“Fulfil the promises that we made to our daughters”
Ranjana Kumari was 42 years old when she attended the Beijing Conference in 1995 as Convener of the South Asian Network for Women in Politics. She was also the Director of the Centre for Social Research in India at the time, a position she still holds today.
When I look back at the Beijing Conference, I remember the feeling of celebration. I think of the women’s chain that we organized in Beijing by holding hands in a circular formation around the venue of the conference. I can still feel the courage, strength and resolve of my Rwandan sisters. Rwanda now has one of the highest rates of women’s political participation in the world. While they have reserved 30 per cent of seats for women, representation has surpassed this and currently stands at 63.8 per cent in the Lower House and 38.5 per cent in the Upper House.
At the Fourth World Conference in 1995, the Centre for Social Research (CSR), along with other regional, sub-regional and global organizations, facilitated consultations addressing the question of women’s participation in politics. We recognized the limitations women were facing in all systems of government. Whether they were democratic or autocratic systems women remained under-represented.
In 1995 the global data spoke volumes about the many barriers women faced in terms of participating in elected bodies. Throughout the conference, many strategies were discussed to push for women’s equal partnership in politics. Yet, today at the global level women make up only 21.7 per cent of elected representatives. In India, women’s representation is as low as 10 per cent.
Today, 89 countries have ensured some form of representation of women since the Beijing Conference. Several countries have gone ahead and enacted laws to protect women from all forms of violence.
I am very excited about the Beijing+20 review because CSR has been fighting to ensure that governments are held accountable for action they have taken over the last 20 years to improve the status of women. We also need to take stock of the current status of women globally and to identify the challenges that we need to overcome in order to achieve the dream we saw collectively in Beijing.
The major challenges that need to be addressed include extreme forms of violence against women such as female foeticide, sexual assault, and acute poverty and health conditions. Further, the basic needs of women such as safe drinking water and sanitation remain an unfulfilled task. To achieve this, I think it is essential to focus on women’s role in governance because this is vital to facilitating progress for women.
I welcome the idea of Beijing+20 because it is no more just a question of empowering women but it is now the challenge of empowering societies, communities and States to accept women as equals. So, my slogan for Beijing+20 is: “Women Are Equal”. I hope that Beijing+20 will add strength to global women’s movement to achieve the empowerment, autonomy and equality for women. We have now moved a generation ahead and we have to fulfil the promises that we made to our daughters while we sang the songs of victory and danced to the drums of our African sisters, and spoke and shared our experiences in Beijing in 1995.