It was Friday, August 25, 1995. I was anxiously awaiting for the mail. My visa was to arrive. That business visa that would let me into the NGO (Non-Governmental Organizations) Forum on Women in Huairou, China. My flight was scheduled for Monday, the 28th. The visa (long-awaited) did arrive, and I was ready-but what was I ready for?
This trip was different. I was attending a conference, yet I had no paper to write, no overheads to prepare; nothing to do, but pack my clothes and wait for the experience to begin. All of my knowledge of China and issues being discussed was tucked or perhaps lost somewhere in my brain as I boarded a 7:00 a.m. flight in Kansas City.
I was traveling with a group of Presbyterian women and men. We had been selected by application through the peacemaking and women's ministries division of the church. This was to be a study trip. My personal goal was to learn all which was humanly possible and come back to the states to spread that information to all who would listen. I was not a part of a particular advocacy group. All issues to be discussed were important to me. However, the first issue at hand was to meet the rest of the group in Los Angeles-a group of 35 persons who didn't know each other. That's an interesting 3-week travel challenge in itself.
After a day and night in Hong Kong, we boarded the DragonAir plane full of wonder and anticipation. We had heard that it was raining in Beijing, but wanting to be optimistic, we ignored the dark clouds that hung overhead as we landed. I was looking for familiar landmarks as I had been at this airport just 10 months before. Nothing seemed familiar, then again it was daylight, and my first entry had been at midnight. Signs were prevalent throughout the airport welcoming women to the NGO Forum and the Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW). Beautiful posters and banners adorned walls, windows and pillars announcing to all the happenings occurring in Beijing and Huairou. Gates especially for women attending the conferences allowed us to waste no time in getting our bags. Other planes were landing, also with women. Women from all over the world, coming together in Beijing and Huairou for one purpose, to ensure that human rights were also women's rights. We came in peace, willing to listen to one another and work together.
Undaunted by the heavy clouds overhead, two busloads of international women left the Peony hotel shortly in Beijing just after 7:30 a.m. Our group nearly filled one bus. Just to make sure that everyone was off to a good start, we set a noon meeting time at the Peace tent. Noses pressed to the windows, we viewed China countryside and wondered how soon we would arrive. Nearing Huairou, the sky opened up and the rains came. That's O.K. I had brought a bright yellow poncho-just in case.
We were there. But, where were we? Our mini-map meant nothing. The bus driver said he would be there at 7:30 p.m. "Don't be late!" An ominous beginning. So, when in doubt, follow the crowd. After a couple of blocks, we turned the corner. Everyone kept walking-so did we. Several blocks up the way, we saw that we could not enter the grounds to a building. Still not sure where we were, but definitely in the vicinity of it all, several of us decided to try to find the Peace Tent. It was already after 9:00 a.m., sessions had begun, but we still had no real sense of our location. My map was sopping wet-the only one being used. Forward Ho! In spite of being "lost in the rain," we used a little common sense and indeed found the Peace Tent. However, within minutes, there was a commotion on its way to the tent. A group of Tibetan women were leading a crowd, including masses of media cameras and tape recorders. When in the tent, the women removed the bandannas from covering their mouths and began to speak. Coming to the conference with visas from other countries, a total of 67 Tibetan women were in attendance at the forum. A half dozen were in this contingency. The reports we had heard before leaving the states were coming into action. What I had hoped to do when returning to the states was to dispel some of the rumors we had heard before leaving. This was my first hour at the forum and the second rumor to be true. In Hong Kong, my roommate and I heard the sad story from two Taiwanese women who desperately wanted to attend the Forum to share and exchange ideas with sisters from all over the world. They were again, that day, refused proper visas. An inauspicious beginning. What did this forum really have in store for us?
Stories told, reporters and camerapersons gone, thoughts recollected, our small group separated, and each one of us was ready to begin her own story.
