UN Fourth World Conference on Women: Planning, Setbacks and Achievements


Current Issues Brief 5 1995-96

Consie Larmour
Social Policy Group
27September 1995

Contents

Major Issues
Introduction: a Conference of Commitments?
Aims and Agenda of the Conference
The NGO Forum
Planning
Platform for Action
Processes of the Conference
China's Concerns
Australia's Commitments
Outcomes of the Conference
Conclusion
Endnotes
Appendix 1: The Government Delegation
Appendix 2: Objectives and themes of the UN Commission on the Status of Women

Major Issues

The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing from 4-15 September 1995. In addition to the 5000 official delegates, an estimated 30,000 representatives of non-government organisations from all over the world gathered in Huairou, 53 kms from Beijing from 30 August to participate in the Non-Government Organisations Forum.

This paper looks at the planning for the Conference, the issues which emerged, the 12 critical areas of concern which were addressed, some problems which arose and how they were resolved, Australia's role, and some Conference outcomes.

One of the concerns of many countries was the lack of progress since the Third Conference in Nairobi in 1985 when matched against the plans for action agreed at that Conference and set out in the Conference document, Forward Looking Strategies. On Australia's initiative it was proposed that the Beijing Conference should be a 'Conference of Commitments'. Although there was early strong support for this idea from the UN and from most countries, it was not supported by the European Union and other countries. Nonetheless, many countries, including Australia, did feature commitments in their national statements.

Introduction: a Conference of Commitments?

The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing from 4 to 15 September 1995. Representatives from non-government women's organisations all over the world gathered there also in the week preceding the official conference. The Conference was to build on the achievements of the 1975 International Women's Year conference in Mexico City, the 1980 Mid-Decade Conference for Women in Copenhagen and the 1985 End of Decade World Conference on Women in Nairobi. The scale of this conference far exceeded the earlier ones: approximately 6000 people participated in the IWY Tribune at Mexico City, 10,000 in the NGO Forum at Copenhagen and 15,000 at Forum 85 in Nairobi. An estimated 30,000 people attended the Beijing NGO Forum from 30 August. Another 5000 delegates represented their countries at the official Government Conference and upwards of 3000 press people covered both the NGO and Government conference activities

On Australia's initiative, the 1995 meeting was set to be a 'Conference of Commitments'. The idea originated in the Office of the Status of Women(1) and was adopted by the Secretary General of the Conference, Gertrude Mongella. It was promoted enthusiastically before the Conference by Australian representatives such as Dr Carmen Lawrence, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women and Richard Butler, Australia's Ambassador to the United Nations. It is interesting that Australia's idea is being adopted now by other world conferences: Habitat 2, to be held in Istanbul in 1996 will also now be a 'conference of commitments'. At the Women's conference a majority of countries supported Australia's initiative that all countries, regardless of their stage of progress on status of women issues, would commit pledges and resources to some priority issues in their countries. In the event, 65 of the countries represented at Beijing made statements of national commitment. These commitments will be referred to in the Declaration and in the Platform for Action but will not be listed in the annex to the Report of the Conference. To have achieved acceptance of the idea of commitments to action, with the support of so many countries, was a successful outcome.

Aims and Agenda of the Conference

The aims of the Conference were:

  • To review and appraise the advancement of women since 1985 in terms of the objectives of the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies (FLS) for the Advancement of Women to the Year 2000.
  • To mobilise women and men at both the policy-making and grassroots levels to achieve those objectives.
  • To adopt a 'Platform for Action', concentrating on some of the key issues identified as representing a fundamental obstacle to the advancement of the majority of women in the world. It will include elements relative to awareness-raising, decision-making, literacy, poverty, health, violence, national machinery, refugees and technology.
  • To determine the priorities to be followed in 1996-2001 for implementation of the strategies within the United Nations system.

Official conference documents were:

  • Draft Platform for Action.
  • A report of the Secretary General on the second review and appraisal of the implementation of the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women.
  • 1994 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development.
  • The World's Women 1995: Trends and Statistics.
  • Outcome of regional preparatory meetings for the Fourth World Conference.
  • Updated compendium on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
  • National Reports to be prepared by Governments as a basis for future national action.

