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At this conference, governments from around the world agreed on a comprehensive plan to achieve global legal equality, known as the Beijing Platform for Action.
The founding United Nations charter (1945) included a provision for equality between men and women (chapter III, article 8). Subsequently, from 1945 to 1975 various female officials within the United Nations and leaders of women's movements on the global stage attempted to turn these principles into action. The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution (resolution 3010) that 1975 should be International Women's Year. In December 1975, the UN General Assembly passed a further resolution (resolution 31/136) that 1976–1985 should be the "Decade of Women".
In conjunction with International Women's Year, the first world conference on women was held in Mexico City in 1975. It resulted in the Declaration of Mexico on the Equality of Women and Their Contribution to Development and Peace.
The second world conference on women was held in Copenhagen in 1980. The conference agreed that the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was an important milestone. The Copenhagen conference also acknowledged the gap between rights being secured for women and women's ability to exercise those rights. It was also agreed that it was action on the three areas of: equal access to education; employment opportunities; and adequate health care services are essential to achieve the goals set out in Mexico.
The third world conference on women was held in Nairobi in 1985. The Nairobi conference set out areas by which progress in women's equality could be measured: constitutional and legal measures; equality in social participation; equality in political participation; and decision-making. The conference also acknowledged that women need to participate in all areas of human activity, not just those areas that relate to gender.
Delegates had prepared a Declaration and Platform for Action aimed at achieving greater equality and opportunity for women.
The conference was attended by representatives of 189 governments, UN agencies, intergovernmental organizations such as the European Union and League of Arab States, as well as activists and organizations from across the world. There were 17,000 participants, with a further 30,000 activists attending a parallel Forum.
A full list of the statements made by attendees can be found on the UN website.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, at the time the First Lady of the United States, gave the speech Women's Rights Are Human Rights at the conference on 5 September 1995. That speech is considered to be influential in the women's rights movement, and in 2013 Clinton led a review of how women's rights have changed since her 1995 speech. The 1995 speech was listed as No. 35 in American Rhetoric's Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century (listed by rank).
"If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, it is that human rights are women's rights.... And women's rights are human rights.
Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely. And the right to be heard.
Women must enjoy the right to participate fully in the social and political lives of their countries if we want freedom and democracy to thrive and endure."
--Hillary Rodham Clinton
"No woman can determine the direction of her own life without the ability to determine her sexuality. Sexuality is an integral, deeply ingrained part of every human being's life and should not be subject to debate or coercion. Anyone who is truly committed to women's human rights must recognize that every woman has the right to determine her sexuality free of discrimination and oppression.
I urge you to make this a conference for all women, regardless of their sexual orientation, and to recognize in the Platform for Action that lesbian rights are women's rights and that women's rights are universal, inalienable, and indivisible human rights."
--Beverly Palesa Ditsie
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is widely known as the most progressive blueprint for advancing women's rights.
The framework covers 12 areas of concern:
A summary of the Beijing Platform for Action is given below:
1. The Platform for Action is an agenda for women's empowerment. It aims at accelerating the implementation of the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women and at removing all the obstacles to women's active participation in all spheres of public and private life through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making. This means that the principle of shared power and responsibility should be established between women and men at home, in the workplace and in the wider national and international communities. Equality between women and men is a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice and is also a necessary and fundamental prerequisite for equality, development and peace. A transformed partnership based on equality between women and men is a condition for people-centred sustainable development. A sustained and long-term commitment is essential, so that women and men can work together for themselves, for their children and for society to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.
2. The Platform for Action reaffirms the fundamental principle set forth in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights, that the human rights of women and of the girl child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights. As an agenda for action, the Platform seeks to promote and protect the full enjoyment of all human rights and the fundamental freedoms of all women throughout their life cycle.
3. The Platform for Action emphasizes that women share common concerns that can be addressed only by working together and in partnership with men towards the common goal of gender[note 1] equality around the world. It respects and values the full diversity of women's situations and conditions and recognizes that some women face particular barriers to their empowerment.
4. The Platform for Action requires immediate and concerted action by all to create a peaceful, just and humane world based on human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the principle of equality for all people of all ages and from all walks of life, and to this end, recognizes that broad- based and sustained economic growth in the context of sustainable development is necessary to sustain social development and social justice.
5. The success of the Platform for Action will require a strong commitment on the part of Governments, international organizations and institutions at all levels. It will also require adequate mobilization of resources at the national and international levels as well as new and additional resources to the developing countries from all available funding mechanisms, including multilateral, bilateral and private sources for the advancement of women; financial resources to strengthen the capacity of national, subregional, regional and international institutions; a commitment to equal rights, equal responsibilities and equal opportunities and to the equal participation of women and men in all national, regional and international bodies and policy- making processes; and the establishment or strengthening of mechanisms at all levels for accountability to the world's women.
