Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – 20 years later

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Speech of Zita Gurma, PES Women President at the IUSY Festival 2014, Malta, 21 August 2014

During the IUSY Festival 2014, which took place from August 20th to 26th in Malta, the Feminist Working Group was very active and organised a number of sessions. I had the chance to discuss with women from different countries in a workshop on „Feminism in Development – The Beijing +20 UN Women Agenda“.The podium was composed by Rafaela „Paeng“ David from Akbayan Youth in the Philippines, Zita Gurma, President of PES Women and myself and was prepared and moderated by Anna Bruckner from the Young Socialists of Austria (SJÖ).

Zita Gurmai was so kind to agree to publisch her speech on this blog, so she is my first guest writer ever, which makes me proud and grateful. In the first part, Zita Gurma gives a quick overview of the developments that shaped the so-called „Beijing Platform“ and brought us to today’s situation. In the second part, she concentrates on what PES Women put forward in the context of the Beijing 20+ and vision they would like to see for women; the young women who will have to reclaim ownership and the older generations to pass on the knowledge and experience.

Dear Friends, dear Sisters,

Thank you for giving me, PES Women President, here today the floor.

As a long-standing grass root feminist activist and politician, I have been part of the progressive feminist movement (of mainly women) that were determined to continue on the wave of feminism of the 1970s when several rights were achieved and we tried to export them to the global level; the Beijing Platform was after all the result of social democrats and progressive NGOs’ commitment starting already in 1975.

The first global meeting focused on women AND development, while the focus in 1985 changed to Women IN Development. In 1995 the Beijing Platform took shape concentrating on Human Rights are Women’s Rights, a stance that SIW has defended for a long time.

This was a shift from instrumentalising women for development towards recognizing women as bearers of human rights. We had achieved a global consensus that women are equal to men not merely politically and economically speaking (the right to vote and education) but also when it comes to social and personal rights.

At that time we were full of hope and enthusiasm that around the world women would achieve tremendous progress with respect to their rights across all fields and with respect to gender equality.

But in 2000, we experienced a first wave of reverse approach; a political change took place in the US with the election of a republican conservative President. A similar tendency followed slowly but steadily in the European Union and its institutions. At that point, the Beijing Platform was revised into the Millennium Development Goals, narrowing down the gender equality issues. Europe came to a situation where the smallest common denominator in Europe was used for women’s rights and in Europe we could no longer talk about basic common values in Europe. Up until today, we can witness and feel the growing conservative backlash where women’s rights are pushed back.

After an economic growth in the beginning of the twenty first century lead by capitalistic values, we entered times of crisis where the weakest suffer most in the long term; women, children and others on the margins of society. The recent financial crisis starting in 2008 escalated in a still ongoing socio-economic crisis endangering even more equality issues and women’s rights.

But while hope for a new progressive impulse from the US with the election of Barack Obama, from the Arab World with the revolutions and from Central & Latin-American Left-wing governments and booming economies was expected, the European Union has been experiencing a reign of conservative and right wing governments with an austerity-measures only approach, unravelling the social progress we had achieved, including in terms of women’s rights and gender equality.

The political conservative representation has brought with it a strong religious lobbying, claiming the traditional role of women and thus endangering the developments within women’s rights and equal opportunities matters. Not only are we witnessing this in Europe such as in Spain, Hungary and other countries where Sexual and reproductive Rights are being put into question, but it is a tendency all over the Globe (the US, Latin-America, Middle-East, Africa, …).

The last CSW (Common Status of Women) in March 2014 in New York, where SIW was also present, I was shocked to hear delegations question whether sexual education should be part of national curricula, or ‘talking about SRHR is a way of avoiding the real gender equality issues’. Progressive women felt relieved and satisfied that CSW agreed to keep ‘gender equality and women’s rights’ as a standalong goal of the post 2015 MDGs! Is it an achievement? Really?

In the current context, maybe. But in the bigger scheme of things, not at all! We have just managed to preserve something but we are far from the first leaps we took with the initial Beijing Platform.