Agenda: Critical areas of concern

The Draft Platform for action identified 12 critical areas of concern. The titles of these areas had not been agreed before the Conference began i.e. they appeared in square brackets in the text, but they dealt with:

 

(1) The persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women

 

(2) Inequalities and inadequacies in and unequal access to education and training

 

(3) Inequalities and inadequacies in and unequal access to health care and related services

 

 

(4) Violence against women

 

(5) The effects of armed or other kinds of conflict on women, including those living under foreign occupation

 

(6) Inequality in economic structures and policies, in all forms of productive activities and in access to resources

 

 

(7) Inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and decision making at all levels

 

 

(8) Insufficient mechanisms at all levels to promote the advancement of women;

 

(9) Lack of respect for and inadequate promotion and protection of the human rights of women

 

(10) Stereotyping of women and inequality in women's access to and participation in all communication systems, especially in the media

 

 

(11) Gender inequalities in the management of natural resources and in the safeguarding of the environment

 

(12) Persistent discrimination against and violation of the rights of the girl child

The NGO Forum

The Non-Government Organisations (NGO) Forum was held from 30 August to 8 September 1995, overlapping with the Government Conference. Originally the NGO Forum was to be held at the Workers Stadium complex in Beijing but the site was changed early in April to Huairou Scenic Tourist area, closer to the airport but 53 kms (one to one and a half hours by bus) from the International Convention Centre where the Government Conference was held.

With the announcement early in April of the change of site by the Chinese Government and the threat that many NGO groups would be denied visas to participate, members of the UN, including Australia, protested strongly to the UN organisers, some countries even threatening boycotts or a change of venue to another country. A compromise was reached: the NGO Forum remained in Huairou, but in a defined 42 hectare site rather than the four scattered sites proposed, and all participants registered as at 30 April were to be granted visas (some problems occurred however with accreditation). Concessions were also won from the Chinese Government on transport (a designated lane of traffic for delegates and continuous buses), accommodation (the choice of accommodation in Huairou or Beijing), meeting sites (provision for plenary sessions and the opening ceremony in the National Olympic Sports Centre in Beijing)(2), communications facilities (including Internet links, closed-circuit television access, 3500 IDD phone lines)(3) and access to the government delegations (a Beijing venue for lobby groups).

The Executive Director of the NGO Forum, Irene Santiago, described the compromise arrangements as 'not ideal but workable'. Gertrude Mongella was reported to have complained that 'issues' suffered because of the two month concentration on the site issue. But to Irene Santiago, the site issue was a key concern involving the empowerment of women and whether women and the Conference were to be taken seriously.(4)

Controversy in the lead up to the Conference centred not only on the change of venue, regarded at the time as an attempt to reduce the impact of women's concerns and of any stands or protests on issues, but also on the publicity on human rights abuses in China prompted the boycott of the NGO Forum by three Swedish women's groups and other groups, and the stand by the United States in support of a jailed American human rights activist, Mr Harry Wu (Hillary Clinton, wife of the US President, agreed to attend the Conference only after his release). In addition, the US Ambassador to the UN, Ms Madeleine Albright, stated that the US delegation would seek to highlight the rights of women world-wide and that the alleged forced abortion and sterilisation practices in China would be raised by the delegation.

Of the 30,000 participants of the NGO Forum, about 500 were from Australia, representing about 50 accredited NGOs. A strong contingent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women attended. As well as attending the NGO Forum, NGOs which are accredited to the UN Economic and Social Council (ESOC) could gain access to the Government Conference as observers. ESOC had a difficult and drawn-out time finalising the accreditation process in July, as some countries objected to the accreditation of some NGOs which the UN had recommended for accreditation. The UN sets special criteria for accreditation of NGOs such as that the NGO must be a national body and, in this case, that the NGO have women's concerns as a prime objective.

