Beijing 1995 and the Generation Equality Forum: what changed?

 

In 1995, tens of thousands of women gathered in Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women; the event resulted in the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995 by 189 countries. 

Just like 26 years ago, last week government officials, activists and civic organizations reconvened at the Generation Equality Forum in France. The task: to come up with a renewed action plan to advance thestatus of girls and women, according to both the new and the continuing challenges for gender equality in the world.  

But while a refreshing perspective was necessary to congregate for a new global forum on gender equality, we need to look back at the Beijing Platform to bridge what was learned, along with the missed opportunities, with the new challenges and tools for better advancements.  

The Beijing Platform flagged twelve critical areas where action was needed to ensure the advancement of women and girls: poverty, education,health, violence against women, armed conflict, economy, power and decisionmaking, institutional mechanisms, human rights of women, media, environment andthe girl child. For the Gender Equality Forum, six Action Coalitions serve asthe map road for future measures.  

Rightly, two of the Action Coalitions, Gender-Based Violenceand Economic Justice and Rights, echo critical areas of the Beijing Platform.Gender-based violence continues to be as pervasive as ever -domestic violenceeven increased during the Covid-19 outbreak, and current production modelsbased on exploitative practices leave women -specially those in developingcountries- trapped in poverty.  

The Beijing Platform flagged ‘Women and the Environment’ asa critical area, which revolved around the inclusion of women inenvironment-decision making, as well as integrating their perspectives and specificaffectations.  

However, for the GEF environmental issues are enclosed under the ‘Feminist Action for Climate Justice’. This Action Coalition focuses on supporting women’s environmental activism, as it only receives 3% of philanthropic environmental funding, and raising the voices of women who are disproportionally impacted by climate change. This approach gives a more active role to women, and highlights the fact that many of them are already working towards environmental justice, albeit under supported.  

The Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality calls fora more equal digital transformation, and for innovative digital solutions for genderinequality. During the Beijing Conference on Women information technology was not as essential for life as it is now, but today it is insightful to highlight technology as a crucial element of a plan to ensure gender equality.  

Formerly, sexual and reproductive rights of women wereconsidered inside a broader Women and Health critical area, while the GEF set an Action Coalition dedicated to them, called Bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). This talks of how pivotal sexual and reproductive rights are to ensure gender equality: the first and foremost fieldwhere women must have agency is their bodies.  

Finally, the Feminist movements and leadership Action Coalition focuses on funding and supporting women-led organizations,eliminating barriers to feminist action and increasing the amount of women indecision-making leadership. Although some things resonate with the Power and Decision Making area of the Beijing Platform, there is a significant change on the value given to women on the frontlines. This is a positive shift, as it supports what we as Donor Direct Action have underscored: the importance of funding and highlighting the activists doing grassroot work.  

Speaking about money, a major triumph of the GEF is the factthat over $40 billion dollars were pledged by governments, donors andcorporations for the advancement of gender equality in the next five years.  

Another major difference between the Beijing Platform and the GEF is that this last one seeks to achieve its goals in a relatively short amount of time: 2026 is the deadline for action under its Acceleration Plan for Gender Equality. 

While I do believe there are some positive aspects of the Generation Equality Forum that differentiate and set a different strategy than what was planned at Beijing 1995, we need to stay vigilants to see how the implementation of the Gender Action plan goes, and how is money used to achieve gender equality in the short term. It is urgent and it is a task that we all must share. 

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