- For the commonly understood meaning of the term "gender", see annex IV below.
Statement by the president of the conference on the commonly understood meaning of the term "gender".
1. During the 19th meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women, acting as preparatory body for the Fourth World Conference on Women, an issue arose concerning the meaning of the word "gender" in the context of the Platform for Action of the Conference. In order to examine the matter, the Commission decided to form a contact group in New York, with the Commission's Rapporteur, Ms. Selma Ashipala (Namibia), as Chairperson. The Commission mandated the informal contact group to seek agreement on the commonly understood meaning of "gender" in the context of the Platform for Action and to report directly to the Conference in Beijing.
2. Having considered the issue thoroughly, the contact group noted that:
- (1) the word "gender" had been commonly used and understood in its ordinary, generally accepted usage in numerous other United Nations forums and conferences;
- (2) there was no indication that any new meaning or connotation of the term, different from accepted prior usage, was intended in the Platform for Action.
3. Accordingly, the contact group reaffirmed that the word "gender" as used in the Platform for Action was intended to be interpreted and understood as it was in ordinary, generally accepted usage. The contact group also agreed that the present report should be read by the President of the Conference as a president's statement and that the statement should be part of the final report of the Conference.
Critical areas of concern
41. The advancement of women and the achievement of equality between women and men are a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice and should not be seen in isolation as a women's issue. They are the only way to build a sustainable, just and developed society. Empowerment of women and equality between women and men are prerequisites for achieving political, social, economic, cultural and environmental security among all peoples.
42. Most of the goals set out in the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women have not been achieved. Barriers to women's empowerment remain, despite the efforts of Governments, as well as non-governmental organizations and women and men everywhere. Vast political, economic and ecological crises persist in many parts of the world. Among them are wars of aggression, armed conflicts, colonial or other forms of alien domination or foreign occupation, civil wars and terrorism. These situations, combined with systematic or de facto discrimination, violations of and failure to protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms of all women, and their civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, including the right to development and ingrained prejudicial attitudes towards women and girls are but a few of the impediments encountered since the World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace, in 1985.
43. A review of progress since the Nairobi Conference highlights special concerns – areas of particular urgency that stand out as priorities for action. All actors should focus action and resources on the strategic objectives relating to the critical areas of concern which are, necessarily, interrelated, interdependent and of high priority. There is a need for these actors to develop and implement mechanisms of accountability for all the areas of concern.
44. To this end, Governments, the international community and civil society, including non-governmental organizations and the private sector, are called upon to take strategic action in the following critical areas of concern:
- The persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women
- Inequalities and inadequacies in and unequal access to education and training
- Inequalities and inadequacies in and unequal access to health care and related services
- Violence against women
- The effects of armed or other kinds of conflict on women, including those living under foreign occupation
- Inequality in economic structures and policies, in all forms of productive activities and in access to resources
- Inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and decision-making at all levels
- Insufficient mechanisms at all levels to promote the advancement of women
- Lack of respect for and inadequate promotion and protection of the human rights of women
- Stereotyping of women and inequality in women's access to and participation in all communication systems, especially in the media
- Gender inequalities in the management of natural resources and in the safeguarding of the environment
- Persistent discrimination against and violation of the rights of the girl child
Strategic objectives and actions
45. In each critical area of concern, the problem is diagnosed and strategic objectives are proposed with concrete actions to be taken by various actors in order to achieve those objectives. The strategic objectives are derived from the critical areas of concern and specific actions to be taken to achieve them cut across the boundaries of equality, development and peace – the goals of the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women – and reflect their interdependence. The objectives and actions are interlinked, of high priority and mutually reinforcing. The Platform for Action is intended to improve the situation of all women, without exception, who often face similar barriers, while special attention should be given to groups that are the most disadvantaged.
46. The Platform for Action recognizes that women face barriers to full equality and advancement because of such factors as their race, age, language, ethnicity, culture, religion or disability, because they are indigenous women or because of other status. Many women encounter specific obstacles related to their family status, particularly as single parents; and to their socio- economic status, including their living conditions in rural, isolated or impoverished areas. Additional barriers also exist for refugee women, other displaced women, including internally displaced women as well as for immigrant women and migrant women, including women migrant workers. Many women are also particularly affected by environmental disasters, serious and infectious diseases and various forms of violence against women.
