“Where, after all, do universal Human Rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world… Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, and equal dignity, without discrimination.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt
Twenty five years ago, in the month of September (1995), the fourth world conference on women affirmed that women’s rights are human rights. In the year 1995, 189 governments attended this conference with 17,000 participants. Additionally, 30,000 participants working in the non-governmental sector joined this unprecedented conference. The main aim of this conference was “to remove all the obstacles to women’s active participation in all spheres of public and private life through ensuring a woman’s full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision making.” The principle of shared and power and responsibility at home, workplace and in the national and international communities was discussed widely at this conference.
“To advance the goals of equality, development, and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of all humanity.” (Beijing Declaration, 1995)
The 1995 Fourth conference on women was held in Beijing and considered one of the largest gatherings of the United Nations. In the history of gender equality movements, this was a critical turning point. It prioritised actions that were required to realise gender equality and women empowerment of women. The document was followed by two weeks of political debates of the participants, political representatives and leaders.
UN Women has declared this document “the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights.” It acknowledged the voices of all women everywhere and ensured full implementation of human rights of women and girl child. It represents a world where each woman and girl can exercise her freedom and act according to her choice.
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action focused on 12 critical areas of concern for women globally:
Twenty five years since the adoption of BPfA, gender equality remains an elusive challenge in India. The Government of India, in its report in 2015, admitted that deep-rooted gender inequalities continue to undermine the country’s potential to translate economic growth into inclusive development. Though legislative measures have been taken by all subsequent governments, gender-based inequalities in education, income and employment limit the ability to protect women’s health. The girl child continues to be the most vulnerable member of the Indian society. The Child Sex Ratio (age group 0-6) has deteriorated from 927 in 2001 to 918 in 2011.
The 2015 report analysed 12 core areas of the Beijing Declaration and how the Indian government responded to promote the objective of gender equality as prescribed by this document. But along with policies and legislative initiatives, a lot needs to be done to realise the policy measures on the ground.
Certain critical areas such as the burden of poverty, unequal access to primary health care facilities and nutrition, less educational opportunities, lack of training to women in rural areas, and exclusion in decision-making remain just ‘goals’ even after 25 years. Women are still struggling to participate in decision-making at various levels.
“A critical combination of a lack of political will, inaction and inadequate funding has caused uneven progress on the 12 Critical Areas of Concern.”
Improving the situation needs constant effort, progress is never automatic. The agenda of gender equality, as envisioned in the Beijing declaration, is still the blueprint for future demands and commitments. No country in this world, including India, has yet achieved this agenda. Many of the governments have laws to tackle with various problems, but as usual, they remain unimplemented. Even though the progress is remarkable, many challenges still exist.
Even after 25 years, ‘The‘Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action’ has lost none of their visionary power or necessity. There is a dire need to galvanise all stakeholders to implement actions that will remove the most conspicuous barriers to gender equality. Much has been left to individual responsibility, and the quality of the solutions and arrangements on the legislative and executive. Because words are good, but the action is always better.
“In the midst of death, life persists,
In the midst of untruth, truth persists,
In the midst of darkness, light persists.”