Towards Beijing+20: The time is nowHibaaq Osman is a global political strategist who attended the Beijing Conference in 1995. Today, she heads Karama, an international organization based in Cairo that is working to end violence against women in the Arab region and is a partner of the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality. Ms. Osman is also a member of UN Women's Global Civil Society Advisory Group.
The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing was my first major international meeting and my first experience collaborating with a community of women activists, policymakers, academics, and leaders who were passionate about women’s issues and gender equality. Women who I had never before met opened up their hearts to me and we were able to connect on our shared areas of interest and work. The time we spent together was liberating, as at that time, it was a novelty for me to see women’s issues discussed so openly among a diverse group and in a supportive, communal space. At the meeting’s conclusion, I was proud to see the BPFA adopted by the United Nations as a symbol of the international community’s commitment to promote women’s well-being and advancement.
Since then, incredible progress has been made, coaxed along by the adoption of international agreements including the Millennium Development Goals and UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820. The most significant point of advancement, in my opinion, is that women’s rights are being taken seriously. More people than ever are aware of women’s issues and of the importance of women’s inclusion.
In the Arab region, where Karama works, new laws have been enacted, new coalitions have been mobilized, and new strategies have been implemented. In 2008, Jordan enacted its first law on domestic violence. In 2012, Libya adopted an alternate quota that won women nearly 17 per cent of seats in the new assembly. In 2014, Tunisia lifted all reservations on the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). These are just some of the tangible results that have been achieved.
However, so much remains to be done to truly achieve what the BPFA and other international agreements set out to do. At the last progress update—Beijing+15, nearly five years ago—it was noted that significant challenges remain in all countries, notably with respect to the effective implementation of existing legislation. Constitutions, agreements and policies that support women’s inclusion, participation, and equality make up only one piece of the puzzle; their successful enforcement is a completely different animal, without which all other progress in this area is effectively rendered meaningless.
Of note among ongoing challenges is pressure from conservatives who seek to narrow the scope of progress in key resolutions, declarations, and discussions. In the Arab region, this has been especially true following the Arab uprisings, when new regimes sought to reinstate preexisting discriminatory laws. But women now more than ever are playing an active role in advocating for their own rights. They were at the forefront of revolutionary protests and continue to be on the ground, risking everything to be engaged, included, and heard. It is clear that women will never again shy away from demanding their rights. More than ever, they are mobilizing, working together in coalitions and across boundaries to lobby governments and institutions to change laws or better implement existing legislation.
It is clear that women are invested in the manifestation of the Beijing Platform for Action. But with Beijing+20 just around the corner, there is much work to be done in order to see this work come to fruition. We must act strategically, quickly, and together. And we must act now.