Women and poverty diagnosis
- Strategic objective A.1. Review, adopt and maintain macroeconomic policies and development strategies that address the needs and efforts of women in poverty. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective A.2. Revise laws and administrative practices to ensure women's equal rights and access to economic resources. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective A.3. Provide women with access to savings and credit mechanisms and institutions. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective A.4. Develop gender-based methodologies and conduct research to address the feminization of poverty. Actions to be taken.
Education and training of women diagnosis
- Strategic objective B.1. Ensure equal access to education. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective B.2. Eradicate illiteracy among women. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective B.3. Improve women's access to vocational training, science and technology, and continuing education. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective B.4. Develop non-discriminatory education and training. Actions to be taken
- Strategic objective B.5. Allocate sufficient resources for and monitor the implementation of educational reforms. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective B.6. Promote lifelong education and training for girls and women. Actions to be taken.
Women and health diagnosis
- Strategic objective C.1. Increase women's access throughout the life cycle to appropriate, affordable and quality health care, information and related services. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective C.2. Strengthen preventive programmes that promote women's health. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective C.3. Undertake gender-sensitive initiatives that address sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, and sexual and reproductive health issues. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective C.4. Promote research and disseminate information on women's health. Actions to be taken
- Strategic objective C.5. Increase resources and monitor follow-up for women's health. Actions to be taken.
Violence against women diagnosis
- Strategic objective D.1. Take integrated measures to prevent and eliminate violence against women. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective D.2. Study the causes and consequences of violence against women and the effectiveness of preventive measures. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective D.3. Eliminate trafficking in women and assist victims of violence due to prostitution and trafficking. Actions to be taken.
Women and armed conflict diagnosis
- Strategic objective E.1. Increase the participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels and protect women living in situations of armed and other conflicts or under foreign occupation. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective E.2. Reduce excessive military expenditures and control the availability of armaments. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective E.3. Promote non-violent forms of conflict resolution and reduce the incidence of human rights abuse in conflict situations. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective E.4. Promote women's contribution to fostering a culture of peace. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective E.5. Provide protection, assistance and training to refugee women, other displaced women in need of international protection and internally displaced women. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective E.6. Provide assistance to the women of the colonies and non-self-governing territories. Actions to be taken.
Women and the economy diagnosis
- Strategic objective F.1. Promote women's economic rights and independence, including access to employment, appropriate working conditions and control over economic resources. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective F.2. Facilitate women's equal access to resources, employment, markets and trade. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective F.3. Provide business services, training and access to markets, information and technology, particularly to low-income women. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective F.4. Strengthen women's economic capacity and commercial networks. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective F.5. Eliminate occupational segregation and all forms of employment discrimination. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective F.6. Promote harmonization of work and family responsibilities for women and men. Actions to be taken.
Women in power and decision-making diagnosis
- Strategic objective G.1. Take measures to ensure women's equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective G.2. Increase women's capacity to participate in decision-making and leadership. Actions to be taken.
Institutional mechanism for the advancement of women diagnosis
- Strategic objective H.1. Create or strengthen national machineries and other governmental bodies. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective H.2. Integrate gender perspectives in legislation, public policies, programmes and projects. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective H.3. Generate and disseminate gender-disaggregated data and information for planning and evaluation Actions to be taken.
Human rights of women diagnosis
- Strategic objective I.1. Promote and protect the human rights of women, through the full implementation of all human rights instruments, especially the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective I.2. Ensure equality and non-discrimination under the law and in practice. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective I.3. Achieve legal literacy. Actions to be taken.
Women and the media diagnosis
- Strategic objective J.1. Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective J.2. Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media. Actions to be taken.
Women and the environment diagnosis
- Strategic objective K.1. Involve women actively in environmental decision-making at all levels. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective K.2. Integrate gender concerns and perspectives in policies and programmes for sustainable development. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective K.3. Strengthen or establish mechanisms at the national, regional, and international levels to assess the impact of development and environmental policies on women. Actions to be taken.
The girl-child diagnosis
- Strategic objective L.1. Eliminate all forms of discrimination against the girl-child. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective L.2. Eliminate negative cultural attitudes and practices against girls. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective L.3. Promote and protect the rights of the girl-child and increase awareness of her needs and potential. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective L.4. Eliminate discrimination against girls in education, skills development and training. Actions to be taken
- Strategic objective L.5. Eliminate discrimination against girls in health and nutrition. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective L.6. Eliminate the economic exploitation of child labour and protect young girls at work. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective L.7. Eradicate violence against the girl-child. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective L.8. Promote the girl-child's awareness of and participation in social, economic and political life. Actions to be taken.
