The 1995 Beijing Conference will complete its 25th year in 2020. The Fourth World Conference on Women organized by the United Nations after the first in Mexico in 1975, the second in Copenhagen in 1980 and the third in Nairobi 1985, was a milestone for improving human rights for women and girls. In the conference, 189 UN member states unanimously adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BFPA) as a global agenda for girls and women rights improvement. The BPFA focuses on twelve critical areas for strategic women and girls’ development including poverty, education and training, economy and armed conflict. The conference was a historically significant event where over 17000 participants attended which included 6000 government bodies, 4000 NGO representatives across the world, civil servants and over 4000 media representatives. Due to its empowering and long-term impact on women’s rights, the Platform for Action is reviewed and appraised every five years to continue to implement its commitments. The next review scheduled for 2020 also marks the 25th anniversary of the Declaration and Platform for Action.
25 years to the conference and commitment by 189 countries for advancement of women’s and girls’ rights and there still lie wide array of challenges on the way of advancement. Although significant progress is visible on data in different sectors like education and health, the subtle form of discrimination as well as explicit violence against women and girls are still rampant across the world. Persistent inequalities in workforce and stereotypical cultural norms binding women to the households contribute to create hurdles on the way. Stark gaps exist for poor women and girls living in rural areas and in poor urban settlements on several indicators including enrollment in education, maternal mortality and access to services such as water and sanitation.
However, we can also not ignore the significant progresses and level of raised awareness in this amount of time. Despite the persistent gaps, many countries have made important advances to realize women’s rights by introducing and implementing laws, policies and programs. Many of the transformative advances have been driven by women’s movements, and have often been more effective where they have worked in alliance with other gender equality advocates, in local and national governments, parliaments and political parties. Advancement in policies for violence against women and recognition of unpaid work of women has been possible post PFA.
On several indicators like Poverty, education, health and violence against women, there has been significant progress as well as noteworthy gaps and challenges. Referring to the report published by UN Women in for BPFA turning 20, here are some of the major points that gives the picture of the progress of BPFA.
The report highlights that there has been a drop in the rates of below poverty line- living under the threshold of $1.25 a day – from 47% to 22% in between 1990-2010. There is evidence that women are more likely to live in poverty than men. Across countries and regions, women are less likely than men to have access to decent work, assets and formal credit, although systematic global data on some of these dimensions have yet to be collected. Over-representation in household works and limited access to, education, family planning, health care, housing, land and other assets are considered the determinants for consistent poverty. However, states have been addressing these issues through various means such as introducing policies enabling women to reconcile paid and unpaid care responsibilities, strengthening labor market regulations; providing social protection including: child benefits, conditional cash transfers, old-age pensions and subsidies for education, health care and housing, ensuring access to land, property and productive resources through: legal reform; the issuance of individual or joint land and property titles for women; housing subsidies and access to agricultural technologies, information and resources and ensuring access to financial services through micro-credit schemes and mobile technologies. However, the national level policies must compliment with ground level implementation and eradication of gender based discrimination would only ensure proper economic growth of women.
Between 1990 and 2012, there was significant progress towards closing the gender gap in primary enrollments. Gender parity exists in secondary education but girls still face significant disadvantages in many regions. Young women’s share of enrollment in tertiary education has also increased. In 1995, they made up 48 per cent of tertiary students globally and the share rose to 51 per cent in 2012.4 However, despite women’s increasing participation in tertiary enrollment, significant differences are observed in the fields in which men and women study. Women accounted for the majority of graduates in the field of education. By contrast, in the area of engineering, manufacturing and construction, men constituted the majority of graduates in 99 out of 103 countries with data in the same period. Initiations that made these results possible were such as addressing economic barriers to girls’ education, through the elimination of fees, free provision of school supplies, meals and transportation as well as measures to provide financial support in the form of loans, grants and scholarships; addressing violence against girls, revising school curricula and textbooks to eliminate pervasive gender stereotypes and implementing training programs to increase the capacity of teachers to provide gender-responsive education and Increasing support for the transition from work to school, such as providing technical and vocational education and training to women and girls as well as initiatives to improve literacy skills of women and girls. However, certain gender gaps in education still exists because of persistent violence against women in education setting as well as social harmful norms like child marriages, for which states must invest more time and effort.
Women’s life expectancy has increased globally over the last 20 years from 67 to 73 years between 1990 and 2012.Significant challenges remain with unacceptably high levels of maternal mortality in some regions, lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services and the increasing rates of non-communicable diseases. States have been successful to increase women’s access to health services through: free access to health-care; improving access in rural areas; training and education of health-care staff; and improving accessibility to free or subsidized essential drugs and commodities. Realization of sexual and reproductive health and rights through legal reforms and the expansion of sexual and reproductive health services have been vital to the advancement of women’s health. Likewise, there has been ensured health rights of marginalized groups of women and girls through specific measures to improve access to health-care services.
Women in power and decision making
Power and decision making is one of the indicators where intensive effort is further required. Despite the steady increase in women’s political representation and participation in parliaments, women remain significantly under-represented at the highest levels of political participation as well as across the public and private sectors. The persistence of discrimination, gender bias, and the threat of violence, harassment and intimidation in political institutions contribute to the low levels of women’s political participation. Sates are implementing temporary special measures to increase women’s participation, such as through the adoption of quotas and through constitutional and legal reforms. Also, addressing gender bias in political institutions and supporting women’s political participation, through implementing capacity-building initiatives to support women’s political participation at the local and national levels, a more comprehensive approach is required to ensure their participation from local to national level.