PASSPORT TO DIGNITY
THE BEIJING PLATFORM FOR ACTION: CONCERNS, STANDARDS AND GOALS
In a few weeks, the leaders of the world will
meet at United Nations Headquarters in a summit of heads of State and
government. There they will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of
the United Nations.
As the world celebrates this anniversary, let us work together to ensure that the equal rights of men and women, enshrined in the Charter, become a reality.
Let us work together to implement the Platform for Action adopted here at Beijing. Let us tell the world -- and let us tell it with pride: The empowerment of women is the empowerment of all humanity!
(Boutros Boutros-Ghali Letter to the Fourth World Conference on Women- communiqué from UN Information Center Sidney, Australia - ref.# SG/SM/5732 WOM/869 18 September 1995 )
The history of women's rights as human rights is a prime example of the development and achievements of non-governmental activism. Non-governmental women’s organizations provided the soil and feeding ground within which important issues were able to mature and bear fruit. This informal activity was absolutely essential, and often revolutionary in its consequences. But progress in non-governmental activity for human rights is reinforced by the individual states meeting their international obligations within their specific domestic contexts. In a global environment that has tended to weaken the national states, solid achievements still depend on the active interaction between the states and civil societies for the protection and enhancement of women's human rights.
The international standards articulated in the human rights instruments constitute the norms by which international society should conduct its affairs, States should relate to their citizens, and people should relate to each other. The UN member states agreed to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPFA) at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing (the Beijing Conference, intending it as a tool to facilitate the application and implementation of existing international norms and standards in the realization of the human rights of women.
Furthermore, the Beijing process is one to which hundreds of thousands of activists worldwide contributed locally and globally. The event in Beijing was important and its importance was highlighted by the amount of media attention it received. But from the point of view of women all around the world, the gathering of women’s non-governmental organizations on the outskirts of Beijing in Hairou was the most important event, for during the years between the Vienna Conference and the Beijing Conference, the world was witness to an unprecedented international mobilization by the grassroots for the promotion, protection and implementation of women’s human rights.
The central purpose of the BPFA, which was decided by the governmental meeting, is women’s empowerment, i.e., identifying and overcoming the barriers that prevent women's full enjoyment of universal human rights. These barriers may be:
The BPFA declares any and all of these barriers to be in violation of the standards of human rights, international law and the Charter of the United Nations, and sets concrete goals for governments to aim towards removing these barriers.
The BPFA acknowledges that, despite the efforts of the International Decade for Women and the goals set by the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies (1985),
Boutros-Ghali described the landmark document as the product of "(the) women of the world (who) have been the driving force (shaping) this agenda and (moving) it forward". It was an intense global process involving women of all countries, all classes, all religions, all ages. 30,000 women attended the Beijing conference. Hundreds of thousands participated actively in the preparations. The BPFA relayed the vigorous and focused energies of a civil society that has been the propelling force of all contemporary human rights movements. The energy of this preparatory process was reflected in the tone and text of the Declaration and Platform, pointing definitively to an agenda for change that was demanded by the women who inspired and carried out the process.
The importance of the governmental meeting in Beijing was highlighted by the amount of media attention it received. But in some respects the gathering of women’s non governmental organizations in Hairou on the outskirts of Beijing was the most important event, for it was the expression and outflow of an unprecedented international mobilization of grassroots women for the celebration and promotion of their human rights.
Women’s Preparations For Beijing: The Example Of India
There is no doubt that the participation of civil society organizations accounted for the emphasis placed by the BPFA on women’s actual, daily lives, presenting equally mundane and daily –yet no less powerful– obstacles to their enjoyment of human rights. This emphasis is clear in the detailed exposition of the twelve areas of concern.
These articulate the unsolved problems, the nagging obstacles to women's equal enjoyment of human rights: these form the heart of the BPFA, its ‘Strategic Objectives and Actions’. In essence the BPFA is a highly specified strategic plan intended to lead to fundamental change in all areas of life.
