45th Session Issues
The first World Conference on Women was held in the Women's Year of 1975 and was hosted in Mexico City. The conference made the international movement reach new heights. A World plan of Action was adopted by the 125 participating nations. On the recommendation of the conference, the General Assembly later that year established a Decade for Women with the themes of equality, development, and peace. By doing that, the women's issues were definitely put on the international agenda and the UN committed itself to furthering the Women's Decade in several ways.
In 1976 a voluntary fund, UNIFEM, was established to finance decade projects, providing financial and technical assistance to women's organizations. The General Assembly also established INSTRAW (International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women), an autonomous body within the U.N. system which has come to play a very important role. Women's issues were further strengthened in 1979 because of the General Assembly adopting the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which to date has 133 States Parties.
In 1980, midway through the Decade for Women, the second International Conference on Women was held, this time in Copenhagen. Its overall themes were somewhat conventionally employment, health, and education. The Decade for Women ended with a third International Conference held in Nairobi. The Conference had 13,504 registrants, together representing 150 countries. The Strategies for the Advancement of Women to the Year 2000 were adopted by consensus, based on the same objectives as the Decade for women in order to provide a framework for action on all levels that would promote greater equality and opportunity for women. The original text consists of 372 paragraphs and was intended to be a practical and effective guide for global action on a long term basis.
In addition to the issues of equality, development, and peace, the document gives particular attention to vulnerable and underprivileged groups of women. Although addressed primarily to governments, international and regional organizations, and non-governmental organizations, an appeal was made to all women and men. In particular, it was addressed to those who have achieved positions whereby they may influence policy makers, development priorities, and public opinion.
In the Strategies for the Advancement of Women to the Year 2000, the outcome of the International Conference on Women at Nairobi, governments that have not yet done so are urged to sign the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to take all the necessary steps to guarantee its ratification, and to ensure that the provisions of the convention and of the other international instruments are complied with. Governments were urged to establish institutions, such as national machineries for women, to monitor the situation of women and help formulate new policies to end discrimination. This should include law reform committees with equal representation of females and males from governments and non-governmental organizations to review all laws, as well as in-depth research to determine instances when laws may be discriminatory or not protective of women's rights. The statistical programs of countries should include statistical concepts and methods for measuring inequalities between men and women.
The Commission on the Status on Women should consider, on a regular basis, reports on the progress made and concrete measures implemented at national, regional, and international levels. The UN secretariat should compile the results in consultation with the bodies of governments including national machineries established to monitor and improve the status of women.
As an autonomous body within the UN, INSTRAW has the task of carrying out research, training, and information activities aimed at the promotion of women as key agents of development. INSTRAW's program can be grouped in three main areas. The first group of activities is concerned with improving statistics and indicators on women in development. A second group is concerned with issues relating to economic policy. A third group of activities concerns sectorial issues, such as the connection between women and technology. INSTRAW is playing a large part in the preparatory process and will be vital to the Conference itself providing reliable gender-disaggregated statistics on the advancement of women.
ressure on the United Nations, particularly led by Scandinavian NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations), resulted in the decision to hold a world conference on women and development in 1975 and the designation of that year by the UN as the International Year of Women. NGOs concerned with women's issues organized a meeting to coincide with the UN conference, also located in Mexico. The NGO Tribunal attracted a large number of participants - more than 4000 - to its formally convened and informal sessions.
The Mexican meetings were a considerable success, attracting far greater participation than was ever imagined, and despite differences of approach, laying firm bases for future work. Over the next few years a large number of women's NGOs, support groups, and international networks began to spring up. For the first time some financial support for women's own organizational initiatives became available from foundations and the more liberal governments' aid agencies.
Both the NGO Forum in Mexico and the Forum that was later held parallel to the Copenhagen conference were rather hastily organized with their secretariats formed within a year of the world conferences. The NGO Forum of 1985 in Nairobi was two years in preparation with a considerably large number of volunteering organizations. Eleven subject areas were selected by the Planning Committee for the NGO Forum '85. These were: equality, development, peace, education, health, employment, refugees and migrants, older women, young women and girls, women in emergency situations, and media.
Through the Forum, non-governmental organizations were able to develop a complex network in order to provide information, organize, and cooperate internationally, intellectually, and financially. NGOs are in consultative status with ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council), and are expected to contribute considerably to the preparation process of the Beijing Conference, especially at regional and national levels. NGO forums are being held parallel to all the Regional Preparatory Conferences, providing information and furthering women's issues from grass-root levels as well as specified groups of interests. The NGO Forum `95 from 30 August to 8 September 1995, is open to all interested persons and is being planned under the direction of a 70-member NGO Forum Planning Committee. The convener of the NGO Forum is Ms. Supatra Masdit from Thailand.
