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Beijing +5: Five Steps Back or One Step Forward?

FIRE--Feminist International Radio Endeavour

28 February, 2000
New York

Critical issues promoted by NGOs in the Beijing +5 process have become key debate points in the negotiations of UN government delegates, according to reports announced yesterday at a lobbying workshop for NGOs held by CONGO (Committee of NGOs) and the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

These key issues include financial allocations by governments for implementing the Platform for Action of the 1995 IV World Conference on Women in Beijing, feminization of poverty, women's rights as human rights, sexual and reproductive rights of women, and the affirmation of the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Agsint Women) Convention.

More that 250 representatives of NGOS from around the world took part in the 5-hour training session, which was held at UNICEF--The UN Fund for Children--in New York, designed to help NGOs in their efforts to lobby government delegations in the Beijing +5 process to evaluate what has been done over the past five years to implement the Platform for Action (PFA).

Among other speakers, the director of the Center for Women's Global Leadership, Charlotte Bunch, started the presentations by saying that "the United Nations will tell us how they want us to behave in this process. Today we are going to identify what kind of behavior we expect from the member states in the UN."

Although Bunch's remark prompted laughter, it was one of the few light moments of the session, which focused primarily on the principal challenges that the women's movement will face in the Beijing+5 evaluation process.

It became obvious to all at the lobbying workshop that the NGOs will have to push hard to shape the content of the official draft documents that will be debated and agreed upon over the next three weeks by government delegates. Such diligence by NGOs is critical because in their current form, the evaluation documents reflect few of the expectations and demands posed by the women's movement and NGOs, as expressed in their own preparatory processes in their home countries and regions.

The overview provided at the lobbying workshop included three draft texts that are being distributed and debated informally among UN member states at this point: One is the document known as the "Political Declaration," which includes eight paragraphs so far. Seventy five percent of the document has been "unbracketed"--in reference to the procedure of the UN of placing in brackets [ ] around any points of contention.

Of its eight paragraphs, three are still in brackets. One is Paragraph #3 which talks about the targets for financial assistance for implementing the Platform for Action, particularly in developing countries. The second paragraph under debate in the Political Declaration is Paragraph #4, which refers to women's rights as human rights, because there is no consensus about the way in which goverments refer to the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) as a human rights issue. The third point of debate is Paragraph #5, which refers to the need for an integrated followup to all UN conferences and their agreements. In the case of Beijing +5, this refers to the need to integrate women's concerns into all policies and procedures.

A second document that is circulating in the Beijing +5 process for background purposes is entitled, "Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, Report of the Secretary General of the United Nations," which emerged from the analysis of the responses of UN States to the questionnaires sent by the Division of the Advancement of Women (DAW), and from government reports to the Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in the past 5 years.

The third document, which in its current form is full of brackets before the beginning of the official meeting, is the "Further Actions and Initiatives to Implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action," also called the "Outcomes Document," which was submitted by the chairperson of the CSW of the PrepCom. Its structure is comprised of four chapters, each of which focus on the 12 critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action (PFA).

Following an introduction, the second chapter focuses on "Achievements and Obstacles" in the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action. The third chapter is entitled, "New Challenges and Trends Affecting the Full Implementation in the Beijing PFA." And finally, the fourth chapter is entitled, "Measures, Actions and Initiatives to Overcome Obstacles and to Address New Challenges and Trends in the Full and Accelerated Implementation of the Beijing Declaration and PFA."

Points of debate in the upcoming negotiations process are evident from a brief glance at the most recent version of the Outcomes Document (dated February, 2000), which was distributed for the first time in the lobbying workshop yesterday, and which already includes some of the comments of UN member states about the earlier version of the document. For example, in the section on Poverty, the Vatican, counteracting the spirit of the text which refers to the impact of poverty on women, proposes that it say "policies and programs have been implemented that strengthen the family in performing its societal and developmental role." Thus the Vatican is trying to shift the focus of the poverty issue away from women and onto the family.On the other hand, the section ignores the impact of globalization on the feminization of poverty.

Another topic of contention is in the section about Violence Against Women, where there is now no strong affirmation that this kind of violence is a human rights issue. Canada has suggested language that affirms this dimension of violence against women, when it says that "increased awareness that violence against women and girls is not a private matter, but a human rights issue." Canada also affirms the health dimension of violence against women, proposing langauge that recognizes that violence against women affects women's health.

In the chapter about Health, Canada proposes the reaffirmation of thecommitments of the 5-year appraisal of the World Conference on Population and Development known as ICPD +5, which has been ignored thus far in the original version of this document. Specifically, Canada suggests language that speaks to the promotion of reproductive health and rights calling for "the reaffirmation by Governments to their commitment to promote women's reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed to at the five-year review of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD+5) by the UN General Assembly in July 1999."

Although this reference by Canada to reproductive health and rights isimportant, the document still fails to mention explicitly sexual health and rights, which were affirmed at both the ICPD+5 and most recently in the Lima Consensus of the 8th ECLAC (Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean) Regional PrepCom for Beijing +5 in February, 2000.

In summary, while the negotiations of the Beijing +5 process are well underway, it is clear that NGOs need to continue to actively assert their views to government delegates on these critical issues over the next three weeks, to ensure their continued input in the final document to be approved by the Special Session of the UN General Assembly in June, 2000 is a step forward in the advancement of women in the world.

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