Women´s Issues After Beijing
Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference
Positions - Networks - Results
Sex, Gender and Empowerment
The Platform for Action: Agenda for the World-wide
Elimination of Gender Apartheid
The Fourth World Conference on Women (4th WCW) in Beijing set a new
record in the history of UN-conferences on the 50th anniversary of the
organization: more than 7,000 delegates from 189 countries convened in
the capital of the People´s Republic of China. A new record was also
achieved in respect of participation at the NGO Forum in Houairou: more
than 2,000 organizations were represented by more than 31,000 women participants,
of which some 4,000 were involved in the consultations of the 4th WCW.
Largest world conference on the 50th anniversary of the UN
The Forum of Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) from August 30th
to September 8th, 1995, ended with the slogan "take Beijing home with
you". Organizational responsibility for this international clearing
centre of women´s concerns was in the hands of the "Conference
of Non-governmental Organizations with Consultative Status with the Economic
and Social Council (CONGO). This Forum was an international meeting place
for the exchange of opinions and experiences with some 5,000 events. The
meeting was largely meant to influence the final wording of the Platform
for Action. This form of lobbying by NGOs has accompanied all international
conferences since Nairobi. The Platform for Action reflects the analyses
and demands by NGOs (above all, women´s organizations) from all parts
of the world.
NGO-lobbying until the very last minute
The Platform defines itself as "an agenda for women´s empowerment"
which 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. This means that the principle of shared power and responsibility
should be established between men and women at home, in the workplace and
in the wider national and international communities".
Empowerment programme for social justice
Women´s empowerment is an essential condition for social justice
and a fundamental prerequisite for equality, development and peace and
also for "a people-centred sustainable development". Empowerment
means a commitment to a qualitatively and quantitatively transformed partnership
between women and men "so that women and men can work together for
themselves, for their children and for society, to meet the challenges
of the twenty-first century".
The Platform takes stock of the situation world-wide in twelve critical
areas of concern, which establish the basis for a global agenda for social
justice by drawing up 54 strategic objectives and 535 actions to be taken.
The figures do not say much about the large diversity of activities that
Governments have agreed upon. Generally, actions to be taken are related
to a group of agents, international institutions, national governments
and specific NGOs, which in turn are called upon to become involved in
a whole host of activities (e.g. "review, adopt and maintain").
Each action incompasses a whole set of activities. Altogether, several
thousands of empowerment missions have been agreed in Beijing.
Twelve global problems in the focus of the Platform
Roughly one fifth of the draft was on the negotiating table in brackets
- because still controversial - before the Conference started. It was called
"holy brackets" because some parts of the text, for example in
respect of "gender" and "reproductive health", met
opposition by the Vatican, some Islamic countries or other governments.
In a tough negotiating marathon during the Conference the draft was turned
into a consensus document.
The hotchpotch nature of the Platform reflects the complicated process
of negotiations between the UN, the Governments and the NGOs. The Final
Document is an expression of a global communication and participation culture
in its strong and weak points. For the first time, so many women with their
hopes, aspirations, demands and claims were given a voice in one document
which they had worked out together: a feminine stock-taking and agenda
of unique authenticity. The slogan of the NGO Forum in Houairou "Look
at the world through women´s eyes" has become reality in the
Platform for Action, women´s views are the main feature of the document.
A document of feminine authenticity
The Beijing Agenda keeps pace with the standards set by the previous
four UN-world conferences: the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the Vienna
Human Rights Conference, the World Population Conference in Cairo and the
World Social Summit in Copenhagen. The results of these conferences provide
the frame of reference for the Final Document of Beijing. All five conferences
together describe the global challenges and formulate missions that will
determine the survival of all humanity.
Beijing confirms the catalogue of missions for the international
The Habitat-II Conference in Istanbul in June ´96 added the component
of social and environmentally-sustainable settlement and town development
to the international agreements. The empowerment concept of Cairo and Beijing
was incorporated in the Istanbul Plan of Action.
Whether the Platform for Action is implemented depends not only on Governments
and on whether they keep their solemn pledge to take equality seriously:
what really counts is that women themselves are willing to speak up for
Rights have to be fought for
"Since Beijing we have known the price of continued gender
apartheid", said the Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland
in her final speech. She reminded the audience of the fact that rights
are not granted, but must be fought for. She does not see a single country
in this world where essential demands of the Platform have been realized.
The Norwegian head of Government puts her money on the persuasive power
of affirmative action and tells an encouraging story to illustrate this:
when she was elected head of Government fifteen years ago, it had been
a cultural shock to many Norwegians. Today, four- year olds ask their mother:
"Can a man also become head of Government?"
Sex, Gender and Empowerment
In the preparatory phase of the 4th WCW, a controversial debate took
place about the meaning of the term "gender". This argument prompted
the Commission for the Status of Women (CSW), as the UN body responsible
for the world conferences on women, to set up an informal working group
with the task of looking into the use of the term and of clearing up existing
The working group reached the conclusion that the term "gender",
which is frequently quoted in the Platform for Action, is used in UN-terminology
in much the same way as is accepted and applied in general usage. The term
was used in this sense in many UN-documents before the Platform for Action.
The working group therefore concludes that a reinterpretation or supplementation
of the meaning of "gender" for the Beijing Platform is not necessary.
This clarification has been attached to the official Congress Report in
The Graeco-latin linguistic root of "gender" (Genos/Genus) comprises
a large semantic diversity of identity-generating features related to family
law (family, lineage, clan), to international law (tribe, people, nation)
and to natural law (species, class, kind) . The Latin word "sexus"
defines gender as the corresponding biological orientation (male or female).
The English word "gender" has kept alive the semantic identity-related
features of the original word; in Anglo-American usage the word "sex"
has also retained the biological component of "male" or "female".
The gender perspective of the Platform for Action illustrates the need
for women´s empowerment. Empowerment is a linguistic innovation of
the verb "to empower". The majority of dictionaries published
in 1996 do not yet include "empowerment".The previous world conferences
on women talked of "advancement of women" only. In the Declaration
and Platform of Beijing the terms "advancement" and "empowerment"
are frequently used interchangeably, seven times in the Declaration alone.
Women´s empowerment is the crucial term which supports and holds
together the concept of the Platform. Women´s empowerment, as used
in the Platform, expresses the expectation that equal participation of
women through empowerment will make the world more peaceful, equitable
and able to develop sustainably. These hopes are the inspiration of the
The term, which created such a stir when first used at the World Population
Conference in Cairo and which was initially also very controversial in
the International Women´s Movement, means, in its Cairo definition,
that women have the right to full and responsible control over their fertility
and that they need alternatives to child-bearing by improving their economic,
social and cultural opportunities. Originally, empowerment implied opposition
to any form of direct or indirect fertility control against women´s
In the Platform for Action empowerment becomes a comprehensive concept
with the aim of enabling women to claim all their rights in all spheres
of life. Empowerment is directed against any form of gender-based use of
force. The opposition to any form of violence, like the claim to sustainable
development, runs like a red thread through the whole Platform.
On the one hand, empowerment is an end in itself which emanates from the
dignity of the human person. On the other hand, women´s empowerment
is the critical instrument with which to realize peace, material justice
and a sustainable development world-wide.
Ebert Stiftung | technical support | Net Edition mv&ola
| Oktober 1997