Resolution 45/129, adopted by the General Assembly in December 1990, called for a fourth International Conference on Women and in 1992 The Commission on the Status of Women set a date for it to be held from 4-15 September, 1995 in Beijing.
The objectives of the Conference are :
The impact of environment and HIV/AIDS are two emerging issues of major concern and will for the first time be a significant part of the discussions. Equal pay for equal work has long been the focus of legislation regulating compensation, but now the emphasis has shifted. The new concept is "equal pay for work of equal value." By using a "comparable worth" approach, substantially different jobs can be compared in terms of four criteria—skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions—established by ILO (The International Labor Organisation).
The "Twin Sister" Conference
The Beijing Conference has a lot in common with the International Conference on Population and Development which was held from 5-13 September, 1994 in Cairo. It was meant to set the UN population policy for the next 20 years, mainly dealing with how to slow the population growth in order to retrieve poor nations from the grip of underdevelopment. Several issues were closely related to those of the Women's Conference and will be followed up in Beijing. The gathering in Cairo was a conference of controversy – a dramatic clash of culture between the Vatican and Muslim fundamentalists allied against Feminist groups. The Vatican and various fundamentalist allies are opposed to the use of modern contraceptives, such as the birth control pill. The Pope has called contraception an "intrinsic devil," and recently charged that western countries promotion of family planning and women's rights amounted to "cultural imperialism." One of four central issues at the Cairo Conference was: "Any solution to the population problem must include measures to expand the rights and roles of women." Two main factors that influence family size preference are education and economic opportunity. Empowering individual women may be the key to social development, including the resolution of population problems in the rest of this century and beyond.
The Beijing Conference is a culmination of a process that begins with national preparations. The Commission on the Status on Women has proposed guidelines for the preparation of national reports that are to be submitted, through the Conference Secretariat to the conference. National machinery for the advancement of women together with government agencies and NGOs have the opportunity to take stock of the present situation of women at the national level, analyze the progress made since the Nairobi conference, and prepare for future action. All the member nations of the UN are divided into Regional Commissions and in order to prepare for the Conference each of those are holding regional sessions and will develop regional plans of action reflecting the specific priorities and needs of each region. The regional meetings are expected to provide reports to the Commission on the Status of Women at its last Preparatory session from 15 March to 7 April 1995. The following regional preparatory meetings were scheduled in 1994:
At the Regional Conference of Europe the main issues were the current economic and structural changes on women, the role played by women in public life, and the eradication of poverty. In the NGO Forum the delegates were concerned with the issues of violence against women, media and communication, health and reproductive rights of migrants, and displaced, and refugee women. The produced Plan of Action of the Region is mainly focusing on Eastern Europe. Under the auspices of the Council of Women's Organizations in Israel a separate International Preparatory Conference on Jewish Women was held in Jerusalem, 9-12 November. Movements and organizations of disabled women are also preparing for the Beijing Conference by having their own preparatory process of meetings and conferences.
Leadership and Administration
Ms. Gertrude Mongella from Tanzania was appointed by the UN Secretary General Boutros-Boutros Ghali to serve as Secretary General to the conference in Beijing. Her office and the Division for the Advancement of Women, which are responsible for organizing the Conference and preparing its documents, are located at the UN Headquarters in New York. Ms. Mongella has served for a number of years in various capacities relating to women's issues and as Vice Chair to the Nairobi Conference. The Commission on the Status of Women is formulating global policies and recommendations for the Advancement of Women. The Commission has so far held two preparatory sessions and the third and last will be held from 15 March to 7 April 1995 in New York.
In order to achieve meaningful equitable partnership between women and men, much more will have to be done to change persistent stereotyped attitudes, to improve the conditions of women around the world, and to promote and defend their human rights. The Fourth International Conference on Women in Beijing aims to review and evaluate the international progress towards equal opportunities for women since the Nairobi Conference of 1985. The Conference will establish "A Platform of Action" aimed to concentrate on tackling fundamental obstacles to the advancement of women and set out a blueprint for government action up to the year 2000. The Beijing Conference and its preparatory process offer governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and individuals an excellent opportunity to review their efforts and renew their commitment to the theme of the Conference : "Action for equality, development and peace."
Delegates to the Working Group need to obtain information on the status of women in their own countries, including whether their country has signed and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. They need also to obtain information on relevant plans in order to be able to put together drafts of plans for action for each region as well as a Global plan for Action at the conference.