Twenty-five years ago, in 1995, 17,000 participants, 6,000 government delegates, 4,000 accredited NGO representatives, and around 4,000 media representatives came together at Fourth World Conference on Women. The conference held in Beijing came to become the largest gathering for gender equality advocacy in history. In the conference, 189 UN member states unanimously adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPFA), where the countries committed to taking action for women’s rights and development in 12 key areas. The BPFA to date serves as a guiding policy for women’s development interventions across the world.
The Fourth Conference on Women has completed its 25th year in July 2020. Beijing+25 has been an awaited campaign, mostly digital due to pandemic now. The campaign aims to develop a platform to reflect on the commitments made by member states 25 years ago, assess the current status of women’s position in society, and plan for better action.
In this article, let us trace back the events that made this historical milestone possible.
Formation of Commission on Status of Women, 1946
The Commission on Status of Women (CSW), the leading intergovernmental organization working to secure women’s rights, initiated the movement on addressing women’s human rights. Following long years of effort, the CSW first drafted Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (DEDAW). General Assembly passed the DEDAW in 1967, which was later proposed to be a legally binding ‘Convention’ in the same year. The convention was adopted by General Assembly in 1979 and ratified by 189 states. The commission’s 25th anniversary was marked by recommending 1975 to be declared as International Women’s Year.
International Women’s Year 1975 and the First World Conference on Women, Mexico
CSW proposed 1975 to be the International Women’s Year, starting the celebration of women’s day on March 8 The year also held the first world conference on women in Mexico from June 19 to July 2. The conference came up with the comprehensive guidelines for women’s advancement until 1985 as a World Plan of Action. Following the recommendation made during International Women’s year, the United Nations declared 1976 to 1985 the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development, and Peace, providing further legitimacy to women’s issues. It also led to establishing the International Research and Training Institute for Women’s Advancement to track improvements and continuing issues and the United Nations Development Fund for Women to provide funding for developmental programs. The conference also established a series of conferences to follow up on the first conference, the first of them happened in Copenhagen in 1980.
Second World Conference on Women, Denmark, 1980
The second World Conference on Women was held as a mid-decade assessment of progress and failure to implement the World Plan of Action. Caught up in between Cold War and geopolitical divides, the conference could not remain untouched by the politicization, and therefore, encountered numerous challenges in its implementation. One hundred forty-five states with around 1500 delegates attended the conference. Although seen as a failure by some participants, the project’s significant outcome was the official signing of CEDAW by the representatives at the opening ceremony. The conference also adopted the World Programme of Action that ensured creating women’s bureaus or agencies, defined roles of NGOs and grassroots organizations, and addressed the issues of childcare and women-headed households, unemployment, youth, migrant and rural women. The Plan of Action’s significant changes were additional sections devoted to ensuring equal access to education, employment, and health care to women.
Third World Conference on Women, Kenya, 1985
The Third world Conference on Women marked the end-decade assessment of the World Plan for Action’s progress and failure. Held from 15-26 July in Nairobi, Kenya, the conference still had to navigate the geopolitical crises like the worldwide debt crisis, the rise of neoliberalism, and the ongoing cold war. Such issues came as a challenge to focus entirely on women’s issues; however, it marked significant progress, and for the first time, it openly addressed the issues of Violence against Women (VAW) that used to be a silenced topic. The discussion ultimately led to the passage of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women in 1993. The conference found that the goals set in 1975 remained unmet, and decided on conducting world surveys on women every five years and continue with evaluations of women’s achievements and failures through the year 2000.
Fourth World Conference on Women, China, 1995
Following the earlier conferences, the fourth world conference on women was held in Beijing in 1995. The speech delivered by the First Lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” is considered one of the most influential lessons to date.
The significant outcome of the conference was the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA), which focused on 12 key areas that include: women and the environment, women in Power and Decision making, the girl child, women and the economy, women and poverty, violence against women, human rights of women, education, and training of women, institutional mechanism for the advancement of women, women and health, women and the media, and women and armed conflict.
Another significant outcome of the conference was the Beijing Declaration of Indigenous women, which was a substantial step towards indigenous women’s rights and indigenous feminism.
A commemorative park opened in Huairou district in Beijing, marking the Fourth World Conference on Women.
In 2014, UN Women launched a year-long campaign on the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on women with a campaign called Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It!, also called the Beijing+20 campaign. The campaign was launched in New York amidst hundreds of UN officials, feminist activists, celebrities, and performers, and sparked the global dialogue on women’s rights and equality and fulfilling BPFA promises. The Beijing+20 campaign was kicked off online in May that galvanized a global audience of 40 million, with media, civil society organizations, and individuals actively engaged in a re-energized conversation.
The 2019 campaign “Generation Equality” launched by UN Women is also called the Beijing+25 campaign. The Generation Equality Campaign and Generation equality forum is launched as a groundbreaking, multigenerational campaign. Marking the 5-year milestone of achieving Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 agenda and the 25th anniversary of the Beijing conference, series of events and meetings are planned for the campaign. A high-level meeting of the General assembly was held on October 1, 2020 with the theme “Accelerating the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.