From Social Watch

Press Conference on Women's Global Monitoring Report
United Nations

Governments worldwide had adopted a piecemeal and incremental approach to implementation of the Beijing Platform of Action that could not achieve the economic, social and political transformation underlying the Platform's promises and vision. As a result, many women in all regions of the world were actually worse off now than they were ten years ago, June Zeitlin, Executive Director, Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) told correspondents this morning during a Headquarters press conference.

The press conference, sponsored by Canada, was held to launch "Beijing Betrayed", WEDO's fifth global monitoring report, which includes assessments of government steps to turn the Beijing Platform into action from 150 countries. Also participating were: Patricia Licuanan, Chair, Asia-Pacific Women's Watch; Karina Batthyany, Chief Researcher, Social Watch, Uruguay; Gladys Mutukwa, Chair, Women, Law, and Development Africa; and Monique Essed-Fernandes, Chair, Caribbean Wave.

There was still some cause for celebration, Ms. Zeitlin continued, as women everywhere had used the Platform to push governments into action, passing legislation and raising public awareness to promote women's human rights, peace and sustainable development. However, there were powerful trends -- growing poverty, inequality, growing militarization and fundamentalist opposition to women's rights -- which were harming millions of women. Governments were not forcefully challenging resource constraints and gender stereotypes and failed to mobilize the political will and leadership to carry out commitments made.

There were both successes and challenges on many of the critical issues identified in the Beijing Platform, she continued. The United Nations Women's Anti-Discrimination Convention, for instance, had been ratified by 170 countries, up from 146 a decade ago, but the United States still had not ratified it. While violence against women had gained more government attention, the root causes of such violence remained unaddressed. Among other issues addressed in the report were: poverty eradication, issues relating to reproductive rights and health; and HIV/AIDS.

Ms. Licuanan, Chair, Asia-Pacific Women's Watch, said that in her region, the impact of poverty was seen strongly in the increase of trafficking in women. Because of poverty, women were more susceptible to the lure of jobs abroad, making them easy victims for traffickers. Living conditions of women locally must be improved, and action taken internationally to protect women against that phenomenon.

Another issue affecting women in her region was the "gender-blindness" of the response to natural disasters, she said. Women-survivors of the 26 December tsunami had become victim to rape and violence. Moreover, reconstruction efforts were male-oriented, with, for instance, totally inadequate kitchens designed by males who probably had never seen a kitchen.

Ms. Mutukwa, Chair, Women, Law, and Development Africa, said Beijing had been betrayed, particularly in the area of women's human rights. The HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa was seriously hurting women. Women were being infected because religion, law and customs were telling them to be submissive. Their right to say "no" was not being protected. Also, women were seen as caretakers, rather than as people whose rights needed protection. Most countries in Africa were moving towards home-based care, without looking at who should perform that care or providing resources and facilities. Although governments claimed that there were not enough resources, there was enough money for arms or government facilities.
Moreover, women were being attacked by men who were HIV-positive, which was the same thing as a direct murder.

Ms. Batthyany, Chief Researcher, Social Watch, Uruguay, said the most important advance in the region had been the establishment of mechanisms for inserting gender perspectives into planning, budget and control bodies. Practically all countries in the region had adopted legal frameworks that addressed international commitments to gender equality.

Women still lagged far behind in playing an equal role in decisions about development, despite their fundamental contribution to the economy and social and political life. For women, the recent economic crisis had meant a greater struggle for survival and less time for political mobilization. Moreover, the region had some of the greatest income disparities in the world, with women's income representing only 50 per cent of men's income.

Ms. Essed-Fernandes, Chair, Caribbean Wave, said that in her region there was a stiff struggle for the women's movement and for women's livelihoods, because of economic circumstances. The region was very diverse, a fact that was often forgotten. Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments had not held up to their commitments.

Answering a correspondent's question, Ms. Zeitlin said no government input had been sought for the report. It had been compiled in collaboration with regional and subregional networks and represented the voices of women. As the report would be launched in the regions, however, governments would have an opportunity to respond. The United Nations report was exclusively a document of governments assessing Platform implementation.

Asked what the United Nations should do, as the main critique seemed to be the speed of implementation, Ms. Zeitlin said it was not only speed that needed to be addressed, but also the scope. Although many changes had been made at the policy and legislative level, those changes had not really led to significant changes in women's lives on the ground. It was a matter of moving beyond laws in dedicating resources and changing the mindsets of people in power. The United Nations should translate words into action. Some steps that could be taken, in terms of the Convention and women's representation, did not require money, just leadership.

In response to a question about the impact of the United States attempts to insert an amendment on the Beijing and Beijing +5 Platforms of Action, Ms. Mutukwa said that amendment was a "destructive distraction".

The Platforms should be made stronger and better, things should not be taken away from it. The right to abortion was just one aspect of reproductive rights. To focus just on that was not productive. Ms. Zeitlin added that 170 non-governmental organizations had signed a statement calling on the United States to withdraw its amendment.

Asked about progress per region, Ms. Mutukwa said different regions had made progress in different areas. Total progress made, however, had not been sufficient to change the lives of women. Ms. Licuanan said that for the Asian-Pacific region, progress had been made in strengthening institutional mechanisms. All countries had focal points for women, albeit that they were weak and without sufficient resources. There had been legislation on such issues as violence against women and human rights for women. The issue of HIV/AIDS could now be openly discussed in government circles. Gender indicators had improved and women's organizations had become better organized and more assertive.

In closing remarks, Ms. Zeitlin said that governments were asked to change their approach.
Governments should: reaffirm unequivocally the Beijing Platform for action today; announce before the end of the conference what three steps they would take to translate their commitments under the Platform into action; and tell the world, during the "Millennium +5" summit, how they had implemented those three actions. A proposal regarding the three steps would be submitted to the plenary when the non-governmental organizations would get an opportunity to speak.