- Strategic objective L.9. Strengthen the role of the family in improving the status of the girl-child. Actions to be taken.
A major result of the conference was the Beijing Declaration of Indigenous Women, signed at the NGO Forum in the Indigenous Women's Tent. This document seeks, in part, to reconcile the tension felt by Indigenous women activists and Indigenous movements dominated by men. It was a significant step forward towards Indigenous women's rights and a significant victory for Indigenous feminism practice.
The 50-point declaration provides the rationale and a clear call to action for governments navigating Indigenous issues across the globe. The demands in the document are "that all governments and international non-governmental and governmental organizations recognize the right of Indigenous peoples to self-determination, and enshrine the historical, political, social, cultural, economic, and religious rights of the Indigenous peoples in their constitutions and legal systems." From that premise, the declaration goes on to specify areas for action including self-determination; development, education and health; human rights violations and violence against Indigenous women; intellectual and cultural heritage; and political participation.
The document addresses the unique problems Indigenous women suffer in addition to those suffered by Indigenous men, which include erosion of culture (and gender roles therein), loss of traditional land, and compromised identity and status in the spaces they inhabit.
As its bases, the declaration cites the "UN Declaration of the International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples, the Draft Declaration of the Rights of the Indigenous peoples, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women, Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, and the Copenhagen Social Summit Declaration."
Global Focus: Women in Art and Culture was a project founded by artist and project director Nancy Cusick and gave women artists the opportunity to participate in the dialogue at the World Conference of Women. Women artists from around the world used their chosen media as a vehicle to produce work that evoked the universal issues paramount to women, their lives, and their position within the framework of society. Co-sponsored by the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), Global Focus presented an art exhibition, a video festival, slide presentations, performance pieces, and workshops that showed the artistic accomplishments and creativity of women. Most of the 880 artworks, produced by women artists from 27 countries, were displayed at the World Trade Center in Beijing, China. A smaller group of works were also exhibited in Huairou, China. These artworks formed a visual landscape of powerful images that immortalized the women's issues and themes which encompassed the conference—Equality, Development, and Peace.
Following the exhibition of the Global Focus artworks in Beijing, China, the corpus of works traveled to various international locations. Immediately after the close of the Beijing exhibit, a selection of 53 American paintings were displayed at the Elite Gallery in Moscow from October to November 1995. Subsequently, in November 1995, a selection of 200 works adorned the walls of the art gallery at the United States Department of Health and Human Services in Washington D.C. Simultaneously, another group of artworks from the collection were exhibited at the United States Information Agency also in Washington D.C. On March 20, 1996, the first public showing of the collection in the United States opened at NMWA in Washington D.C. with a day-long celebration revisiting and reflecting upon the experiences in Beijing. This exhibition, titled "Look at the World Through Women’s Eyes", was on display through April 21, 1996. On September 28, 1996, the collection was exhibited at George Washington University in Washington D.C. during the National Women's Satellite Conference hosted by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. From April to June 1997, a selection of 300 works from the collection were exhibited at the Peace Museum in Detroit. The last public display of the Global Focus exhibit was shown during the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the 1977 Spirit of Houston Conference in Washington D.C. After this final showing, the large group of artworks ended its journey, and the entire collection was presented by the project co-directors Nancy Cusick and Mal Johnson to the archives of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
In 2014 UN Women began its commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women with the Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It! campaign, also called the Beijing+20 campaign.
In 2019, UN Women launched the Generation Equality Campaign and Generation Equality Forum to "tackle the unfinished business of empowering women through a new groundbreaking, multi-generational campaign, Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future." Also called Beijing +25, the campaign and forum are being organized in collaboration with members of civil society, and are meant to serve as the planning events, along with the 64th Session of the UN's Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), in the lead up to a UN General Assembly high-level meeting in New York on September 23, 2020. In 2019, at the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly, governments agreed to present their commitments and planned activities to bring about gender equality by 2030 at a one-day session during the 74th session in 2020. The demands of the Generation Equality Campaign include "equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end to sexual harassment and all forms of violence against women and girls, health-care services that respond to their needs, and their equal participation in political life and decision-making in all areas of life." The Generation Equality Forum is being convened by UN Women, and co-chaired by Mexico and France. The Forum will begin in Mexico City, May 7–8, 2020 and will conclude in Paris, France from 7-10 of July, 2020. Discussions and reviews of progress on the Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) will also take place at the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, in New York, on March 9–20, 2020.
On 1 October 2020, the High-Level Meeting on the 25th Anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women was held, where China proposed another Global Leaders' Meeting on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in 2025.