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Did women benefit from Beijing?


I encountered Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe recently.

View Point with Wisdom Mdzungairi

We discussed many pertinent issues pertaining to national, regional and international levels. I was amazed by her passion for women’s issues especially their upliftment.

She is not the only one passionate about these things, for during the same meeting I also met Unicef regional director and former Botswana Health minister Sheila Tlou.

I mention these for they were outstanding in their vision for women and that coaxed me to focus my installment for this week on the Beijing Women’s Conference.

What has that UN conference delivered to African women? It is now 18 years since the historic fourth World Conference on Women — now commonly known as the Beijing Declaration — was held in China.

When women from all over the world convened between September 4-15 1995, the world optimistically imagined a new world where states, nations and societies would collectively recognise, co-operatively uphold and progressively expand women’s human rights, development and their equality with men.

The multilaterally negotiated Beijing Platform of Action contained milestone commitments to the world’s women and they looked forward to a future where it was possible to end all forms of violence against women, poverty and their unequal share of caring work within and outside the home, as well as socio-cultural discrimination, sexual disciplining and political exclusions of various categories of people.

Indeed, the conference was phenomenal in several aspects. It generated much interest and debate globally, among men and women, old and young, from country to country. It brought together the largest gathering of persons ever to attend any other previous UN Conference on any subject.

All the indications pointed to a social revolution in the making. This conference was characterised by intensive preparatory process which involved national, regional and international debates and consultations involving governments and non-governmental bodies.

All indications pointed to a platform that was a global tapestry woven by women, men and youth with strands from various countries, races and religions alike.

The platform was supposed to be for everyone, yet men; in particular politicians, have become spectators, side-liners and abstainers for the supposedly crucial social agenda which affects all humanity.
Khupe, who is so passionate about women’s issue, she being Global Power Women president, expressed disappointment over unfulfilled promises.

Khupe said the uncertainties of inter-governmental negotiations within the UN reflected the multiple shifts, cracks and crises in global geopolitics and global governance of a run-away neoliberal globalisation as well as a militarised and financialised political economy.

From a global perspective current fault lines include:
Rich countries that hold a grip on the Security Council continue to utilise their massive resources, including scaling up interventionist military might in order to impose their version of “good governance, democracy and human rights” on various parts of the South, and in the process creating environments for intra-state violence and suspension of constitutional rights that have an adverse impact on the lives of ordinary people.

There is turmoil in the Human Rights Council, with some countries insisting on narrow interpretations of cultural diversity, in particular, the right of states and groups to enjoy cultural rights in ways that compromise human rights guarantees, including women’s human rights and sexual rights for all.

Uneven processes of breakdown and fragmentation of secular nation states create spaces at the local and national levels where there has been consolidation of politically motivated fundamentalist and neo-conservative forces that lead to greater disciplining of bodies and revoking of reproductive and sexual rights especially of women. The repercussions of these fundamentalist and neo-conservative attacks play out in the lives of individuals facing human rights abuses, in governments and civil society spaces, and influence inter-governmental negotiations.

A rise in philanthrocapitalism has led to big business and multinational corporations entering the UN in full force and often able to access inter-governmental negotiations far more easily than civil society. This leads to the proliferation of market-based rather than socially-oriented / people-centered policy proposals in inter-governmental negotiations such as what we saw in the recently failed climate change conference.

So far Tlou said Beijing has failed to preserve achievements and agreements reached in earlier Conferences to move beyond the rhetoric to work toward genuine change.

How long will women toil to contribute to the purchase of arms; how long will women continue to give life just to see it taken away by the use of women as political fodder during elections;and how long will the world continue to ignore women’s tears during conflicts?


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