I attended sessions on literacy, peacemaking, the girl child, economics, violence, cultural arts and the rise of conservatism. Each session and performance told of the status quo, needs, atrocities, or successes. The overall cry was not to tell us how bad it was, but what can be done. Every woman I met possessed an inner strength. Whether one was a teacher, journalist, advocacy leader, homemaker, woman of faith, architect, or politician, it seemed to be there-that inner strength that allowed a woman to be proud of herself-the empowerment that comes from within that allows all women and men to be able to stand up for themselves. It is this empowerment that is essential for all persons if we are to achieve a world of equality, peace and justice.
For only a short time, I spent my days in a microcosm of the world. Within our sessions and plenaries, we were women of different colors and backgrounds, yet our concerns were similar. We all believed that human rights were women's rights. We believed that young girls have the right to be educated and nourished. We believed that women should not be slaves to men through prostitution, war rape, domestic violence, or marriage. We believed that women are capable of being business leaders, politicians, and directors of major industries and agencies. We believed that all women's work should be honored and respected.
We also believed that women and men should and must work together. The family and home is the nucleus of our society. Without mutual support, there can be no progress in this world of turmoil. The Chinese have a saying that "women hold up half the sky." To continue this thought, then men must hold up the other half. And if neither does one's part, then according to the English fairy tale, Henny Penny would be correct in saying that "The sky is falling, the sky is falling."
Was it really important to have a conference on women? Haven't they advanced themselves in society in the last 20 years? And why two conferences at the same time? Why are the only women attending the ones who are anti-family, anti-religion, pro-choice-just a group of feminists that don't speak for the `ordinary' woman? Why go to any conference in China-especially one on human rights? You heard those questions. So did I.
The United Nations held its first conference on women in 1975 in Mexico, a second in Copenhagen, 1980, and the third in Nairobi in 1985. There was much hope coming out of Nairobi that major changes in governments would take place to help the women achieve equity. Although a positive document was written, the action never was achieved. According to the 1991 publication, Women: Challenges in the year 2000, women make up half the world's population, perform two-thirds of the world's work, yet only receive one-tenth of the world's income and own only one-one hundredth of the world's property. The platform written in Beijing, 1995, has always been called the Platform for Action. It was agreed upon by consensus of delegations from all countries. This platform is to provide the basis for action from now to the year 2000 and beyond. Thus the need for the FWCW. Those attending this event were delegations from nation states.
The parallel conference, the NGO Forum on Women, was a meeting place for non-governmental organizations and other interested persons. Although I traveled with a group, one need not have been with a group or organization to attend. Registrations were received through the UN NGO Forum committee. Over 3000 NGO's registered, a definite rise from the 300 in Nairobi. Grass roots organizations are still in their infancy, often with less than a hundred members, while others number their membership in the thousands. The forum provided a platform from which both large and small organizations could be heard and ideas shared. There were sessions that became intense with emotional and/or intellectual involvement to those that focused on the healing process of one's soul. The Governmental platform could not have been written without continual involvement and consciousness-raising of NGO's.
Much of the actual writing of the Platform for Action took place before Beijing. It was hoped that more would have been accomplished before the conference. This was why one concern beforehand was to whether a strong document could even be finished during the time allowed in Beijing. It was completed. Now we must put it to action.
Contrary to the pre-conference publicity, this was not a forum which included only the extreme right or left. It was a conference for women on women and for men on women. It was a time to carefully look at the continual disparities in our country and those around the world between men and women. It was a time for governmental delegations to put forth on paper, actions and strategies to be carried out by both men and women. And yes, in China. This conference was to be held in the Asian region of the world. China was the only country to offer an invitation.
Recently, I saw a bumper sticker that stated, "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people." According to that definition, we should all be feminists. To be honest, I had never really thought of myself as a feminist. Back in the late 60's, I heard feminists telling women that they should be an individual and be her own person. So far, so good. But then, they also said that I should get out of the house and get a job. I had just "retired" for the purpose of being at home, as we were changing from a family of two to (as it eventually turned out) a family of five. It was my choice. My husband supported that choice. Early women's liberation groups physically threw male reporters and camera men out of meetings. Perhaps the women were making a point, but they also used violence. I didn't want to be a part of that.. According to the American Heritage dictionary, feminism is "belief in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes." Again, we should all be feminists. So, I have now informed my husband and sons that they are all feminists. Perhaps, `humanists,' would be more appropriate for today's attitudes, but according to the definition set before us, `feminist' is also fitting.