Planning

The 38th session of Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) in March 1994 was devoted largely to preparation for the World Conference and revision of the draft Platform of Action. At this stage 10 critical areas of concern, all of equal priority were identified. These were:

  1. Inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and decision making at all levels.

  2. Insufficient mechanisms at all levels to promote the advancement of women.

  3. Lack of awareness of, and commitment to, internationally and nationally recognised women's human rights.

  4. The persistent and growing burden of poverty on women.

  5. Inequality in women's access to and participation in the definition of economic structures and policies and the productive process itself.

  6. Inequality in access to education, health and related services and means of maximising the use of women's capacities.

  7. Violence against women.

  8. Effects of armed or other kinds of conflict against women.

  9. Insufficient use of mass media to promote women's positive contributions to society.

  10. Lack of adequate recognition and support for women's contribution to managing natural resources and safeguarding the environment.

Later revisions split the education and health-related areas, and added an extra item on the rights of the girl child (which was strongly requested by officials from developing nations).

Platform for Action

The draft Platform for Action was prepared by the UN Secretariat and considered by participating Governments at the 39th Session of the CSW held in New York over the three weeks from 13 March to 7 April 1995. Usually before a major world conference two such sessions are held to work on the draft Platform of Action, but the single session of the CSW had a dual function in considering both the draft platform and the regular work of country reports for the implementation of the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies. Thus the Conference faced a huge task in setting the Platform of Action for the decade to 2005.

Strategic objectives and actions in the 12 critical areas of concern set by the Conference were

A. [on Poverty]

  • Review, adopt and maintain macroeconomic policies and development strategies that address the needs and efforts of women in poverty
  • Revise laws and administrative practices to ensure women's equal rights and access to economic resources
  • Provide women with access to savings and credit mechanisms and institutions
  • Develop gender-based methodologies and conduct research to address the feminisation of poverty

B. [on Education]

  • Ensure equal access to education
  • Eradicate illiteracy among women
  • Improve women's access to vocational training, science and technology, and continuing education
  • Develop non-discriminatory education and training
  • Allocate sufficient resources for and monitor the implementation of educational reforms
  • Promote lifelong education and training for girls and women

C. [on Health]

  • Increase women's access throughout the life cycle to appropriate, affordable and quality health care, information and related services
  • Strengthen preventive programmes that promote women's health
  • Undertake gender-sensitive initiatives that address sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, and sexual reproductive health issues
  • Promote research and disseminate information on women's health
  • Increase resources and monitor follow-up for women's health

D. [on Violence]

  • Take integrated measures to prevent and eliminate violence against women
  • Study the causes and consequences of violence against women and the effectiveness of preventive measures
  • Eliminate trafficking in women and assist victims of violence due to prostitution and trafficking

E. [on Armed Conflict]

  • Increase the participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels and protect women living in situations of armed and other conflicts or under foreign occupation
  • Reduce excessive military expenditures and control the availability of armaments
  • Promote non-violent forms of conflict resolution and reduce the incidence of human rights abuse in conflict situations
  • Promote women's contribution to fostering a culture of peace
  • Provide protection, assistance and training to refugee women, other displaced women in need of international protection and internally displaced women
  • Provide assistance to the women of colonies and non-self-governing territories

F. [on Economic Participation]

  • Promote women's economic rights and independence, including access to employment and appropriate working conditions and control over economic resources
  • Facilitate women's equal access to resources, employment markets and trade
  • Provide business services, training and access to markets, information and technology, particularly to low income women
  • Strengthen women's economic capacity and commercial networks
  • Eliminate occupational segregation and all forms of employment discrimination
  • Promote harmonisation of work and family responsibilities for women and men

G. [on Decision-Making]

  • Take measures to ensure women's equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision making
  • Increase women's capacity to participate in decision making and leadership

H. [on Advancement of Women]

  • Create or strengthen national machineries and other governmental bodies
  • Integrate gender perspectives in legislation, public policies, programmes and projects
  • Generate and disseminate gender-disaggregated data and information for planning and evaluation

I. [on Human Rights]

  • Promote and protect the human rights of women, through full implementation of all human rights instruments, especially the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
  • Ensure equality and non-discrimination under the law and in practice
  • Achieve legal literacy

J. [on Mass Media]

  • Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication
  • Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media

K. [on Environment]

  • Involve women actively in environmental decision-making at all levels
  • Integrate gender concerns and perspectives in policies and programmes for sustainable development
  • Strengthen or establish mechanisms at the national, regional and international levels to assess the impact of development and environmental policies on women

L. [on Rights of the Girl Child]

  • Eliminate all forms of discrimination against the girl child
  • Eliminate negative cultural attitudes and practices against girls
  • Promote and protect the rights of the girl child and increase awareness of her needs and potential
  • Eliminate discrimination against girls in education, skills development and training
  • Eliminate discrimination against girls in health and nutrition
  • Eliminate the economic exploitation of child labour and protect young girls at work
  • Eradicate violence against the girl child
  • Promote the child's awareness of and participation in social, economic and political life
  • Strengthen the role of the family in improving the status of the girl child.

The final document, the Platform for Action, is being collated and translated at the United Nations and it may be some time before for the agreed wording of this blueprint for action for the next decade, is available. However, drafts are already appearing on Internet of both the Declaration and the Platform for Action.

Processes of the Conference

At the UN Conference the text of the Platform had to be agreed by a consensus of the participating Governments. Discussions on the Platform at CSW 39 identified wording that could be agreed from the outset, and what in the text would be challenged by any Government or approved observer (the Holy See, for example, was an approved observer with special interest in areas such as women's reproductive rights and human rights). Any text challenged or which was not agreed at CSW 39 was indicated in the draft by square brackets. Forty percent of the draft platform was in square brackets at the outset of the Conference, making for a heavy agenda at the Conference. All areas of the Platform contained square brackets but the most contentious issues were, predictably, those of health (including reproductive rights), human rights, armed conflict and the rights of the girl child.

Even the word 'gender' which appeared throughout the document was questioned by one delegation and, although the word was not put into square brackets, a working group (Australia was represented in this group) was given the task of providing a definition of gender' which would allay a concern that the word could be used to include homosexuality and bisexuality.(5) Agreement was reached that the term 'gender' applied in a general way to the sex and socially constructed role, and that the use of the term would not be debated at the Conference.

China's Concerns

Having lost the Olympic Games 2000 partly because of the adverse focus of organisations such as Amnesty International on China's record on human rights, China was anxious to present a trouble free and well organised conference. While denying that enforced abortion and sterilisation of women are government policy, China is unapologetic about its incentives aimed to reduce the rate of population growth in a country of 1.2 billion people. The March edition of China Today sought to balance some of the negative reports by describing some of China's achievements for women, including the Women's Rights Protection Law of 1992 which provided equality before the law. The article claimed:

Compared to pre-liberation China, women today enjoy a very high position in politics, education, employment and family life. The National People's Congress has 626 women delegates, 21.03 percent of the total; 44.96 percent of all employed people in China are women; women make up 35 percent of scientists and technicians; and 43.1 percent of total middle school graduates are female. The average life span of women is 70 years.

Not everything is 100 percent perfect, of course. Reform and opening, together with replacing China's planned economy with a market economy, have brought enormous social and economic changes and created sharp competition. Women are facing new challenges and new problems, such as unequal wages and employment opportunities, having to choose between a family and a career, and the increasing incidence of divorce. There are still rural women living in poverty, and in some primitive areas women are even sold. China is working hard to solve all these problems.

In March last year the Chinese government submitted a report to the United Nations on improving the lot of women. The report, which gave a true picture of the life of women in China as it is at present and set forth China's plans for women to the year 2000, is a solemn promise from China to international society. All these plans are included in the country's general blueprint for social and economic development.(6)

 

Although many participants praised the organisation, in general, of such a large-scale forum, adverse publicity centred on its obvious and intrusive security arrangements and treatment of Tibetan women in particular. Other complaints concerned the inadequate arrangements for disabled women (their tent was at an outer edge with difficult access, although they were later given a more central one), inadequate shelter overall with leaky and too-small tents and, unluckily, the persistent rain and muddy site at Huairow. The closed circuit television coverage of proceedings was appreciated, especially by those whose accreditation had not materialised.

