Applying Lessons From Women’s Conference In Beijing To Post-2015 Agenda
The year 1995 is always cited as the year women went to Beijing and came back to start “revolutions” in their countries. The “revolutions” as I have stated, involved action plans that covered the following; deliberate efforts to ensure more girls get access to education, more women participate in political leadership, more women participate in decision making spheres such as in the judicial systems and the UN system and more importantly governments invest in women health and commit to eliminate discrimination against women and girls.
Twenty years later, we are here asking ourselves what Beijing stood for and what the landmark conference has achieved for women. In the wake of the recent 2014 Gender Gap report, it is obvious that some milestones have been realized, but are we there yet? Simply put, the answer is a clear and obvious NO.
In Africa, governments are putting some effort into ensuring women and girls enjoy their basic freedoms but political will is not translated into action. As such, implementation will continue to hinder the global and regional efforts that have just been given lip service and little more. From this we have nothing more than nice policies and legal documents such as the Maputo Plan Of Action, Abuja Declaration, Addis Ababa Declaration and the most recent Agenda 2063, but very little in the way of real change for women in the region.
Are we there yet?
The revolution as anticipated by women who went to Beijing was not to be realized with them just handing over the demands to presidents and their wish being granted pronto. Quite the contrary, the crafting of their demands were followed by a series of negotiations, required extensive advocacy and lobbying and an overall redefining of the power structure to ensure women and girls in the coming years would enjoy basic freedoms such as whom to marry, access to education, how many children to give birth to, when to have them and with whom. We have seen laws against sexual violence being enforced, more progressive bills of rights, more UN resolutions on issues such as FGM and possibly one on child marriage, laws protecting women’s rights to own property and landmark Acts of parliaments such as the FGM Act 2011 in Kenya. While these laws have been expertly articulated on paper, their implementation has not been as successful.
We still have 91.5 million girls living with the consequences of FGM across Africa, 39% of girls in Sub Saharan Africa are married off before their 18th birthday, we lose 21 women in Kenya daily to childbirth or pregnancy related cases and a third of those deaths are due to unsafe abortions. These statistics are only a smaller portion of the larger difficulties women and girls are facing daily in a world where their economic and political parity are extremely limited, and they are still trailing behind men in many areas due to structural inadequacies and continued sexism. Other areas that still indicate our laxity include the slow and uphill battle towards the realization of women and girls sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Hope for the future and need to do more
Progress has been made in some areas. The significant decline in maternal and child mortality by 47 and 44 percent respectively, as articulated in the UNDP MDG report, are fitting examples. But is it enough?
The post 2015 development agenda has been branded as development that should and should leave no-one behind. It needs to be ensured that this ‘no-one’ is truly anyone and everyone. It needs to include the child who underwent FGM against her will, was forcibly betrothed to a man thrice her age and weight, and who was forced to drop out of school as a result. It is the young girl whose pregnancy at 14 stands a lot to lose. That girl whose young body is not fully prepared for pregnancy and instead the pregnancy puts her at significant risk for death and might end up with obstetric fistula because she cannot access medical care. That no-one is the woman whose children are sick but she cannot afford to feed them or afford medication; it is that girl who misses school 5 days each month because she has no menstrual protection and as a result missed the chance at the elusive “equal opportunities for boys and girls”.
Unfortunately, this no-one whom we cannot leave behind are not the ones speaking at the United Nations or at conferences where their fate and predicaments are deliberated. In this regard, it is our responsibility to give voice to the voiceless and to make sure that their needs are brought to the table and that their issues are addressed both at a high level setting, but also on the ground. For these women and girls their voices need to be brought to the coming Beijing+20 Civil Society Organizations review meeting and the ensuing Ministerial intergovernmental meetings.
That is where we stand 20 years after the landmark Beijing platform of Action and ICPD Program of Actions. We have done well but we can do more, so yes we need more programs for women and girls.
We need to be redefining our priorities such that our journey for the next 15 years takes everyone’s issues on board in what my partners in the development world call” inclusive growth”. Such that the journey yields a masterpiece that all countries of the world will be proud to be associated with, proud of what they will have achieved, and that eventually deliver on the promises and fundamental freedoms envisioned for women and girls 20 years ago in Beijing.