Although I could write pages telling my story of the forum, I feel that if we are to put the platform into action, we must have some sense of what was accomplished in Beijing. What follows is definitely a synopsis. I hope that it will give each of you a place to continue or begin your role in making this world a more equitable place to live for all women and men. Gender, race and class shape our identity. We must honor our differences and speak boldly from the heart.
Governments joined at the FWCW to dedicate themselves to recognize that although there have been some advancements of women, great disparities wtill lie between men and women which cause serious consequences for all people. The increasingly growing problem of poverty affects most of the world's population, primarily women and children, and greatly exacerbates the situation.
The platform reaffirms the commitment to "the empowerment and advancement of women, including the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, this contributing to the moral, ethical, spiritual and intellectual needs of women and men, individually or in community with others and thereby guaranteeing them the possibility of realizing their full potential in society and shaping their lives in accordance with their own aspirations."
Beginning with the mission statement: "The Platform for Action is 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 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 begins at home, carries through to the workplace and on to national and international realms. There must be a shared power and responsible partnership between all men and women. Gender equality is a human right. Without such equality there can be no social justice. Without justice, there can be no development or peace. Without either, there is no positive future.
The Platform for Action cites twelve areas of concentration. Included in the lengthy document are strategies for both governmental and non-governmental entities. Nations must examine and evaluate their own needs to implement new and continue existing programs and measures. None of these issues are separate unto themselves, but build one upon the other.
1. The persistent and increasing burden of POVERTY on women. More than one billion people worldwide, the majority of them women, live in "unacceptable conditions of poverty." Poverty is predominant in developing countries, but also exists in large pockets in developed nations. Poverty is a complex problem and becomes more so with the globalization of the world's economy and the continual interdependence of nations. `Feminization of poverty' (the number of women in poverty disapportionate to men) is on the rise. Directly related to women's poverty is the absence of economic opportunities, lack of access to economic resources, limited education and support services, and minimal participation in the decision-making process.
Governments must analyze their policies and programs by gender, looking at the impact on women and the well-being of the family. Allocation of public funds needs to include equity in education, health, and economic resources. Programs supporting the reintegration of women in poverty to the status of productive employment and economic mainstream needs to continue and increase in number. Financial institutions must re-examine their policies of limited low-income lending in developing countries as well as against lending to female heads of households.
Individuals and organizations need to support national and local anti-poverty programs. They need to protect women's rights to full and equal access to economic resources, credit and ownership of land and other property, and natural resources. Continual support of UN programs, local banks lending to women, and Congress persons supporting women's needs in poverty programs is strongly suggested for all.
2. Inequalities and inadequacies in and unequal access to EDUCATION and training.
Education is a human right. Two-thirds of the 960 million illiterate adults are women. Literacy is an important key in improving health, nutrition and education in the family. In 1990, approximately 130 million children, including more than 81 million girls, did not have access to primary schooling. Literacy is important in the empowerment of women to become participants in society decision-making. Discrimination continues because of customary attitudes, pregnancies, inadequate and gender biased teaching, inadequate educational materials and facilities, and sexual harassment.
Governments are challenged to provide equal access to education for all regardless of gender, race, language, religion, national origin, age or disability or any other form of discriminations; to eradicate illiteracy among women; to ensure equal access to career development, vocational training, science and technology, continuing education, scholarship and fellowships; to develop non-discriminatory education and training; allocate sufficient resources for and monitor the implementation of educational reforms; to promote life-long education and training for girls and women; and to create a gender sensitive educational system.
All persons are challenged to help decrease the female illiteracy rate with concentration given to rural, migratory, refugee, internally displaced and disabled women; to promote total literacy for all people; to become involved in local schools; to provide non-formal education; to become involved in mentoring and tutorial programs, and to support high school child care facilities.
