In Beijing, we connected, collaborated and united to effect social changeMaking the international journey to Beijing in 1995 for the first time, Kathie Bolognese, attended the Fourth World Conference on Women, the birthplace of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, as part of an industry delegation. Today, an international strategic communications specialist, she is a current Board Member of the US National Committee for UN Women-Metro NY Chapter, an independent NGO that supports the mission of UN Women for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
I vividly recall the worldwide attention focused on the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and the excitement of the 30,000 participants, policymakers and media who came together to share experiences and bring critical issues impeding women’s progress to the forefront.
Social media did not exist in 1995, so NGOs attending the parallel conference in Huairou outside of Beijing, trudged through the rainy, muddy streets to connect, collaborate and unite with their foreign counterparts. Meanwhile, at the official Conference in Beijing, then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton made her speech containing the now famous statement, "If there is one message that echoes forth from this Conference, let it be that human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights, once and for all."
What I didn’t know then is that this would become the first of my many trips to China and UN forums, and that the hard won Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action would [still remain] an unfulfilled promise. While there has certainly been increased awareness, policy frameworks and actions to advance women’s rights, and the UN has taken the historic step of creating UN Women to accelerate progress, governments have largely failed to achieve the Beijing Declaration’s implementation mandate. Poverty, power sharing, access to education and healthcare, violence and human rights issues still disproportionately affect women and girls. These issues continue, despite the research confirming the social and financial benefits to communities and countries that invest in and support women.
To this day, nothing has superseded the ambition of the Beijing Declaration agreement. The upcoming reviews of Beijing+20, Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the development of the Sustainability Development Goals, offer a unique series of convergence moments that can be leveraged to affect change. Political and social mobilization, and coalition building, is very much needed to draw political attention to the deficits of delivery on what the Beijing Declaration has promised. The critical areas of concern highlighted are not just women’s issues, they are societal issues. That means men, women, youth, and the public and private sectors, must all be part of the solution and work together to come up with a shared aspiration for society that includes real equality for women.