The Society for the
Study of Social Issues


News From the United Nations

Women 2000: Gender Equality,
Development and Peace for
the 21st Century

by Corann Okorodudu
SPSSI Main UN/NGO Representative

The United Nations General Assembly will convene a Special Session at UN Headquarters in New York, June 5-9, 2000 in New York to review and appraise progress in implementing commitments made at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China five years ago (September 4-15, 1995). Building on consensus developed at previous UN world conferences on women (Mexico, 1975; Copenhagen, 1980; and Nairobi, 1985), delegates at the Beijing Conference adopted a Declaration and a Platform For Action (PFA), parts of which have been the focus of the ongoing review function of the UN Commission on the Status of Women at its annual March session.

As many SPSSI members are already aware, the Beijing Platform for Action focuses attention on removing obstacles to women’s participation in all spheres of public and private life through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making. It acknowledges that significant progress will depend on building strategic partnerships and involving all stakeholders in efforts towards change. The PFA sets time-specific targets, committing nations to carry out concrete actions in 12 critical areas such as poverty, health, education, the welfare of girls, armed conflict, decision-making and legal reforms, with the ultimate goal of eliminating all forms of discrimination against women and girls in both public and private life.

Although implementation is mainly the responsibility of governments, the Platform also involves institutions and non-governmental sectors at both national and international levels—indeed all of us! SPSSI NGO Representatives at the UN have been active in advocacy efforts of NGO coalitions, especially on the issues of violence against women, armed conflict, mental health. At the recent meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, SPSSI Representatives worked in collaboration with the Philippine Mission to the UN, and the Mental Health Division of the World Health Organization to heighten awareness that the psychosocial well-being and mental health of women and girls is an emerging societal and global human rights issue, relevant to the 12 critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action. We also proposed language, offered by Psychologists for Social Responsibility, for including women at all levels as effective participants in conflict resolution, peace building and conflict prevention.

The General Assembly Beijing+5 Review this June is not intended to renegotiate the commitments of the Platform for Action. Instead, governments will reaffirm their commitment to the goals and objectives established in Beijing, appraise progress, and establish further initiatives and actions required for full implementation of commitments to gender equality, development and peace.

The UN Commission on the Status of Women (which met recently in New York, March 6-17) to prepare for the Special Session, identified a number of challenges that actions to enhance women’s empowerment will have to address. These include: (1) globalization processes affecting modes of production and communication as well as the fabric of community life; (2) increasing disparities in the economic situation among and within countries, coupled with a growing economic dependence of States on external factors; (3) changes in migratory flows of labor and the increasing involvement of women; (4) persistence and dispersion of social identity conflicts; and (5) increasing casualties and damages caused by natural disasters and the progression of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

During the 1990s, women’s human rights advocates achieved recognition that women’s rights are human rights, and the rhetoric of governments and inter-governmental organizations has gone far in incorporating the language of protecting and promoting the human rights of women and girls. But the UN Secretary General’s Report to Special Session of the General Assembly provides evidence, from a survey of governments on their implementation efforts thus far, that reality lags far behind such rhetoric. Therefore, the five-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action is more than a photo opportunity. It presents an important opportunity to mobilize political will to accelerate implementation of the Platform and the promotion of gender equality at all levels of society and the global community.

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Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin