Presented by Nelcia Marshall-Robinson, at the “Faith-based Responses to Institutional Barriers” side-event hosted by Ecumenical Women on Monday, March 8, 2010

What is Beijing?

It is not an event in itself, it is not a temporary excitement, rather it is a “journey of hope and restoration,” to lift women into a situation of equality.  Isaiah 54:6 says “For the Lord has called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and as a wife of youth when thou wast refused,” and again in Isaiah 61: 3, “to give women beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”

The Beijing Platform for Action, signed on to by governments at the Fourth World Conference on Women, held from 4-15 September, 1995 in Beijing China, is an agenda for women’s empowerment.  The twelve critical areas of action are:

  • Women and Poverty
  • Education and Training For Women
  • Women and Health
  • Violence Against Women
  • Women in Armed Conflict
  • Women and The Economy
  • Women in Power And Decision-Making
  • Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement Of Women
  • Human Rights of Women
  • Women and The Media
  • Women and The Environment
  • The Girl Child

I will focus on the Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women.  I will address the institutional mechanisms in preparation for the conference, at the conference itself, and for implementation post-conference.

PREPARATION FOR THE BEIJING CONFERENCE

Various mechanisms helped contribute to preparations for and participation in the Fourth World Conference on the Status of Women.

National Mechanisms

In 1993, I was employed at a national women’s organization in my country.  I was also President of the National Association for Adult Education, in a voluntary capacity.  I received a call from a Mr. John Harrison, the Head of the British Development Division for the Eastern Caribbean, based in Barbados.  I assumed that he wanted to talk to me on women’s issues. He did, but it was in relation to the adult education process, which he saw as the best vehicle to educate people on the upcoming Conference on Women.  Mr. Harrison had funds for the purpose, which he channeled through the Government Community Services Ministry.  In collaboration with the Women’s Desk, we embarked on an island-wide educational program that included the involvement of civil society organizations – women’s organizations, and faith-based organizations.  As a result, a national report was produced on the situation of women.

 

Regional Mechanisms

The content of this report was fed into the regional process, at meetings organized by UNIFEM, ECLAC, and regional women’s organizations.  Country reports from other Caribbean countries had similar issues on the status of women as we did.  Each of these reports contributed to a Caribbean Regional Report.  There was harmony and cooperation with civil society organizations, and National Women’s Machineries.  There was funding available to support participation in these meetings, and to take delegates to the UN for the Preparatory Committee Meetings.  We successfully advocated to have NGOs on the government delegations to defend the language that we proposed, and I was privileged to be one.  Overall there was significant involvement by women and civil society in the preparation for Beijing.

AT BEIJING

At Beijing itself, as the Platform for Action was being shaped, there were many meetings facilitated by the Division for the Advancement of Women and other UN structures that allowed for input.  NGOs had the opportunity to work on language for the document that would become the Beijing Platform for Action.  I was one of many women who participated as part of a government delegation, which allowed us to offer advice and make oral interventions.  Further, the content of the Platform for Action is greatly “home-grown,” based on reports from the individual countries.  A document was emerging, with changes after each Preparatory Committee Meeting. 

Yet, several areas of the document were still incomplete.  Many of these were around sexual and reproductive health, sensitive areas because of countries’ sovereignty and cultural practices.  Much negotiation had to take place to arrive at consensus on language.  It took unrelenting advocacy, lobbying by the delegates, demonstrations in and outside of the UN Building, and late nights, to finally get the Platform for Action approved after midnight on the last night of the Conference.

This was cause for celebration.  I, and other women, felt that we had the world at our feet.  The reality was that this Platform for Action had to “be brought home.”  It had to translate into action at home.  This transformed the challenge from getting an international policy document into, “How to translate it into action?”

While governments have to set policy, women’s organizations and other civil society organizations have to continue working for implementation.

Mechanisms after Beijing

The civil society delegates proceeded to “bring Beijing home” by reporting to our national organizations, and holding regional meetings to work out strategies for implementation.  The actors were the same, the big difference was that they resources dried up, limiting our ability to do advocacy. 

There were next steps however.  While National Women’s Machineries and/or Gender Bureaus produced National Reports, it was our practice to produce “Shadow reports” that contained the civil society perspective – so there is a Shadow Report for Beijing +5, Beijing +10 and Beijing +15.  The production of these reports required resources to educate, research, and produce.

Governments’ re-iteration of the Beijing Declaration is a good sign in that they have not reneged on the commitments made in 1995.  

Reports at both the government and CSO levels show that implementation has been slow and neglected.  This has been acknowledged by some countries.  It is for civil society, therefore, to insist on implementation.  Governments must make available the necessary human, physical and financial resources and involve women’s organizations and other civil society organizations in developing on-the-ground solutions.  It is equally important for these organizations to apply the same enthusiasm and activism to this implementation process as they did to the preparatory phase and at the Beijing Conference itself.  We must keep our governments’ heels to the fire.

We who were at Beijing have a responsibility to inform, educate our sons and daughters as to the meaning and significance of Beijing.  We must keep our government’s heels to the fire.