One example of the process that led to this focus on daily lives is given in a special issue of Lokayan Bulletin (a described the two-year mobilization of grassroots activism in India. In December 1993 a group of donors in India provided funds for the setting up of a ‘Coordination Unit’ (CU) for Beijing. The CU’s brief was to set in motion a process by which participation from the grassroots could be ensured at the Beijing Conference, and women from all over – not just urban, middle class women – could have information about the Conference and provide input into it. The process thus set in motion was an unprecedented mobilization: in the short space of two years, several hundred meetings, dialogues, discussions, consultations, workshops were held all over the country on a wide range of issues. Many were in the nature of exploratory meetings: what, for example, did minority women, up till now invisible, feel about the current situation? How did they relate to other women and women’s groups in the country? What were the priorities and special needs of women from the northeastern states, an area torn apart by ethnic strife and state violence? What was the position of Dalit women and other women of "special categories"? This process produced a wealth of information and documentation that reflected the concerns of a wide range of women. It was perhaps the first time that such an exercise was carried out systematically. Equally for the first time, the perspective had shifted from the north, and voices of the south were heard in all their richness and variety in the documents.
The Beijing Declaration :
Intergovernmental Commitment to Gender Equality
"We, the governments participating in the Fourth World Conference on Women...dedicate ourselves unreservedly to...the advancement and empowerment of women all over the world, and agree that this requires urgent action..." (Beijing Declaration, para.1 and 7)
The Beijing Declaration is a statement of principles and a call to their realization. The principles express the values, the fundamental choices to which a society commits itself, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) committed the UN member states to the thirty rights acknowledged as common standards for mankind. The Beijing Declaration commits the member states "unreservedly" to the principle of the equality of women and men and to the full realization of all human rights for all women.
The states also declared that thet\y were
The Beijing Declaration is a short but very significant international document.
• It contains all the concepts and issues that inform the BPFA.
• It is a summary of the values and visions from which the BPFA was derived.
• It is the product of the historic human rights process which inspired the Beijing Conference and
the preparatory process which preceded it.
purpose. In this first chapter, the BPFA clearly designated the purpose of the actions to be set
forth and the overarching goals to be accomplished as the actions are undertaken and the
discrimination against women:
"Throughout their entire life cycle, women's daily existence and long-term aspirations are restricted by discriminatory attitudes, unjust social and economic structures, and a lack of resources in most countries that prevent their full and equal participation" (Beijing Global Framework, para. 38)
War and Terrorism are cited as major reasons for the perpetuation of this global gender
"excessive military expenditures...[that] have reduced the resources available for social development." (Beijing Global Framework, para. 13), and poverty. "Of the more than 1 billion people living in abject poverty, women are an overwhelming majority." (Beijing Global Framework, para. 16)
The framework also refers to "international economic developments", in particular
"structural adjustments...[that] led to a reduction in social expenditures, adversely affecting women..."(Beijing Global Framework, para. 18)
Structural adjustments are the conditions imposed by the international financial institutions to
increase national governments’ ability to repay international debts in those countries that have
incurred unmanageable debts towards development. The international financiers demanded a
reduction in government expenditures. While military expenditures remained virtually untouched
and sometimes increased, the savings came primarily from the social sector. The burden of care
for vulnerable groups thus shifted from governments to women who must find alternative ways
to provide food, shelter and medical care for dependent children, the elderly and the infirm.
The Beijing Global Framework observes that environmental degradation also contributes to
poverty (para. 35), especially among those "whose livelihood and daily subsistence depends
directly upon sustainable ecosystems." (para. 34) It also notes that the environment suffers from
"unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, particularly in industrialized countries, which...aggravate poverty and imbalances." (para. 35)
Poverty impacts more heavily and is more widely experienced by women because
" [economic policies] have not always been designed to take account of their impact on women and girl-children...the number of women living in poverty has increased…". ( para. 20)
Another environmental issue included in the diagnosis offered in the Beijing Global Framework is
the negative effect of ecological damage on women's health. The health concern emerges also in
the BPFA’s courageous confrontation of some of the social and cultural causes of the violation of
women's human rights, which the international community, including human rights advocates, has
never dared to denounce. Culture and social practice have been considered to fall outside the
realm of international legal concern, and until very recent times domestic violence has been
considered a "private" matter, not subject to interference by any public agency or authority. The
BPFA broke through a similar international taboo by insisting on addressing such issues as HIV
often transmitted by sexual behavior which cultural and social customs do not allow women to
refuse or control. The Beijing Global Framework recognizes that "[t]he rate of transmission of
sexually transmitted diseases...is increasing at an alarming rate among women and girls."
