attention of the audience facts and figures from experts about the price of the failure of marriage and family, costs that are a huge burden to states and governments. Mr. Mark Brann, secretary general of UPF-Europe, chaired the session. The first presenter, Mr. Harry Benson, research director of the Marriage Foundation-UK, asked, “Has government made the problem worse? What does the data tell us about marriage?” The overwhelming majority of the families that stay intact are ‘married’ families, compared to ‘cohabiting’ (data: 69% compared to 15%). Marriage is an ultimate act of dedication and commitment for the future, building a history and memories. Families break down when couples move in together too quickly, adding constraints before establishing dedication. It is unlikely that governments can influence the breakdown of families through their laws, signals or money. But, the question remains, “can government help couples to stay together?”
Mrs. Maria Hildingsson, secretary general of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe (FAFCE) based in Brussels, spoke about the value of marriage to society. She presented some factors related to family and marriage in the European situation; individualism, aging population, low birth rates, divorces, poverty and social exclusion. Family policy in Europe is more of a preventive one, without great expertise available on the issue. There are demographic concerns. High unemployment among youth makes it difficult for them to establish a home. This will affect the future dramatically. Young people are connected, but not related. Although sex education has been compulsory since 1970s, what the youth actually ask is “How can we make lasting relationships?” Statistics show that currently young people have respect for the adults who stay intact as couples and uphold their family.
The next speaker, Mr. Stephen Stacey, educator and marital-family policy specialist from Finland, asked the question, “Is a parent’s right to happiness more important than a child’s right to get a good start in life?” States have redefined the social understanding of marriage to being an institution that cements sexual attraction. Marriage, in essence, is about aligning human beings with nature’s cycle of conception and birth, with children being cared for about 20 years by two opposite-sex adults.
Dr. Anna Zaborska, member of the European Parliament from Slovakia, drove from a European Union meeting in Strasbourg just to speak at the conference. She spoke about commitment to the needs of children. She expressed her concern about the recent discussions on maternal leave at the European Parliament. The role of the mother at home is not being taking into consideration anymore. Is that really what the constituents want of their representatives at the EU? The terms are changing, degrading. It is no longer about pregnant women, but about pregnant workers. At the expense of giving in to “politically correct”, we are sacrificing our future generation. We need to know our statistics better. We need fair family politics in Europe!
Session III: “Marriage and Family Policies in the West – Where Do We Go from Here?”
This session brought together some very compelling testimonies of efforts from the side of the civil society. This included reports from the popular demonstration just held in Stuttgart, Germany, that was organized in collaboration with “La Manif-pour-tous,” organizers of a series of very large demonstrations in France against the government’s policies and promoting the natural family. Other civil society initiatives were acknowledged, countering some of the family-unfriendly public policies being advanced by local and national governments in Europe.
The chair of the session, Mr. Dieter Schmidt, chairman of UPF-Germany, invited Mr. Karl-Christian Hausmann, vice-president of the Christian Democratic Union of Stuttgart, to report on the demonstration of June 28. Mr. Hausmann explained that unfortunately the pro family activists are always presented very derisively. It is known that some of the proposed new school curricula being developed by LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) lobby groups is funded by governments. Local citizens spoke out. Based upon the professional and unified counterproposals launched from civil society, several of the proposals were changed, including one that demanded sexual diversity among teaching staff in primary schools.
The very striking testimony of Mr. Drazen Vukotic, vice-president of In the Name of the Family-Croatia, showed the power of civil society that brought about the Referendum in Croatia to protect marriage and family in the National Constitution through a constitutional amendment. It began with obligatory sex education for young children. Fearing that the new laws would lead to parents forfeiting their rights of family and adoption, parents responded. With an extremely well-coordinated campaign, 6000 young volunteers were mobilized, 50 reports were written and 750,000 signatures (20% of 3.8 million) collected in 15 days. The referendum demanded the inclusion of the wording “marriage is a lifetime union between a man and a woman” in the Constitution.
Finally, Ms. Josie Hauer, US Department of Health and Human Services, brought a very factual presentation of what the US government is doing to cope with increased family breakdown, asking what government can and should do. Children living in two-parent, married households statistically do better in school, have fewer behavioral problems and are more likely to have successful marriages of their own. Responsible fatherhood programs were very effective because female-headed households have been a big problem-especially in some sectors of the society. There is a treasure of webinars and resources that have been collected by these programs that can be accessed at www.twoofus.org.
