and men

Women´s Issues After Beijing
Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women
Positions - Networks - Results

Chapter I

The Road to Beijing: From the Foundation of the United Nations to the Fourth World Conference on Women
In their foundation charter the United Nations (UN) are committed to "promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion..." (Charter, Art.I). Three women participated in the foundation conference in San Francisco in April/June 1945.

1945 United Nations are committed to promote gender equality

The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations sets up the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with headquarters in Vienna. The Commission is the oldest UN-institution responsible for the implementation of gender equality. The Commission prepares reports and recommendations on the status of women, it commissions studies to expose discrimination. It defines policy objectives on women´s issues and proposes actions to realize these.

1946 Commission on the Status of Women

The CSW acted as organizer of the preparatory and follow-up process (monitoring) of the world conferences on women.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights reaffirms equality of men and women. Article 16 provides for "equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution" for both men and women.

1949 Declaration of Human Rights

The United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights form the basis for legal standards and agreements which are intended to describe in more concrete terms how to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, nationality and religious orientation, as laid down in the two documents.
The General Assembly of the UN adopts the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others.

1949 Convention against Traffic in Persons

The International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva adopts the Convention concerning Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Equal Value.

1951 Equal Pay for Equal Work

The General Assembly of the UN adopts the Convention on the Political Rights of Women. This convention gives women the general right to vote and to be eligible for and to hold public office.

1952 Political Rights for Women: Legal advice for women

UN Convention on the Nationality of Married Women

1958 ILO Convention Concerning Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation

1962 UN Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Human Rights Covenant) reaffirms the ban on discrimination and extends it. Everyone whose recognized rights and freedoms are infringed has recourse to appeal procedures. Article 3 commits the States Parties to the Covenant "to ensure the equal right of men and women to enjoyment of all civil and political rights set forth in the present Covenant".

1966 Human Rights Covenant of the UN

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights commits the States Parties to the Covenant "to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights set forth in the present Covenant" (Art.3). In Article 10 of the Social Covenant the contracting parties recognize that marriage can be concluded only with the free consent of both parties to the marriage. Before and after childbirth, mothers should be accorded special protection. During this period, working mothers have a claim to paid leave.

Social Covenant of the UN

The signatories recognize "that special measures of protection and assistance should be taken on behalf of all children and young persons without any discrimination for reasons of parentage or other conditions. Children and young persons should be protected from economic and social exploitation. Their employment in work harmful to their morals or health or dangerous to life or likely to hamper their normal development should be punishable by law. States should also set age limits below which paid employment of child labour should be prohibited and punishable by law".
First general declaration of the UN to put world-wide discrimination against women on the international agenda, though not binding under international law. First step towards a "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women" which will be binding in international law (see also:1979).

1967 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

The United Nations concentrate world attention on the situation of women, on their concerns, needs and the daily violation of women´s rights, as laid down in the various covenants, declarations and conventions of the United Nations.

1975 International Women´s Year

The Conference of the International Women´s Year from June 19th to July 2nd, 1975, is the highlight of the International Women´s Year and the prelude to four world conferences on women so far.

First World Conference on Women in Mexico

In Mexico, a World Plan of Action for the Implementation of the Objectives of the International Women´s Year is adopted, though not unanimously.
Following the Mexico Conference, the General Assembly of the UN proclaims this decade to be the UN-Decade for Women under the motto "Equality - Development - Peace".

1976-1985 UN-Decade for Women

The Voluntary Fund for the UN-Decade for Women (VFDW) is set up for funding UN-projects during the Decade for Women. In 1985 it is renamed into UNIFEM and established as an open-ended UN-development programme which is part of the overall United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

1976 First Development Fund for Women

The Fund, which is located in New York, raises funds from voluntary donations and supports pilot projects in development cooperation.
On the recommendation of the First World Conference on Women, the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) is founded in 1976.

UN-research on women initiated

At the suggestion of the World Conference on Women of Mexico-City, the UN declares May 8th to be the International Women´s Day.

1977 May 8th is declared Women´s Day

The "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women" states that, in spite of all declarations, "extensive discrimination against women continues to exist", but that women´s maximum participation is "required in all fields for the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and for the cause of peace". In the Preamble, the signatory States reaffirm their determination "to adopt the measures required for the elimination of such discrimination in all its forms and manifestations". The Convention defines discrimination against women as any gender-based exclusion or restriction which aims at preventing "the recognition, use or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms by women". The Convention lists a differentiated catalogue of discriminatory acts in all areas of life. The signatory States confirm their commitment to eliminating these forms of discrimination.

1979 Anti-Discrimination Convention

Based on Article 17, the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is set up to monitor the progress made in implementing the Convention. The Committee, composed of 23 women experts, examines the reports submitted by the signatory States every four years in respect of their anti-discrimination activities. The Committee itself has the right to request reports from the signatory States at any time.

Anti-Discrimination Committee

Five years after the conference in Mexico, the delegates from 145 states convene to take stock of the first half of the Decade for Women.
The Copenhagen Conference from July 14th to 30th, 1980, adopts a Programme of Action for the Second Half of the Decade for Women which concentrates in particular on employment, health, education and training. The Programme of Action, which was not adopted unanimously, takes up the objectives and demands not yet realized of the Mexico Conference and puts them back on the agenda.

1980 Second World Conference on Women in Copenhagen

At the conclusion of the Decade for Women, the Nairobi Conference (July 15th to 26th, 1985) adopts the Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women during the Period 1986 to the Year 2000.

