Twenty-five years after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the foundational global document on gender equality, governments at an abbreviated session of the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) have reaffirmed a commitment to gender equality but, according to leading feminist groups and activists, fell short of committing to the transformative steps necessary to achieve this vision.
To address the gaps in the political declaration adopted at the CSW by governments, the Women’s Rights Caucus—a global coalition of more than 200 feminist organizations, networks and collectives that advocates for gender equality at the United Nations—has published an alternative, feminist declaration. The Feminist Declaration outlines a bold and urgent agenda for gender equality and the human rights of all women and girls, and centers the critical role of civil society organizations advocating for accountability in policy and programs meant to promote, protect, and fulfill human rights for all.
“The stalled progress on gender equality is profoundly disappointing and threatens the lives and well-being of girls, women, and non-binary people worldwide,” said the Women’s Rights Caucus. “It is not enough for governments to simply reaffirm past commitments. To achieve gender equality, we need to commit to supporting feminist movements and to adopt a bold and forward-looking agenda that addresses the multiple and intersecting challenges faced by all women and girls. The Feminist Declaration launched today reflects the priorities of the feminist movement and provides governments and other stakeholders with a path toward true equality.”
The feminist declaration includes critical issues that governments must tackle to achieve gender equality, including: sexual and reproductive rights and bodily autonomy; women, peace, and security; the intersections between the climate crisis and gender equality; and the role of women’s human rights defenders and feminist movements, who are the key to driving long-term change.
Read the Feminist Declaration here.
Due to ongoing concerns about the spread of COVID-19, CSW was suspended after the adoption of the political declaration. The Women’s Rights Caucus welcomes the decision to prioritize the health and safety of participants, but will hold the Commission’s leadership accountable for reconvening the full CSW later this year and ensuring robust discussion between feminist organizations and governments.
The political declaration marks the anniversary of the revolutionary agreement made at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. With this declaration, governments had the opportunity to identify and address new challenges, and set the stage for a new international agenda for gender equality. However, 25 years later, the limited scope of the political declaration demonstrates that this opportunity was not seized.
Despite the limitations of CSW’s political declaration, there remains hope that 2020 will deliver significant gains for gender equality. The feminist movement will continue to work alongside those who share our vision as we commemorate the 25th anniversary of Beijing—and other key landmarks including the 5th year of the Sustainable Development Goals and the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security—and seize the opportunity of the Generation Equality Forums. These events provide the opportunity to focus resources and political will into a progressive and just agenda for gender equality that truly leaves no one behind. But to achieve our goal, we in the feminist movement must have our priorities and organizations supported.
The Feminist Declaration launched today provides governments with a roadmap to achieve not only the vision outlined in Beijing, but the transformative change necessary to deliver Generation Equality.
The Women’s Rights Caucus is a global coalition of more than 200 organizations working to advance women’s rights and gender equality in their communities, and together at the United Nations.
Statement by the Federation for Women and Family Planning, Union Women’s Center, “Women and Modern World” Social Charitable Centre, and Women’s Rights Center,
The Federation for Women and Family Planning from Poland, Union Women’s Center from Georgia, “Women and Modern World” Social Charitable Center, and Women’s Rights Center from Armenia are organizations accredited by the United Nations Economic and Social Council that are working in the field of women’s rights in Central and Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, and operate on national, regional, and international levels throughout the ASTRA Network membership.
We welcome this opportunity to reflect about the best ways the international community can address critical structural and systemic obstacles to realizing gender justice and women’s human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights. After 25 years since the drafting of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, we also are ready to celebrate the gains we have made in countering the oppressive systems and advancing women’s rights and to discuss how it can contribute towards the full realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In many countries, we also have witnessed backlash against those gains and consolidation of power structures underlying women’s oppression. Feminists need to continue building fully inclusive movements and take collective action to forge solidarity with other resistance and liberation movements, demanding the accountability of states and the private sector.
