Partners for Change: Faith-Based Response to the Review for Beijing Platform for Action

1.  Ecumenical Women, a coalition of Christian organizations and denominations, and other NGOs, welcome the fifteen-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action (Platform) at the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

2.  We affirm the promotion of gender equality and justice from a human rights perspective.  We maintain that the contributions and empowerment of women and girls of all ages are fundamental, enshrined in the Platform and international laws, and necessary to meet all the Millennium Development Goals.

3.  Despite 15 years of national policies and international agreement to advance women’s rights, the goals of the Platform remain unfulfilled. Existing UN resources and mechanisms are inadequate for eradicating and addressing deprivations of human dignity faced by women. Ecumenical Women and our coalition members urgently stress the importance of using the review process to advance the goals of the Platform, and commit ourselves as partners in the process.

4.  The Platform will remain unfulfilled unless it is recognized that existing institutional structures are inherently gender-biased and need to be critically examined and radically transformed. Institutional barriers (in governmental, corporate, social, academic, educational, civil, familial, ecclesiastical and other religious structures, and the UN system itself) prohibit equality between men and women and deny women’s rights as human rights.

5.  Ecumenical Women affirms that God’s world was meant to be one of abundance for all persons, with fundamental rights and dignity for both women and men.  Women, however, are disproportionately robbed of this abundance.  We are called to challenge the gender bias of institutions and seek justice for those who are blocked by institutional barriers.

6.  Patriarchal understandings of gender, power and leadership; violence against women; limitations in the economic and educational advancement of women; and the extreme vulnerability of marginalized women are among the greatest barriers to women’s advancement.  Progress will require systemic institutional change.

Gender, Power and Leadership

7.  Decision-making by today’s leaders comes at the expense of the majority of women, men and communities by maintaining patriarchal systems, gender constructs, and the subordination of others. The impact of unjust power relations has resulted in widening inequality between women and men.  Even with some notable advancements, the majority of women’s lives are still characterized by economic and political marginalization, poverty, and violence.

8.  Although women make significant contributions, their full potential and ability as decision-makers are undervalued by society.  Many women are socialized and relegated to marginalized roles, non-paid work, or are limited to low-wage professions with little decision-making powers.  For women who succeed in reaching positions of power, some face a male-dominated culture that prompts them to perpetuate patterns of patriarchal leadership and then they are criticized for doing so.

9.  Power relations between women and men pervade our society. Leadership and power structures in all institutions need to be critically analyzed with a gender perspective. Civil, legal, and sacred texts need to be re-interpreted in language that promotes gender equality and justice. The feminist principles of caring, sharing, consensus-building, creativity and partnership offer alternative models of leadership and power.

Violence Against Women

10.  Despite numerous international resolutions, domestic abuse, rape, trafficking, and other forms of violence against women and girls persist.  Globally, more than 75 percent of violence against women is perpetrated by men and is rooted in a society that undervalues women.  The media, when it presents women and girls as sexual objects, creates an environment that perpetuates this violation and is itself a form of violence.

11.  Justice systems do little to prosecute those responsible for crimes against women and impunity reigns.   Many survivors of rape are not provided with the legal, medical, social, and psychological care needed to recover, move toward places of healing, and receive justice.

12.  To end this cycle of violence, men must cease to be socialized into dominating masculinities.  All should receive gender awareness education that fosters their involvement in peaceful, community-based movements for gender justice. The global White Ribbon Campaign is one example of men working to end violence against women.

Economic Barriers to Women’s Advancement

13.  Women’s economic empowerment means being able to use one’s rights, capabilities, resources and opportunities to make strategic choices and decisions.  This requires systems that promote women’s inherent capabilities and equal access to opportunities and resources – most notably the ability to own and inherit land.

14.  Women’s multiple familial and community roles limit their opportunities for formal employment. Pension and social security systems based on formal market employment discriminate against stay-at-home parents and informal workers, among whom women are heavily represented.

15.  Neoliberal macroeconomic policies put at risk the economic gains made by women over the last several decades. Women and girls of all ages, approximately two-thirds of the world’s impoverished, have little capacity to cope with financial shocks. The inadequacy and even absence of social protection policies have left millions of women in desperate straits. Employment stereotypes create discrepancies in hiring, with some areas favouring women as “cheap” labour or men as “breadwinners.”

Education and Training of Women

16.  Lack of access to quality education and social discrimination remain significant barriers to women’s advancement. Girls account for 54 percent of children not enrolled in primary school, and are more likely to withdraw before completing a full course of education. Women aged fifteen and above account for two thirds of the world’s illiterate population.  Girls and women are particularly vulnerable where educational environments fail to encourage their equal participation. In some regions, lack of appropriate sanitation facilities results in up to 10 percent of girls leaving school once they begin menstruating. Without adequate education, women are less likely to have access to economic and technological services, and are unable to participate fully in society.