3. Inequalities and inadequacies and unequal access to HEALTH care and related services.
"Women have the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.'" This is ""vital to their life and well-being and their ability to participate in all areas of public and private life. Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Social realities which include poverty and economic dependence, violence, negative attitudes, racial and other discriminations, limited power concerning personal sexual and reproductive lives, and the absence of women in decision-making positions have an adverse impact on women's health. Without good health, women cannot lead a productive and fulfilling life. Having control over all aspects of their health, especially their own fertility, is a right and a basic requirement to their empowerment. "Conditions that force girls into early marriage, pregnancy and child-bearing and subject them to harmful practices such as genital mutilation, pose grave health risks." Both counseling and access to sexual and reproductive health information is inadequate or absent. Young men are not properly educated to respect the shared responsibility of healthy sexuality and reproduction.
Reproductive health is defined as the right to a satisfying and safe sex life as well as the right to decide if and how one is to reproduce. This again implies the need of education for both young men and women. The purpose of sexual health is to provide enhancement of life and personal relationship and not just concentrate on reproduction and infirmities.
Concerning the issue on abortion, Paragraph 8.25 of the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development is included in the platform: "In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning. All Governments and relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations are urged to strengthen their commitment to women's health, to deal with the health impact of unsafe abortion as a major health concern and to reduce the recourse of abortion through expanded and improved family planning services. Prevention of unwanted pregnancies must always be given the highest priority and every attempt should be made to eliminate the need for abortion. Women who have unwanted pregnancies should have ready access to reliable information and compassionate counseling. Any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process. In circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe. In all cases, women should have access to quality services for the management of complications arising from abortion. Post abortion counseling, education and family-planning services should be offered promptly, which will also help to avoid repeat abortions." Those nations having punitive measures against women who have had illegal abortions are asked to review their laws.
Reproductive rights, HIV/AIDS, sexual and gender based violence, and mental health disorders have a direct relationship to the powerlessness, overwork, domestic violence stress, and environmental health risks women face daily.
HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, often the result of violence, has the greatest effects on the girl child and young woman. Half of all new cases of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are women. Much of this is attributed to the unequal male-female relationships in societies. Rather than sharing responsibility for safe sex, men have become obstacles in controlling the spread of disease.
Major strategies that can help health concerns include the access to affordable, appropriate and quality health care, and information and services throughout the entire life cycle. Preventative programs which promote women's health need to continually strengthen. This includes both formal and informal education for both men and women. Men should be encouraged to share in household and childcare duties. According to The World's Women 1995, Trends and Statistics, in unpaid household and childcare in the United States, 64% of the work was done by women compared to 36% by men. This includes all household chores such as cleaning, meal preparation, shopping, running errands, fix-up repairs, painting, lawn mowing, and gardening. Childcare refers to actual interaction with the child such as reading, bathing, and helping with homework. This does not include the longer length of time of general responsibility for the child. Stress and overwork creates unwanted health problems.
Those programs which address gender sensitive issues of sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, and sexual and reproductive health issues through formal and informal education need to be supported and enhanced. Individuals, organizations and governments can all play an important role in this endeavor. Continual support of ongoing and the promotion of new research addressing women's health needs is encouraged. Information concerning health issues needs broader dissemination. Without proper health care and education, women, men and children all suffer.
4. VIOLENCE against women prevents or nullifies any enjoyment of human rights or fundamental freedoms by women.
The term `violence against women' means "any act of gender based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life." This includes but is not limited to, violence in the family, community, or that which is condoned by the state. Also included are the violation of human rights through violence of armed conflict, murder, systematic rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, and forced abortion.
Prevention and elimination of violence against women must come through legislation, education, shelter relief and other support systems. Education systems should promote self-respect, mutual respect and cooperation between men and women. Men's groups and organizations taking action against gender violence are necessary for change.
Further research studying the causes and consequences of violence should be pursued with the findings widely disseminated. The media can play a positive role in providing research and statistics to the public. Media must also examine the impact of gender-based stereotypes both in the printed word and in advertising which can foster gender-based violence and inequalities.
