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PeaceTimes Edition 102. Beijing + 15, MDG – 5: What Have We Gained?

8 March 2010 No Comment

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By Mary Liepold, Editor in Chief

Here I go again, taking on another vast, global topic, from one generalist’s limited perspective, in an informal essay just a few pages long. The better to invite YOUR diverse perspectives, my dears! I’m opening the conversation, noting what strikes me on a too-quick survey of available information, omitting volumes, and anticipating full, formal reports that will be coming out later this year. Read, react, add, correct, and talk back, please.

I do have my nerve―but then so do the United Nations and its member states. And who can fault them―us, since it’s our global body―for our good intentions? The UN Charter adopted in 1945 implicitly acknowledged that human rights include women’s rights, and even though only 4 of its 160 signers were women, members moved fast to establish the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in 1946. We the people of the world declared 1975 the International Women’s Year, and 1976 to 1985 the Decade for Women. In 1979, we passed the historic CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, often described as the international bill of rights for women. In 2000 we adopted Resolution 1325, affirming women’s necessary role in conflict prevention, peacebuilding and peacekeeping operations, emergency response, and post-conflict reconstruction. In 2008 we added UN Security Council Resolution 1820, to eliminate sexual violence in armed conflict, and last year Resolution 1889, to increase the role and contribution of women in conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

The UN has also sponsored Global Conferences on Women, the most recent being the landmark 1995 Beijing Conference. And right now at United Nations Headquarters in New York City, the CSW is holding its 54th annual session to review progress on achieving the CEDAW goals. Peace X Peace Community Manager and Staff Writer Alicia Simoni is attending the event and the associated CSO meetings. (That’s civil society organizations, also known as NGOs, or non-governmental organizations. Women’s rights reports from around the world credit them as the drivers of progress.) Watch for Alicia’s reports on our site this week!

Beijing logo

Beijing logo

One highlight of the agenda for the current CSW is Beijing+15, a review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA), the 12-point international agenda to strengthen the rights of women that emerged from the 1995 conference. It will synthesize national and regional reviews prepared last year.

Human rights are vital. But basic human needs are fundamental. For these, too, our United Nations has an ambitious agenda: the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs. They’re the eight global commitments adopted in 2000 to slash poverty, hunger, and disease worldwide by 2015. Progress on any of the eight will raise the status of women everywhere, and two refer specifically to women: Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women, and Goal 5: Improve maternal health. A Millennium Development Goals Review Summit is planned for September in New York, but the MDGs are also part of the conversation that’s going on in New York.

Alicia has her antennae tuned to one additional set of goals: the Peace X Peace Pillars of Peace, which combine essential rights and needs with culture change objectives. You’ll see them and the other goals listed in the sidebars.

Are We There Yet?

Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon

So, 15 years after Beijing and 10 years into the 15-year MDG timeframe, what has changed as a result of our ambitious goal-setting? By and large, the picture isn’t pretty. The number of hungry people globally (a key indicator for MDG Goal 1) rose from 842 million in 1990-92 to 873 million in 2004-06 and 1.02 billion in 2009, according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s recent MDG report.

Worldwide, three million girls are at risk of dangerous, disempowering genital cutting (Goal 3). The state of the earth that feeds us all is more dire than it was 10 years ago (Goal 7), and aid contributions from developed nations (Goal 8 ) are lower. Gains in some regions of the world, like Asia and the Pacific, offset losses in others, like Sub-Saharan Africa, but there are great disparities within regions and even within countries. The United States, where outcomes for children in some large cities resemble those in developing countries, is a prime example.

In some cases, earlier gains have been reversed in the last several years. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the ratio of girls’ to boys’ enrollment in secondary school fell from 82 per cent in 1999 to 79 per cent in 2007. Yet this same region shows some overall gains, most notably in education. Net enrollment ratios increased from 58 per cent in 2000 to 74 per cent in 2007. And as Ban Ki-moon notes in the preface to the 2008 MDG Report, “Some gains … cannot be undone. A child will forever benefit from the primary education he or she might not otherwise have received.”

The global economic crisis and natural disasters in Haiti and most recently Chile are adding wide swaths of misery that won’t be factored in until next year’s stats. Yet reconstruction after a disaster, like the rebuilding of institutions after conflict, can be a springboard to progress. The economic crisis can serve that purpose too. According to the 10-year BPfA review from Asia and the Pacific Region, “The Republic of Korea has increased welfare support to stabilize the livelihoods of low-income groups and to reduce childcare costs as part of its stimulus package to tackle the economic crisis.”

Help HaitiAnd from Europe’s review: “The financial crisis can be used as an opportunity to design gender-sensitive stimulus packages and social safety nets that involve affordable, quality childcare, parental-leave reform and efforts to close the gender pay gap.”

The five global regions of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) all submitted BPfA reviews late last year in preparation for the 2010 meetings. These are NOT dry docs; they’re frank and full of fascinating details. And though each region has its own challenges and boasts, a few common threads weave through the five reports.

Perhaps most often noted is the gap between legislation―what the experts call de jure reform―and results, or de facto reforms. Legislation is crucial, and it’s gratifying to see how many countries now have laws on the books to protect women, meet women’s needs, and mandate equal opportunities. It’s hard to halt domestic violence, for example, in a country with no laws against it. But a law is only a first step. Stages on the road from law to social change include gender-sensitive, culture-sensitive systems to collect quantitative and qualitative data, media outreach, political pressure, policies people support, and the budgets and structures to make them real.