A similar issue is religious extremism, which has been the inspiration of much violence against
"…any form of extremism may have a negative impact on women and can lead to violence and discrimination."(Beijing Global Framework, para. 24)V
Violence against women is among the major concerns which led to the BPFA’s intent focus on
the many problems of the girl child, noting that
"...discrimination and violence against girls begin at the earliest stages of life and continue
unabated throughout their lives." (Beijing Global Framework, para. 39).
Moreover, the media as transmitters of culture and values have contributed to the perpetuation
and increase in violence against women, even to the commodification of women's bodies. The
Beijing Global Framework notes that
"global communications networks have been used to spread stereotypes and demeaning images of women for narrow commercial and consumerist purposes." (para. 33).
The Beijing Global Framework takes this diagnosis and proposes prescriptive concepts and
directions to overcome these severe obstacles to the realization of the human rights of women
and the girl child. These concepts and directions are infused by a positive vision of a
transformed society. The vision is also a call to the persons who guide the governments of the
U.N. member states.
"This new generation of leaders must accept and promote a world in which every child is free from injustice, oppression and inequality and free to develop her/his own potential. The principle of equality of women and men must therefore be integral to the socialization process." (Beijing Global Framework, para. 40)
This statement describes a situation far removed from the present reality and is a call for a
transformation of global society, including the values we hold and those we transmit to the
young, and seek to apply to our institutions, relationships, personal behaviors and public
policies. Such a transformation must be constantly and systematically pursued, to adequately
address the fundamental problem requiring the transformation.
"Discrimination against women begins at the earliest stages of life and must therefore be addressed from then onwards." (Beijing Global Framework, para. 8.)
The transformative process must be constant throughout the lives of people and their societies, but it must go to the very core of social organization and relationships to produce the positive future the BPFA envisages, i.e.,
Such a radical change cannot be achieved without a full understanding of the significance and function of gender as it affects, not only social roles and cultural practices, but also economic systems, political structures and practices, and most significantly perhaps, peace and security matters. We must understand that the differences between men and women in status, achievements and activities are
Indeed, the biological differences deriving from reproductive functions can no longer be used to rationalize denying women’s fundamental human rights.
The transformative potential of the proposed changes in gender roles is intended to match that of a proposal that defines peace as the necessary foundation for the realization of human rights. In fact, some would argue that peace is identical with the respect for and the realization of human rights. Peace is as radical a change from present conditions as is gender equality.
Gender Equality and Peace
Gender equality and peace are integral and inseparable categories of human rights. This assertion leads to the argument that women's participation in all public policy making is a general necessity for a peaceful and just world, and their inclusion in policymaking on peace and security an urgent necessity for human survival. The Beijing Global Framework takes up these assertions and emphasizes the significance of women's multiple and vigorous initiatives in the forefront of the movement for the abolition of war as an institution, and for the demilitarization of national and global security systems:
The relevance of gender to human security is also recognized in Chapter III of the BPFA, the ‘Critical Areas of Concern’, which are the specific problems which Chapter IV (‘Strategic Objectives and Actions’) are designed to resolve.
The Platform For Action also makes unambiguously clear that earlier commitments on gender issues are human rights obligations, derived from the whole string of international human rights instruments that set international human rights norms and standards, which have been repeatedly affirmed and reinforced.
Institutional and Financial ARRANGEMENTS: Keeping Promises
The role and responsibilities of governments are emphasized in the BPFA’s Critical Areas of Concern and in Chapters V and VI, dealing respectively with Institutional Arrangements and Financial Arrangements considered necessary to strengthen existing mechanisms and create new mechanisms for the advancement of women. The NGOs who monitored and lobbied the conference made clear to the governmental delegates who drafted the plan that urgent, larger scale measures were necessary if the goals set in the Critical Areas of Concern were to be met. It took NGO prodding and constant monitoring to get the commitments and any substantive progress.
The obligations and responsibilities undertaken in the BPFA are not unprecedented. One of the specific intentions of the BPFA was to create structures and mechanisms that would ensure governments accountability in respect to the human rights instruments that they had signed and ratified in the past. Regional organizations can be especially important in realizing the human rights goals of BPFA.
One regional organization, the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had made over successive meetings made a repeated commitment to the equal rights of men and women " on the basis of indivisibility and universality".
The OSCE reports, (find extracts below) outlined in great detail the full range of actual and potential governmental responsibilities with respect to human rights.