1985 Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi

For the first time the central document, which formulates voluntary commitments of the national Governments, is consensually adopted. "This distinguishes this conference from the previous world conferences on women in Mexico in 1975 and in Copenhagen in 1980. The adoption of this central document without any dissenting vote is the most important result of the World Conference on Women in Nairobi", the German Government said in its official statement from 25-9-85 (Parliamentary Bulletin 10/3888).
This procedure is accepted for all the subsequent UN-conferences. Dissenting views are enclosed in the annex. The agreed documents of UN-conferences are not binding under international law, in contrast to its international conventions and covenants. They are voluntary commitments of national Governments.
At the Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro from June 3rd to 14th, 1992, 178 Governments met to adopt Agenda 21 unanimously, though not binding under international law, a comprehensive programme of action, valid into the 21st century, with instructions on how to act in environmental and development policies. Agenda 21 has the objective of changing human activities world-wide in such a way that a sustainable development is achieved. It is the most comprehensive international programme on the integration of development and the environment. Agenda 21 includes in Chapter 24 "a Global Plan of Action for women to bring about sustainable and equitable development". The Plan calls upon all governments to implement full equality in all areas of life in society. The Rio Declaration lists 27 agreed principles for future environmental and development policies and states under principle 20: "women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development".

1992 UN Conference on the Environment and Development

The industrialized countries have committed themselves to make available 0.7 percent of the Gross National Product for public development assistance with which to fund a package of measures. They promise "to reach this goal as soon as possible and to ensure an immediate and effective implementation of Agenda 21".
Representatives of 171 States adopt the Vienna Declaration in consensus voting. It sets forth and explains the principles on human rights, including a Programme of Action with concrete plans of actions, recommendations and demands. The Declaration emphasizes the necessity to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms "as a priority objective of the United Nations" and calls their observance "a legitimate concern of the international community". The human rights of women and the girl child are "an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights". The Vienna Conference from June 14th to 25th, 1993, urges Governments "to intensify their efforts for the protection and promotion of human rights of women and the girl child". The Conference requests the appointment of a UN Special Rapporteur for violence against women.

1993 UN Human Rights Conference in Vienna

The Declaration assumes that "violence against women is a manifestation of the historically unequal power relations between men and women which have led to the domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of women´s full advancement, and that the use of force against women is one of the decisive mechanisms through which women are forced to subordinate themselves to men..." According to Article 1 violence means "any act of gender-based violence against women which results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life". The catalogue of forms of violence includes rape in marriage, female genital mutilation and dowry-related violence. The Declaration emphasizes the right of women to enjoyment of all human rights and calls upon the States to accede to the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, to ratify it and to withdraw any existing reservations.

UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women

Delegations from 179 countries adopt a Plan of Action on population and development designed for the next twenty years. A new strategy aimed at empowering women, especially at giving them control over pregnancies and the number of children, is intended to put a brake on demographic growth and improve conditions for sustainable development. Many of the agreements entered into in Cairo (from September 5th to 13th, 1994), in particular the time-frames set for the fields of health and education, anticipate commitments of the Beijing Platform for Action. Together with the Al-Azhar University (an important conservative Islamic authority), the Vatican takes a position which fundamentally deviates from the Plan of Action in three essential areas: both define family exclusively in terms of legal marriage of husband and wife. Sex education must therefore be aimed at legally married spouses only. Abortion is permitted only in cases of medical indications. In contrast, the Plan of Action protects "other forms" of family life as well.

1994 UN Conference on Population and Development in Cairo

At the World Summit for Social Development from March 6th to 12th, 1995, more than 170 Governments adopt in consensus voting the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development. The Programme of Action calls for measures against poverty, unemployment and social exclusion. The Governments make commitments to give priority to the needs and rights of women and children in their efforts towards the eradication of poverty. "Basic health care, including reproductive health care, is to be guaranteed" (commitment 2). In commitment 5 the Governments promise in anticipation to pay "particular attention" to the results of the Fourth World Conference on Women.

1995 World Social Summit

The commitment of the industrialized countries under Agenda 21 of Rio to spend 0.7 percent of the Gross National Product for public development assistance should be implemented "as soon as possible". Industrialized and development countries alike should enter a mutual commitment of investing 20 percent of development assistance or 20 percent of the government budget, respectively, for programmes providing basic services.
From September 4th to 15th, 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women takes place in Beijing. 189 Government delegations adopt the consensus Platform for Action on September 15th.

Fourth World Women´s Conference in Beijing

The Platform defines itself as "an agenda for women´s empowerment. It aims at accelerating the implementation of the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women and at removing all the obstacles to women´s active participation in all spheres of public and private life through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making". The Platform seeks to "improve the situation of all women without exception...". It states that the majority of forward-looking strategies for the advancement of women of Nairobi have not yet achieved the agreed goals.

1995-2005 UN Decade for Human Rights Education

1996 International Year for the Eradication of Poverty

With the Conference on Global Challenges in Urban and Settlement Development (Habitat II) in Istanbul from June 4th to 14th, 1996 the cycle of major UN-conferences comes to a close. These conferences set the future agendas which can only be implemented if all peoples, national Governments and international institutions work together.

UN Conference on Human Settlements in Istanbul

The HABITAT-AGENDA und its corresponding Plan of Action, like all other agendas of UN-conferences, is not binding under international law. But if non-observance of the commitments entered into at these UN-conferences is criticized in future, it can no longer be rejected as intervention in concerns of national sovereignty. Such criticism in future means intervention in issues of global governance.


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© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | Net Edition mv&ola | Oktober 1997