Session IV: “The Unique Contribution of Civil Society and Faith based Organizations in Strengthening Marriage and Family in the 21st Century”
This session brought together three faith communities and their best practices and vision for strengthening marriage and family.
Ms. Brigitte Wada, president of the Women’s Federation for World Peace-France chaired the session. The first speaker, representing Islam, was Mr. Hafid Ouardiri, co-founder of the Islamic Center of Geneva and president of the “Fondation de l’Entreconnaissance.” It is not necessary to be an expert to see that the family isn’t doing well. Individuals have to learn “we.” Family allows humanity to regenerate. Democracy cannot twist the definition of family. A family begins with two beings who must be aware of their role and responsibility. They conceive their children with love and raise them with that affection to share that love and concern beyond their own family. The love of the mother will protect her children. It is very important that girls can be educated so they can guide their children towards a better future.
Christianity was represented by Dr. Nancy Lyon Sonntag, former US legislator from Utah and current UN representative of LDS Charities. According to the teachings of her faith (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), each of us are brothers and sisters. Reaching out hand in hand is putting our faith in action. No other success can compensate failure at home. Their three pillars are faith, family and freedom, which serve as a guide through life. Marriage is a great engine of the economy. Every person represents the creative potential which is the real wealth of the nation.
Representing civil society at large, Mr. Josef Missethon, CEO of the Institute for Education and Human Resource Management in Linz, Austria, expressed the views of the current, perhaps less religious, citizens in Europe who nevertheless attach a great importance to marriage and family. At a time when traditional values are declining, it is important to the Austrian people to become more insistent to search for deeper meaning in their lives- and this is good.
Finally Mr. Timothy Miller, representing the Unificationist perspective as a vice-president of the Family Federation for World Peace-Europe, explained about his couple's experience as part of Rev. Dr. and Mrs. Moon’s cross-cultural marriage blessing and the vision of “World Peace through Ideal Families.” He described in detail the need for a “true” family movement in order to create a new culture of commitment, that is sorely missing today and causing a dangerous de-stabilization. Religion cannot have credibility if it cannot go beyond faith and denomination. If we cannot put deeds to practice and cannot live for others as an individual, it is unlikely that we can make a good marriage. One cannot underestimate the contribution of religion to peace and prosperity. We need to swing the pendulum back to rethink values such as purity and fidelity.
The morning sessions were designed to discuss proposals and recommendations for follow-up with governments, international and national institutions, NGOs and civil society. Each presenter provided their best practices and talking points with the intention of building momentum and solidarity among family policy advocates in Europe.
The organizers, contributors and participants, by consensus, agreed to promote the following recommendations and action steps:
- Organize conferences in Europe on the topic of marriage and family twice a year.
- Gather data in each nation to illustrate the social value of marriage and disseminate it.
- Lobby to government to lower taxes and offer other incentives rewarding stable marriages.
- Organize celebrations and campaigns locally and on a European level to honor the family and recognize parents (Family Values Banquets, “Family Pride” Street Parades, etc.).
- Establish an NGO Committee on the Family at the UN in Geneva (as part of CONGO or independent).
- Encourage the candidacy for political office of those supportive of marriage and family.
- Make use of the UN Global Day of Parents, June 1 each year, and the International Day of the Family, May 15 each year, to raise positive images of marriage and family at the grassroots level.
- Improve media advocacy through letters to editors in support of pro-family articles and policy development with collaboration among associations.
- Create a forum that facilitates ongoing interaction among pro-family advocates–suggestion connect via Facebook accounts or Google Groups.
- Generate a weekly or monthly electronic newsletter to influence politicians and public opinion.
- Stimulate systematic outreach to human resource departments to advocate the value of stable families regarding health and productivity.
- Create book clubs to support young couples and parents in small groups.
- Create and share advocacy points to popularize marriage and family-positive terminology, optimum human development, positive not anti-marriage matters.
- Prioritize children’s needs in family and human rights matters.
- Formulate a curriculum for a pro-marriage and family education programs in schools as replacement for current sex education programs.
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