Beijing + 20: Putting the Spotlight on Women’s Rights Globally and at Home

By Melanie Roth Gorelick

March is Women’s History Month and this March is the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World UN Conference on Women, otherwise known as the Beijing Conference that took place in 1995. To celebrate, the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and non-governmental organizations are gathering in New York City to review the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and to launch the Step Up for Gender Equality Campaign.

The Beijing Conference was the largest gathering of non-governmental organizations and government officials. The American Jewish community and Israel were very involved in this conference. Today Israel is one of the 45 member states that sit on the CSW. The conference produced the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which was an historic roadmap signed by 189 governments that set the agenda for realizing women’s full participation in society by focusing on 12 critical areas of concern, including:

  • Women and the environment
  • Women in power and decision-making
  • The girl child
  • Women and the economy
  • Women and poverty
  • Violence against women
  • Human rights of women
  • Education and training of women
  • Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women
  • Women and health
  • Women and the media
  • Women and armed conflict

While there have been many achievements since the Beijing conference, many serious gaps remain. According to UN Women:

There were 12 female Heads of State or Government in 1990, and 19 in 2015. Eight out of every 10 parliamentarians worldwide are still men.

Maternal mortality rates have fallen by 45 percent; but the goal for 2015 was 75 percent. There are still 140 million women with no access to modern family planning: the goal for 2015 was universal coverage.

More girls are starting school and more are completing their education; countries have largely closed the “gender gap” in primary education. Many more girls are entering secondary school, too, but there is a wide gap between girls’ and boys’ attainments.

More women are working: Twenty years ago, 40 percent of women were in waged and salaried employment. Today that proportion has grown to some 50 percent. But at this rate, it would take more than 80 years to achieve gender parity in employment, and more than 75 years to reach equal pay.

The focus of the efforts this week is to have governments and NGOs recommit to uphold women’s achievements, recognize challenges, and focus greater attention on women’s rights and gender equality to mobilize all people to do their part.

To learn more, click on the following links:

The women’s agenda at the United Nations began in 1975 when the UN declared it International Women’s Year with a major UN Conference held in Mexico City. The purpose of that year was to look at why, with the advance of modernization and end of colonization in the developing world, women remained the majority of the poor and were not advancing at sufficient rates. The year turned into a decade for women running from 1975 to 1985, with a conference in 1980 in Copenhagen and in Nairobi in 1985 and the adoption of the Forward Looking Strategies. At that point the UN created two voluntary organizations for women: UNIFEM and INSTRAW; governments had offices that focused on women; universities around the world started women’s studies programs; and women’s non-governmental organizations were launched in most countries around the world. From 1985 to 1995, women advocated for their issues to have greater inclusion in UN policy documents, and progressed from having minimal inclusion in the documents to more than a 50 percent presence in each chapter alone. The roadmap for achieving this was the Beijing Platform for Action.

Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and the CRC continue to be strong supporters of women’s issues. This year, the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, the CRC advocated for the passage of the International Violence Against Women Act and legislation to end sexual assault on campus with partner organizations and worked with the Rachel Coalition to strengthen legislative support to stop domestic violence and the Jewish Women’s Foundation to learn more about government support for Jewish women veterans; it also continues to facilitate the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking.  Additionally, New Jersey voted in the first woman legislator, Bonnie Watson Coleman, to the U.S. Congress in many years. 

While there is more to be done, we are proud of the leadership and participation of the Jewish community and Israel in these efforts. For more information on the status of women in the United States, click here.

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