This brings me to the vision or future of the Beijing Platform that PES Women would like to put forward knowing and acknowledging the Pandora box that we might be opening.

First of all, we progressives have to reclaim the ownership of gender equality and women’s rights. For those who I know for more than 20 years, we have always put gender equality at the core of our work. Being a feminist was an integral and proud part of our work. Today we feel that social democrats, like or sometimes unlike, other parties do not as easily put gender equality at the heart of their programmes, priorities or fights. For younger women and men gender equality and women’s rights are often considered as ‘acqui’ and given. But unfortunately, reality shows us that women’s rights are never achieved and a given. We have felt the heavy catholic lobbying in the European Parliament as well as at the UN; a new tendency that goes hand in hand with extreme right parties that claim they have a responsibility in giving back and assuring women’s traditional roles. Do we want to turn back the clock for women? Be it politically, economically or socially.

Dear Party Leaders, dear young women and men, it is time to reclaim women’s rights and gender equality progressive agenda, so that we can say ‘our daughters, sisters and partners can have a better and more progressive situation’.

But I think that if we want to look forward and progress, and give especially the newer generations the momentum to shape their future, the vision and the content of Beijing Plat’s Form, we need to go beyond

the discourse of women’s rights. I come to my second point; power, power to women! We need to shift from rights of and for women to power to the women.

Legislation is an essential part in ensuring women’s rights and if today women have voting rights, are better protected against violence, are making progress in terms of salaries, can participate in different sectors, are increasing in numbers as politicians it is because measures and rules are enshrined in our laws; laws that can ensure that there is a minimum women can rely on. But what makes the difference, and where I think that also younger women feel more concerned by, is the equal share of power and women’s empowerment. Political, Social and Economic Power and Empowerment. The day that women can feel and experience that they have the power and freedom in choosing, changing, deciding, progressing and acting independently though in solidarity and without falling into neo-liberal driven models, also newer generations of feminist women and men will be able to grasp the momentum, move forward and progress as a society and fight traditional and extremists views that play on the role of protective, caring, responsible women mothers in the scary world we live in.

But this cannot happen without a framework for the Beijing Platform 20+. PES Women’s third point would therefore be a clear framework for the platform as well as for the post 2015 MDGs, one that focus on equal opportunities instead of equal outcomes, as outcomes have to often strengthen competition, numbers, etc but no change in approach and mentality.

We have said it before, but one can never repeat it enough; education is the key; ‘educating a woman is educating a whole society’. Educating young girls is giving the key and power to their future. When I hear positive figures in Europe of women representing 60% of university graduate, I would like to see this translated to their positions on their labour market that is only around 60% overall and only 30% in top positions. Not just higher education and not just European figures should reach this numbers, but women across the world should enjoy this equal access to education.

Also would l like to see more examples like that of Najat Aziz, a young Moroccan woman from rural area, who I met last year and invited to the European Parliament for projecting a documentary of her story ‘Threshold of the Desert. Thanks to education and positive encouragement of her dad, Najat started her own NGO and school to pass on her knowledge and experience, which then empowered others in her village. A beautiful and encouraging example of economic empowerment. When talking about women’s employment, PES Women wants to see decent employment conditions for women, including official/declared care work, equal pay, right to pension, maternity leaves, childcare, the right and possibility for women and men to reconcile professional and private life. Let us not forget that if women’s economic empowerment and independence has been a success.

PES Women wants to see further positive development, and therefore encourages Social empowerment through free access and choice to sexual and reproductive rights, by combating violence against women, but also fighting against forced marriages and ensuring the right to heritage, …

I think we are all examples of political empowerment, and women such as Michelle Bachelet, Tarja Halonen, Malala Yousafzai, Leymah Gbawee or Hilary Clinton are women that inspire young and old women, that can create the momentum, recreate a positive story around political activism but also women in politics, using traditional networks as well as new forms and technologies of gathering and committing.

We should be moving forward and not backwards in our achievements be it for the Beijing Platform, at CSW or in the different regions. The society cannot afford losing 52% of its potential.

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