Beijing+25 is an agenda for women’s empowerment. The World Conference on Human Rights reaffirmed clearly that the human rights of women throughout the life cycle are an inalienable, integral, and indivisible part of universal human rights. Twenty-five years ago, the Fourth World Conference on Women aimed at empowerment of women and girls on all levels and reaffirmed that the right of all women to control all aspects of their health, in particular their own fertility, is basic to their empowerment. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action recognized that reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, as well as the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. The decisions concerning reproduction shall be free of discrimination, coercion, and violence, as expressed in human rights documents.
We will focus this statement on priorities stemming from our work in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the Central and Eastern European region. At the same time, we are fully aware about the need to see the sexual and reproductive health and rights from the fully intersectional perspective, with the necessity to address all the social and material determinants of life and health, including poverty and inequality that affects women and systems that fossilize them. The narratives of all women and girls, as well as transgender and non-binary persons, should be taken into account, with a special attention on disabled and migrant women, girls, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, queer or questioning, intersex, and other sexual identities community.
The very serious backlash is observed in the sphere of women’s access to health, which constitutes the basic component of the women’s reproductive health. Unsafe abortions threaten the lives of a large number of women, representing a grave public health problem, as it is primarily the poorest and youngest who take the highest risk. Most of these deaths, health problems, and injuries are preventable through improved access to adequate health-care services. This include safe and effective family planning methods and emergency obstetric care, recognizing the right of women, men, and other persons to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable, and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice, and other methods of their choice for regulation of fertility that are not against the law. It also includes the right of access to appropriate health-care services. This law is being repeatedly violated in several countries of the region, with Poland being an inglorious leader of countries with the worst access to contraception in all of Europe – as the only European country that requires a prescription to acquire emergency contraception. To fulfil women’s and girls’ access to the full spectrum of reproductive health services, States should revoke laws and policy frameworks that criminalize and penalize bodies, sexualities, and identities – including, above all, criminalization and stigmatization of abortion. Poland, Georgia, and Croatia can be listed as examples of countries struggling to provide sufficient access to safe abortion to all their inhabitants, with one of the main reasons of such a situation being the aforementioned stigmatization. The so-called “conscientious objection clause” is also identified as a particularly important phenomenon, responsible for a dramatic drop in quality of reproductive care in the whole region of Central and Eastern Europe. Usage of the clause was reported by several local non-governmental organizations and remains one of the biggest obstacles in accessing modern contraception and other family planning services.
Alongside other impediments, the rise of populism in the region of Central and Eastern Europe is to blame for worsening of women’s and girls’ situation. The Hungarian government can serve as example, with its narrative that it is a woman’s duty to give birth in order to save European culture from the refugee crisis. Continuous attempts to control reproductive health and rights have an inexpressible impact on the actual access to basic medical and educational services that are to be guaranteed by both local and international laws.
In many countries of the region, the right to comprehensive sexuality education is not fully realized or even not realized at all, as it is in Russia. There are legal, regulatory, and social barriers to sexual and reproductive health education within formal education programmes regarding women’s and girls’ health issues. The new barriers are introduced, for example in Poland, in which the smear campaign against the sexuality education and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, queer or questioning, intersex, and other sexual identities community is fuelled by the government for denigrating sexuality education and scaring off parents from signing up their children for sexuality education classes. The Polish ruling party has also supported the proposed novelization of the national penal code that would criminalize sexuality education. In this regard, the role and responsibility of adolescent girls in sexual and reproductive health and behaviour should be emphasized. Girls should have access to appropriate services/counselling and information, regarding the physiology of reproduction, reproductive, and sexual health, as agreed to in the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, responsible family planning practice, family life, reproductive health, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV infection, and AIDS prevention, recognizing the parental roles.
Violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development, and peace. Violence against women both violates and impairs, or nullifies, the enjoyment by women of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. The long-standing failure to protect and promote those rights and freedoms in the case of violence against women is a matter of concern to all States and should be addressed. As regards women and economy, employers rely on discriminatory practices on the basis of women’s reproductive roles and functions, including refusal of employment and dismissal of women due to pregnancy and breast-feeding responsibilities. This shall also be addressed by the States.
Therefore, 2020 will be a pivotal year for the accelerated realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls everywhere. Given the global crisis in the world and the evident backlash on women’s rights in many countries, the States should recommit even stronger to the full implementation of actions decided 25 years ago at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.