Governments and organizations should adopt measures to eliminate trafficking in women and assist victims of violence resulting from prostitution and trafficking.
5. PEACE, CONFLICT RESOLUTION and ARMED CONFLICT.
Women and children comprise 80 percent of the worlds 23 million refugees and 26 million displaced persons, often outnumbering those in combat. Many NGO's have called for governmental cutbacks in military spending worldwide. Women most directly affected by military spending include those in poverty as money to improve these conditions are lessened when military spending is increased.
Strategies include increasing participation of women concerned about human rights to be included in the decision-making process at all levels of international and national institutions which include policy on peace-keeping, peace negotiations, and preventative diplomacy. Realizing the necessity of some national defense needs, nations should also examine the negatives of excessive military spending. They must also help control the availability of armaments. Non-violent forms of conflict resolution is encouraged and should be promoted.
Investigation of war crimes against women including rape, systematic rape, ethnic cleansing, and forced prostitution should be enforced with convicted criminals penalized.
Women's contribution to peacemaking should be fostered. Educational programs promoting peace, peace movements, and research should be continued and enhanced.
For refugee women and other displaced women, protection and assistance in training should be encouraged from individual to international endeavor. Awareness of the contributions by refugee women to their new society as well as of their needs should be raised. Cross cultural education in communities is greatly encouraged.
6. Inequality in ECONOMIC structures and policies, in all forms of productive activities and in access to resources.
In most parts of the world, women are either poorly represented or completely absent from economic decision-making positions. This includes the formulation of financial, monetary or commercial policies and in structuring of tax systems. The development of these structures has a direct relationship on the gender-biased access to resources and economic power. Many women, especially those with young children, have limited employment opportunities because of their need of flexible hours. Employment policy makers need to re-evaluate their structures to better serve all men and women and their children.
Promotion of women's economic rights and independence including access to employment, appropriate working conditions, and control over economic resources is essential. In addition, continued support is needed for women's self-employment and entrepreneurship and for those lending institutions which do give credit to these women. Ninety-five percent of these existing small loans are paid back.
Business services, training, information and technology, and access to markets needs to be available to women, especially those with a low income. Conferences like the NGO Forum provide a foundation for setting up commercial networking among small businesswomen.
Within in the workplace, gender discrimination must be eliminated. Concern for shared responsibility of the family can be fostered through business policy and action. Flexible hours should be available for both men and women.
7. Inequality between men and women in the sharing of POWER and DECISION-MAKING at all levels.
Equality between men and women in political decision-making positions is a pre-requisite for true integration of the equality dimension in government policy and the advancement of women in societies. Throughout the world, only ten percent of legislative members are women. Less than that hold higher positions. To be able to receive a women's perspective, women must be at all levels of the decision-making process. Although often shunned by governments, corporations and other institutions, women have gained access to power through grass-roots organizations and NGO's. Through these entities, they have been able to articulate needs and concerns of women. The voice must be heard in all arenas.
Governments must take action to help achieve gender balance in their own systems. Political parties need to examine party structures as to whether gender discrimination exists. They must also take action to build a strong contingency of women leaders, executives, and managers in decision-making positions.
To increase women's capacity for participation in decision-making and leadership position, women need appropriate training. For those inexperienced, a mentoring system needs to be created which includes leadership training, public speaking, decision-making and self-assertion skills.
8. Insufficient MECHANISMS at all levels to promote the advancement of women.
One task of a national machinery for the advancement of women is to examine gender-based policies within the government. To be effective, it must be located at the highest possible level in the government, work with grass-roots organizations, and have sufficient resources in terms of budget, professional capacity, and have the opportunity to influence policy development.
Governments are called upon to integrate gender equality dimensions at all levels, to work for the equality of men and women, to integrate gender perspectives into legislation, public policies, and projects. All are challenged to generate and distribute disaggregated data on the basis of gender, age, socio-economic and other indicators on issues and questions related to women and men.
