Commitments made twenty years ago have not been achieved yet
By Wanda Nowicka
Wanda Nowicka raised issues faced by the women of the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region at the Beijing Conference in 1995. Since then she has been working tirelessly towards the implementation of the Conference’s outcomes. She is a Member of Polish Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the Sejm – the main chamber of the Polish Parliament.
As I look from the perspective of 20 years later as a participant of the groundbreaking Fourth World Conference on Women, I truly believe that it was one of the most important global events on and for women.
The Beijing Conference personally gave me the feeling of solidarity with every woman on earth, the need for building bridges and networking, and hard, day and night work. Meeting and listening to the stories of dozens of women from all over the world, first at the NGO Forum in Huairou, later at the government meeting in Beijing was a unique and unforgettable experience. I was amazed at how many problems we shared, despite numerous differences between us, such as violence, restrictions to abortion and other reproductive rights, discrimination in the labour market and many obstacles to political participation.
Thirty Polish women, including myself, who went to Beijing in a coalition called Women’s Committee Beijing ’95 with the shadow report on the situation of Polish women, also spoke about our experience. We organized the demonstration in defence of our reproductive rights there.
Women’s activists who came to Beijing from everywhere were determined to bring home strong commitments from governments on how they planned to improve the situation of women globally. Therefore, I worked with global activists network mobilized by the International Women’s Health Coalition. We advocated to the government delegates negotiating the final agreements of the conference. No doubt that women’s advocates were instrumental in the adoption by almost 200 governments of very progressive and ambitious Platform for Action.
It was particularly important for women from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), as we participated in such a conference for the first time after democratic transformation of our States. We wanted to use this opportunity to raise the issues of women from the CEE region. I was honored to represent our region at the plenary session of the Beijing Conference and to present our regional statement called “the Statement of Non-Region,” meaning that the CEE region has often been ignored in global debates as belonging to neither the developing, nor the developed world. As a result of the Beijing Conference, two regional networks have been established by women from CEE which have been successfully working since – Karat Coalition, focusing on the economic rights of women, and ASTRA – Central and Eastern European Women’s Network for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.
The Fourth World Conference on Women contributed to the strengthening of the women’s movement in Poland and consolidated our political agenda. It gave us the tool, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, to push the goverment to introduce gender equality policies.
If I were to mention major successes since the Beijing Conference, it would be the creation of the Polish Women’s Congress, the non-governmental organization which achieved a major success in mobilizing women all over the country. The Congress meets regularly and advocates for women’s rights. The Congress successfully lobbied for the adoption of the electoral law including a quota for women, according to which 35 per cent of the underrepresented sex has to be guaranteed by law.
As a current Member of Parliament, I closely collaborate with the women’s movement. I submitted a parity electoral law, which guarantees 50 per cent of women’s presence on electoral lists. It is currently being debated in Parliament.
I must also note that while the women’s movement is growing, the conservative opposition is getting stronger and more influential. As a member of the High-Level Task Force for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), and a member of Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, I still find myself working tirelessly on [creating an] even playing field for women.
The Fourth World Conference on Women set the highest gender equality standards, which so far have not been fully reached. Full implementation of the Platform for Action faces a number of barriers due to political backlash on gender issues experienced globally. The Beijing+20 process is a good moment to assess the status of implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and move from commitments to action. Women need to mobilize again and remind the governments that the commitments they made twenty years ago have not been achieved yet.