On the plus side, every region reports growth in programs that engage men in promoting women’s advancement. “Some countries, such as Turkey, organize gender sensitivity trainings for security personnel and provide military units with training material on gender equality and preventing violence against women” (Asia & the Pacific review, p. 7). Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has formed a Network of Men Leaders committed to eliminating violence against women and girls. Instituto ProMundo, a Brazilian NGO, enlists young men in Rio’s favela communities in promoting gender equality and preventing violence. This program is so successful that it has been replicated in more than 20 countries.

2009 Beijing Platform for Action Reviews

Each of the five ECOSOC reports is structured around the 12 BPfA areas. Here are a few choice highlights from each. The summaries and comments (outside quotation marks) are my own.

World Map

According to the Review from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, “In sub-Saharan Africa, a woman’s risk of dying from treatable or preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth over the course of her lifetime is 1 in 22, compared to 1 in 7,300 in the developed regions.”

The African Union Summit of January 2009 declared that the decade commencing in 2010 will be the African Decade on Gender. The African Gender and Development Index Summary, African Women’s Report 2009, based on pilot exercises in 12 countries, found that

  • Women’s earnings are half of men’s across the region,
  • There is almost uniformly poor implementation of Resolution 1325, and
  • Cultures of impunity still surround domestic violence and violence against women.

Asia and the Pacific
The Economic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific released its report in Bangkok in November.

“Though the Asian and Pacific region has established itself as an economic powerhouse and the engine of global growth, inequalities have grown in many countries and women are overrepresented among the region’s poor.   . . .  The economic crisis has had a negative impact on the availability of credit in general, including the microcredit on which many poor women depend due to limited access to banks and sources of formal credit (p. 1).”
. . .
“Temporary special measures, such as quotas or reserved seats for women, have increasingly been adopted or are being proposed in a number of countries. However, it is recognized that increasing the representation of women through a quota system does not necessarily translate into expanded power for women. For example, in Afghanistan, as a result of the quota for women established under the Constitution, one third of the parliamentarians are women, yet they still remain excluded from many of the decision-making processes (p. 9).

Western Europe
The Economic Commission for Europe Regional Review, Nov. 2009, had 53 member states and 52 NGOs participating. The three main agenda items:

  • Gender-sensitive economic policies in the context of the economic and financial crisis,
  • Gender and the corporate sector, and
  • New partnerships, networks, and alliances for gender equality.

The gap between legislation and implementation was noted as the #1 challenge. The list included the persistence of gender stereotypes, especially in the media and in education, the role of men, and the need for proactive, gender-responsive budgeting. One distinctive item was concern for the situation of migrant women and women belonging to minority groups, who suffer multiple forms of discrimination. Trafficking was noted as a relatively new and serious concern here as in all five ECOSOC regions.

Latin America
Review from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean

Map of Latin AmericaThis region has achieved a reduction of poverty and an increase of women in the workforce. And for those who can’t work, or can’t earn enough, some countries are seeing good results from the simplest solution to poverty: giving women money. Bolivia has a particularly lovely term for its system of direct income transfers: “dignity income.”

The report’s authors comment: “The fact that women are designated as the recipients of the benefit enhances their possibilities for negotiation, resource use and distribution of tasks. Implementation of the programme has led to changes in the dynamic of the relation between men and women. The demands on women made by the programme limit the time that men can devote to other activities and, for the first time, many are taking on household chores.”

Western Asia
The report from the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia was presented jointly with the League of Arab States. The 25-page document includes reports from 17 countries.

The role of the media is one of five key challenges identified:

“Media, through its different means, still contributes in consecrating the stereotyped consideration of the role and characteristics of women, stemming from false interpretations of cultural and religious traditions in such a manner that it keeps women victim of obsolete customs and traditions, rather than being a way to develop the status of women. Therefore, the content of the media message should be monitored, given that it is crucial to avoid transmitting interpretations of some false religious practices that consecrate discrimination against women.”

Where Do We Go from Here?

Sheryl WuDunn

Sheryl WuDunn

In the 2009 best-seller Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (the first married couple ever to jointly win a Pulitzer Prize) make three practical recommendations that could dramatically improve the condition of millions of women in the near term. The first, educating more girls, is the second point addressed, right after eradicating poverty, in both the MDGs and the BPfA. The other two are more specific and less intuitive: iodizing salt―thus saving an average of 10 IQ points before girls are even born―and eradicating obstetric fistula. Both fit into the area of improving women’s health, the third BPfA and the fifth MDG.

Poverty reduction, education, and health are also among our Pillars of Peace. We’re eager to unpack each item in the series and explore the interactions between them. For the rest of this year we’ll be focusing on one Pillar each month, usually by highlighting members who excel in that area. In April, the month of Earth Day, we’ll be focusing on the environment, and in May on economic empowerment, our own take on poverty reduction. Please pass on contact information for the women you admire in each area, or tell us about your own work.

Peace X Peace believes that shared effort to shore up all the Pillars, with women’s leadership and active engagement, is vital to achieve sustainable peace. What do YOU think? Are we leaving out anything essential? I look forward to your comments.

DonateNowThe United Nations agencies and NGOs are identifying what governments, major media organizations, and other traditional power sources must do to improve the status of women. We endorse all their recommendations, but we focus on what you and I can do to lift each other into the light of a better world by sharing stories from women peacebuilders around the world. You can celebrate International Women’s Day by making a financial contribution to Peace X Peace here.

Even a dollar a week can add up to big change. Thank you for your support!

Molly Mayfield Barbee, Executive Director

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About the Author

Mary Liepold is the Editor-in-Chief at Peace X Peace. To reach Dr. Liepold, email
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