Women’s rights advocates silenced at the UN


By Andrée Côté, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Women’s groups around the world are disappointed by the Political Declaration adopted on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women

The Beijing Platform for Action (PFA)

Twenty years ago, government of the world signed onto the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, at the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. At the time this was an ambitious program, covering twelve critical areas of concern: women and poverty, education and training, health, violence against women, armed conflict, the economy, power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, human rights, the media, the environment, and the girl-child.

Twenty years later, there has been some significant progress, for some women in some areas. But so much more remains to be done, and new and emerging issues need to be tackled: sexual and reproductive rights, child care and gender budgeting, for example, were not addressed in the Beijing Platform for Action (PFA).

Progress on Women’s Rights in Canada: Missing in Action

In Canada, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) published an extensive report with input from a wide coalition of key organizations entitled Progress on Women’s Rights: Missing in Action. The report notes that the percentage of women living in poverty has actually increased over the last twenty years (13%), and that women’s employment has been stagnant.

There has been little change in the levels of violence against women, with over one million women in Canada having reported sexual assault of intimate partner violence in the last five years. Aboriginal women experience three times the rates of violence that other women deal with, and it has attracted condemnation from several international human rights institutions. The reports also notes:

“Worryingly, the pace of progress towards gender equality slowed over the past decade. …(there is) a marked slowdown in the rate of progress towards closing the gap between the well-being of women and men. The report also documents important and persistent differences between different groups of women, with Aboriginal, racialized, and immigrant women, as well as women with disabilities, all suffering a disproportionate burden of inequality. Finally, there has been a notable shrinking of the federal government’s role in addressing the barriers to gender equality both at home and as part of its international commitments.”

In other words, Canada is not living up to its commitments to women under international human rights law, and it has not achieved the goals set out in the Beijing Platform for Action.

This is why women’s groups, trade unions and human rights organizations have engaged the federal government to get a commitment that it would adopt measures to accelerate the implementation of the Beijing PFA, and that it would address existing gaps.

UNCSW and the PFA

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meeting this year is focused on the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action. Usually, representatives of member states negotiate “Agreed Conclusions” on the theme for the year, during the two weeks that the UNCSW is in session. However, this year, the negotiations were held in advance. On March 9, the states will officially endorse a short “Political Declaration”.

This new process means that women’s groups, human rights organizations and trade unions have not been able to lobby and influence the outcome of this document, as we usually do. It also means that the content of the declaration is not as strong and forward looking if it had benefited from the input of the international women’s movement.

This change in process has been denounced by over 1,000 organizations, including PSI, EI, ITUC and the Canadian Labour Congress. Here is an excerpt from the press release issued on March 8:

On March 9, UN Member States are expected to adopt a Political Declaration to mark the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women. The voices of women’s groups have been excluded from this declaration. This is unacceptable. Progress has occurred not because of the benevolence of governments, but because feminist organizations and women human rights defenders have fought for it, every step of the way.

On Sunday, March 8, as thousands gathered outside UN headquarters in New York to mark International Women’s Day, feminists are loudly proclaiming, “Nothing about us, without us.”

The full statement of women’s rights organizations in response to the draft Political Declaration is available in English, French, and Spanish at: http://iwhc.org/resource/womens-statement-20th-anniversary-fourth-world-conference-women/.


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