A Users’ Guide to Governmental Responsibilities:
Madrid, 1983 ("Questions relating to Security in Europe", para. 16)
[The participating States] stress the importance of ensuring equal rights of men and women; accordingly, they agree to take all actions necessary to promote equally effective participation of men and women in political, economic, social and cultural life.
Vienna, 1989 ("Questions relating to Security in Europe", para. 15)
(15) The participating States confirm their determination to ensure equal rights of men and women. Accordingly, they will take all measures necessary, including legislative measures, to promote equally effective participation of men and women in political, economic, social and cultural life. They will consider the possibility of acceding to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, if they have not yet done so.
Moscow, 1991 (Para. 40 to 40.13)
(40) The participating States recognize that full and true equality between men and women is a fundamental aspect of a just and democratic society based on the rule of law. They recognize that the full development of society and the welfare of all its members require equal opportunity for full and equal participation of men and women. In this context they will
(40.1) - ensure that all CSCE commitments relating to the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms are applied fully and without discrimination with regard to sex;
(40.2) - comply with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), if they are parties, and, if they have not already done so, consider ratifying or acceding to this Convention; States that have ratified or acceded to this Convention with reservations will consider withdrawing them;
(40.3) - effectively implement the obligations in international instruments to which they are parties and take appropriate measures to implement the United Nations Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women (FLS);
(40.4) - affirm that it is their goal to achieve not only de jure but de facto equality of opportunity between men and women and to promote effective measures to that end;
(40.5) - establish or strengthen national machinery, as appropriate, for the advancement of women in order to ensure that programmes and policies are assessed for their impact on women;
(40.6) - encourage measures effectively to ensure full economic opportunity for women, including non-discriminatory employment policies and practices, equal access to education and training, and measures to facilitate combining employment with family responsibilities for female and male workers; and will seek to ensure that any structural adjustment policies or programmes do not have an adversely discriminatory effect on women;
(40.7) - seek to eliminate all forms of violence against women, and all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women including by ensuring adequate legal prohibitions against such acts and other appropriate measures;
(40.8) - encourage and promote equal opportunity for full participation by women in all aspects of political and public life, in decision-making processes and in international co-operation in general;
(40.9) - recognize the vital role women and women's organizations play in national and international efforts to promote and enhance women's rights by providing, inter alia, direct services and support to women and encouraging a meaningful partnership between governments and these organizations for the purpose of advancing equality for women;
(40.10) - recognize the rich contribution of women to all aspects of political, cultural, social and economic life and promote a broad understanding of these contributions, including those made in the informal and unpaid sectors;
(40.11) - take measures to encourage that information regarding women and women's rights under international and domestic law is easily accessible;
(40.12) - develop educational policies, consistent with their constitutional systems, to support the participation of women in all areas of study and work, including non-traditional areas, and encourage and promote a greater understanding of issues relating to equality between men and women;
(40.13) - ensure the collection and analysis of data to assess adequately, monitor and improve the situation of women; these data should not contain any personal information.
Istanbul, 1999 (Charter for European Security, para. 23 and 24)
23. The full and equal exercise by women of their human rights is essential to achieve a more peaceful, prosperous and democratic OSCE area. We are committed to making equality between men and women an integral part of our policies, both at the level of our States and within the Organization.
24. We will undertake measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, and to end violence against women, as well as sexual exploitation and all forms of trafficking in human beings. In order to prevent such crimes we will, among other means, promote the adoption or strengthening of legislation to hold accountable persons responsible for these acts and strengthen the protection of victims...
(Thematic compilation of OSCE human dimension commitments--
REFLECTING ON THE BPFA
Review the Beijing Platform for Action Summary (see Documents Appendix) and the OSCE document above
Identify the specific human rights cited in them. Are all the items you included in your list of ‘gender concerns’ included?
Identify the approaches that they recommend.
Do you know women who went to Beijing?
Talk to them about the way they prepared for the Beijing Assembly.
What concerns did they bring to the conference?
What did they learn there?
Did they put into practice their experience in Beijing? How?
Draft your own Declaration and Platform for Action. How would your declaration and platform differ from BPFA?
Follow-through: As you work with each of the following chapters on specific Areas of Concern, come back to this review and edit your Personal Platform for Action.
For more information, please contact PDHRE: