Twenty-five years ago 50,000 women poured into Beijing for the 4th World Women’s Conference – women determined to fight discrimination and bring about equality. Through long debates, heated discussions and creative workshops these women carved out the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. They claimed the rights of women to control their own health, access education, have the freedom to participate in decision-making, but, above all else, they claimed the essential dignity and worth of every woman and girl. Governments of 189 countries adopted the Plan of Action. Now, twenty-five years on, the time of reckoning has come.
In preparation for the annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)* Member States of the UN were invited to undertake a comprehensive national review of the progress made and challenges encountered in implementing the Beijing Declaration and Plan of Action. They were asked to identify their achievements, note the gaps and chart their future plans.
In response to this period of evaluation, the UN IBVM/CJ Office invited its national representatives to run a critical eye over their country’s report noting the achievements, but also identifying the gaps and any differences between the rhetoric and the reality. The evaluations came in from every continent noting significant improvements in the education of women, in narrowing the gender pay gap, in women’s health, but enormous challenges remained in eradicating poverty, eliminating child marriage, preventing the trafficking of girls and protecting women from domestic violence. Zimbabwe reported “high levels of sexual abuse and harassment militating against the human rights of women.” In the Philippines there is a higher literacy rate among women than men but, according to the report, “there is rising and pervasive sexism and violence against women committed by high ranking officials.” In Australia the gender pay gap is narrowing, more Indigenous girls are completing Year 12, but, despite The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, a woman dies each week from domestic violence.
In preparation for International Women’s Day the IBVM/CJ Office at the UN held two webinars – one for Asia-Australia and the other for the rest of the world. In 45 minutes of animated conversation, these national representatives noted the successes and challenges of efforts to improve the lives of women and girls. There is much to be done – let’s reflect on these this International Women’s Day.