An unprecedented 17,000 participants and 30,000 activists streamed into Beijing for the opening of the Fourth World Conference on Women in September 1995. They were remarkably diverse, coming from around the globe, but they had a single purpose in mind: gender equality and the empowerment of all women, everywhere.
Two weeks of political debate followed, heated at times, as representatives of 189 governments hammered out commitments that were historic in scope. Thirty thousand non-governmental activists attended a parallel Forum and kept the pressure on, networking, lobbying and training a global media spotlight. By the time the conference closed, it had produced the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights.
As a defining framework for change, the Platform made comprehensive commitments under 12 critical areas of concern. Even 20 years later, it remains a powerful source of guidance and inspiration.
Critical areas of concern
- 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 mechanisms for the advancement of women
- Women and health
- Women and the media
- Women and armed conflict
The Platform imagines a world where each woman and girl can exercise her freedoms and choices, and realize all her rights, such as to live free from violence, to go to school, to participate in decisions and to earn equal pay for equal work.
The Beijing process unleashed remarkable political will and worldwide visibility. It connected and reinforced the activism of women’s movements on a global scale. Conference participants went home with great hope and clear agreement on how to achieve equality and empowerment.
Since then, governments, civil society and the public have translated the Platform’s promises into concrete changes in individual countries. These have ushered in enormous improvements in women’s lives. More women and girls than at any previous point in time serve in political offices, are protected by laws against gender-based violence, and live under constitutions guaranteeing gender equality. Regular five-year reviews of progress on fulfilling Beijing commitments have sustained momentum.
Still, the Platform envisioned gender equality in all dimensions of life—and no country has yet finished this agenda. Women earn less than men and are more likely to work in poor-quality jobs. A third suffer physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Gaps in reproductive rights and health care leave 800 women dying in childbirth each day.
The 20th anniversary of Beijing opens new opportunities to reconnect, regenerate commitment, charge up political will and mobilize the public. Everyone has a role to play—for our common good. The evidence is increasingly in that empowering women empowers humanity. Economies grow faster, for example, and families are healthier and better-educated.
The Beijing Platform for Action, still forward-looking at 20, offers important focus in rallying people around gender equality and women’s empowerment. Its promises are necessarily ambitious. But over time, and with the accumulating energy of new generations, they are within reach.
Video: Empowering Women – Empowering Humanity: Picture It!
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