by Paola Salwan

In September 1995, thousands of people made the historical move of adopting the Beijing Declaration and Plan for Action during the World 4th Conference on Women. The declaration, although not legally binding, quickly became a comprehensive reference policy document on women’s rights and women’s lives throughout the world for governments, NGOs, international organisations and the global women’s movement. The twelve critical areas of importance and concern outlined in the declaration (Women and poverty, Education and training of women, Women and health, Violence against women, Women and armed conflict, Women and the economy, Women in power and decision-making, Institutional environment and the girl child) paved the way for the other documents that try to ensure and enforce women’s rights, such as the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820 or the third Millennium Development Goal, which is promote gender equality and empower women.

A review of the implementation of the BDPA has taken place every five years since its adoption. A political document was drafted at Beijing +5, “Further Actions and Initiatives to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action”, in order to deepen the understanding and application of the BDPA.

For Beijing+15, governmental delegations, but also NGOs, UN Bodies and international organisations attending the UN Commission on the Status of Women in March 2010 will assess and evaluate the progress made on the implementation of the Beijing document. Delegations will be invited to share good practices and experiences, but also to reflect on the challenges that are still lying ahead for women around the world. Many different spaces will be available for participants to express themselves and try and build strategies for women’s rights. The outcome of theses meetings should be a vision for the substantial improvement of women’s lives , in line with the Millennium Development Goals.

In order to prepare this ever-important session, many regional events are already taking place around the world, such as the Africa Regional Task Force for the Beijing Review Process or the 2009 Asia-Pacific NGO Forum on Beijing +15, organised around the theme “Weaving Wisdom, Confronting Crises, Forging the Future”. These events are mainly put together by NGOs and civil society, while the high level and experts review meetings that are also being undertaken in each region towards the end of 2009 are organised by ministries and national ministries or regional commissions.

It is indeed paramount to have these events, as well as the review of the Declaration, taking place, in view with the current status of women around the world. If we follow WHO’s statistics following a 10-countries study:

  • About 5,000 women are murdered by family members in the name of honour each year worldwide.
  • Trafficking of women and girls for forced labour and sex is widespread and often affects the most vulnerable.
  • Forced marriages and child marriages violate the human rights of women and girls, but they are widely practiced in many countries in Asia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Worldwide, up to one in five women report experiencing sexual abuse as children. Children who experience sexual abuse are much more likely to encounter other forms of abuse later in life.
    • Between 15% and 71% of women reported physical or sexual violence by a husband or partner.

It’s time the world wakes up and truly makes the Violence Against Women a top priority on the global agenda. VAW not only traumatizes the women as individuals, it also affects the community as a whole. In societies where women are less represented than men, where women die from honour killings or domestic abuse, the cohesion is likely to be loose and a lack of resources may arise.

Women are homemakers, more often than not bread earners, mothers, sisters, and pillars of the family and of the society. To violate and abuse them is to violate and abuse the society as a whole.

Beijing+15 will be a platform to fight this battle, but we need more of those.

Go on, promote Gender Equality, participate in Beijing+15 events, follow the news on Gender-based violence, spread the word. Every voice counts.