17.  Even in countries with high education rates, women are discouraged from pursuing certain fields of study. Lack of economic support for women’s education and societal pressures mean some academically strong women fail to complete advanced education.

18.  While women and girls receive informal education and skills training in their home or local communities, such education continues to be undervalued. This informal education held by women, however, can be essential to the planning, implementation, and success of community or local development projects.

Vulnerability of Marginalized Women and Girls

19.  Marginalized women lack adequate government protection and face social and legal marginalization and discrimination. They include, but are not limited to migrants; indigenous, internally displaced, or stateless people; refugees; ethnic, religious, racial or sexual minorities; disabled, divorced, older, poor, homeless, trafficked, or rural persons; single parents; and prisoners.

20.  Many migrant women are denied the rights and services guaranteed to citizens and cannot access legal protections offered by host countries –  most notably for work-related abuses.

21.  Indigenous women face environmental degradation, climate change, seizures of sacred land and traditional territories, cultural discrimination, racism, and limits on resource-ownership. Access to resources is increasingly limited and controlled by patriarchal structures.  States and transnational corporations decimate natural landscapes, and criminalize or target indigenous owners protecting their land.

22.  Trafficked women and girls, seen as commodities, are victims of criminal activities that strip them of their fundamental human rights and dignity. Many are poor, less educated and unaware of their rights.  Despite greater attention to trafficking, national and international implementation of related policies remains insufficient.

Ecumenical Women, therefore, urges the following:

23.  To the Commission:

  1. Work closely with the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women to ensure that GEAR’s vision is enacted within the UN and at national and international levels.
  2. Fulfil its mandate as stated in ECOSOC resolution 1987/22 to promote, monitor, and review state progress on the Platform.
  3. Produce recommendations on the Platform at the 54th CSW to be passed by the General Assembly.
  4. Ensure women’s voices are heard at the UN by setting an agenda to advance women’s right in consultation with civil society, NGOs and the Global South.
  5. Choose the theme of positive masculinity as a focus of a future CSW to engender mutual partnership in addressing women’s rights.

24.  To the UN Community, we urge that:

  1. The General Assembly fund and implement its resolution 63/311.
  2. The UN, using a coherent system, should end gender inequalities within all its institutions.
  3. Women must be involved in all levels of planning and implementation.
  4. The UN should work in partnership with civil society for maximum and sustainable impact.
  5. According to its own resolutions, the Security Council must enable UN peace-keeping missions to protect, particularly against sexual violence, women and girls who are trapped in combat zones.

25.  To UN Member States:

  1. Guarantee that adequate funding is available to fulfil all laws and polices advancing women’s rights.
  2. “Engender” institutions by reforming structures, policies and activities to reflect the different experiences, leadership styles and ways of working between women and men.
  3. Ratify, implement, and remove any reservations to existing international treaties including CEDAW, CAT, Convention Migrant Workers, ICCPR, ICESCR, and Protocol on Trafficking of Persons, with particular attention to women’s advancement, the provision of justice and an end to impunity.
  4. Implement Security Council resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888, 1889 and General Assembly resolutions 63/155, 63/156 with regard to violence against women in armed conflict,
  5. Motivate men to partner in ending violence and discrimination against women through positive masculinities training, gender awareness and human rights education.
  6. Ensure women’s full participation in the economic sector by removing legal, educational, employment, ownership, and social service barriers; creating incentives; and enabling women’s decision-making in micro and macroeconomic policies.
  7. Include women’s uncompensated work in calculations of GDP, quality of life and international economic indices; provide compensation for care-taking and informal roles; and guarantee pensions and social security systems that count uncompensated labour as work.
  8. Ensure women’s equal access to education and training, through

i.      removing all barriers to women’s educational success;

ii.      increasing public spending in both informal and formal education;

iii.      creating incentive programs to encourage girls’ participation in primary education;

iv.      establishing human rights and community education programs;

v.      creating gender inclusive teacher training and curricula;

vi.      modernizing school sanitation facilities;

vii.      promoting educational models that equip women, especially marginalized women, to assume positions of leadership and decision making;

viii.      reporting and improving upon girls’ participation and the gender and cultural sensitivity of educational environments.

26.  Ensure marginalized women receive greater attention and are guaranteed full extension of social services, equal rights and legal protection, regardless of legal status.

27.  Engage marginalized women within the political, economic, legal, and social arenas as critical stakeholders in policy- and decision-making.

28.  Fund anti-bias education on local and national levels to eradicate social stigmas, stereotypes and discrimination.

29.  Provide reparations for deprivations to marginalized communities, particularly women.

Statement signed by Association of Presbyterian Women Aotearoa New Zealand; Church Women United; Global Action on Aging; Lutheran World Federation; Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); The Salvation Army; United Methodist Church, General Board of Church & Society; World Conference of Religion for Peace (general consultative status); World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women; The World Student Christian Federation; World Young Women’s Christian Association, non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council.