9. Lack of respect for and inadequate promotion and protection of the HUMAN RIGHTS for women.
All human rights-civil, cultural, political and social--are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. Governments not only must refrain from violating these rights, but must work to promote and protect these rights. The gap between the existence of rights and reality of enjoying rights often derives from governmental lack of commitment. In addition to gender, human rights are also ignored because of factors such as race, age, class, language, ethnicity, religion, culture or because persons are indigenous people, migrant workers or refugees.
All individuals and governments must promote and protect the human rights of women through the full implementation of all human rights instruments including the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The United States has not yet ratified this document. Although President Clinton has been strongly advising the passage of this measure, the procedure is stalled in the office of Jesse Helms. Write to him!
Laws must be reviewed to ensure the equality and non-discrimination of men and women. Then, they need to be practiced. Legal literacy can be achieved by promoting education and training to those women not understanding their human rights.
10. Stereotyping of women and inequality in women's access to and participation in all COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEMS, especially in the MEDIA.
There is great potential for media to contribute to the advancement of women. However, if that is to be done, the violent, degrading and pornographic materials which project negative images of women must be changed. More women are involved in communication careers, but few have attained positions at decision-making levels or serve on governing boards.
To achieve equal status in the media, greater participation by women should be increased in the areas of management, programming, education, training and research as well as new technologies of communication. To promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media, all persons should insist that the media refrain from presenting women as inferior beings and exploiting them as sex objects. Media should emphasize sexual equality and non-stereotyped gender roles of women and men. Information presented by the media can play a helpful role in the elimination spousal abuse and all forms of domestic violence. Women leaders and experts should be used in interviews and commentaries. The media must play a supportive role in disseminating information concerning the human rights of women.
11. Gender inequalities in the management of natural resources and the safeguarding of the ENVIRONMENT.
Poverty and the environmental degradation are closely related. The major cause of the continued deterioration of the global environment is the unsustainable pattern of consumption and production. Natural disasters, toxic chemicals, war, testing of nuclear weaponry also have an impact on the environment. Women are largely absent from decision-making in natural resource and environmental management policy-making.
With greater access to information and education, women can become more involved in environmental decision-making, including managers, planners, designers, as well as implementors and evaluators of projects. Governments need to evaluate policies and programs from the viewpoint of the impact on women. More women need to be involved through the media and other communication networks to help raise awareness regarding environmental issues.
12. Discrimination against and violation of the rights of the GIRL CHILD.
Girls are often treated as inferior human beings from the time of conception through their adulthood. In some parts of the world, men continually outnumber women. This is due to such atrocities as genital mutilation, son preference (which results in female infanticide and prenatal gender selection), early marriage, violence against women, sexual exploitation as well as discrimination against food allocation and access to adequate health care.
Women and men need to work together in training and educating young boys and girls to help break down gender stereotypes. All forms of discrimination against the girl child must be eliminated. This includes eliminating cultural attitudes and practices which oppress women, discrimination in education and skill training, health and nutrition, and violence. Nations and individuals need to promote and protect the rights of the girl child and increase awareness of her needs, potential, and participation in social, economic and political life.
None of these twelve issues can be ignored if women and men are to live in equality, development and peace. Each of the issues is complex. There is not one nation in this world that can boldly stand up and say that men and women have equity in their daily lives. All persons, regardless of gender, age, race or class or of any other defining group can deny the need for human rights for all people.
During the Forum, I had the fulfilling opportunity to be a member of the whole world working together on the grounds of a middle school. Conditions weren't perfect, but the spirit and determination of the women attending the conference to indeed make this a world for all people was ever present. I could sit down on a chair and indeed be a neighbor to a woman from Kuwait, Thailand, Tanzania, Malaysia, Kenya, Canada or New Zealand. We shared stories of oppression in the home or in our governments. We discussed our concerns of new problems arising throughout the global world. At the same time, we also shared the stories of success of how as we work in our communities, lives are being bettered by our contributions. No one lives in this world alone. As we face more difficulties in our fast-changing society, it is essential that all women and men work together for equality, development and peace. We shall overcome! You and I. Men and women. We shall all have peace, justice and equality.
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