Australia's Commitments

Prior to the Conference Australia, like other nations, submitted its country report, detailing progress in terms of the Nairobi FLS and noting on-going areas of concern. Australia's leader of delegation, Dr Lawrence, presented a positive national report of Australia's achievements to date and, in line with its own proposal of a Conference of Commitments, announced the priority strategies of the Australian Government. On 29 August 1995, the Prime Minister, Mr Keating announced these commitments and strategies to be:

To further assist women in balancing work and family responsibilities by

  • establishing Working Women's Centres in Victoria and Western Australia (the two states which do not have these) in 1996, to provide 'one stop shops' for advice on work related issues
  • putting the case for more flexible arrangements for leave for family responsibilities to the Industrial Relations Commission
  • providing access to information and communications technology and ensuring that women's contribution to, and participation in, the development of new technologies is maximised.

An integrated response to violence against women

  • collaboration with States and Territories
  • funding provided for pilot projects in marriage/relationship counselling.

To improve the health status and well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and infants.

To promote opportunities for women to participate in public life and decision-making

  • establish an Australian Council of Businesswomen
  • increase the appointment of women on merit to private sector company boards (a 3-year initiative).

In addition Australia will provide funds to NGOs in the Pacific Island Nations to assist in implementing their Conference Commitments.

Before the announcement of the commitments, there was controversy over the method of deciding the priorities. Early in August it became known that the Office of the Status of Women (OSW) had engaged Australian National Opinion Polls, headed by Rod Cameron, to conduct qualitative research on what the average Australian woman perceives the Government ought to be doing for her. The reason given for the research was to better equip the delegation to the Beijing Conference, but there were allegations that this research may have been geared more to a coming election.

The Australian Council for Women (ACW) was established in (late) 1993 to co-ordinate planning in Australia for the Fourth World Conference on Women, to consult with women and to transmit their concerns and ideas to Government. Council members travelled widely in Australia, meeting women and consulting with community groups. On International Women's Day 1994 the ACW launched its Purple Postcard survey, asking women to list one concern. As well as the postcard survey ACW sent questionnaires to non-government organisations, and held consultations 'with women in cities, towns, rural and isolated areas across Australia' from May to September 1994. Suggestions on government strategies were also called for following the postcard survey. On 17 May 1994 the ACW reported that the survey showed that fear of violence, breast cancer and the cost and availability of child care emerged from the survey as major issues of concern to Australian women. On 6 February 1995, the ACW released its report listing strategies to tackle these issues of concern, and stated that a short list of strategies from the report would be included in Australia's presentation to the UN Fourth World Conference.(7)

On 29th April 1994, Purple Postcards, a final report on concerns and solutions offered to the Australian Council for Women was prepared by Distaff Associates (Eva Cox, Chris Sitka, Ellen Lintjens). This looked at the validity of the postcards survey, and again listed the major issues identified and possible solutions by responsible government agencies. On the 'validity of the responses', the report commented:

... we recommend that this exercise be taken as a serious indication of the interests and concerns of many women in Australia. It should be regarded as qualitative research, and not be used to approximate quantitative outcomes by assuming that results here would be replicated in other surveys. The percentages should be seen as broad indicators of interests in issues but not as a reliable statistical measure of community attitudes.(8)

The report also commented that the results can be used both to structure possible advice to Government on policies, and also to initiate more education on what is available and how to access it:

There are few signs that some of the proposals from the last election had been heard. That women's health, anti-violence and other areas are already a priority were often not recognised.

The commitments made by Australia, the initiating country, were overshadowed by those of a number of other countries in the opinion of the Women's Electoral Lobby (WEL). At the Conference, WEL issued a press statement expressing disappointment that in three of the four areas of major concern-believed to be those of balancing work and family responsibilities, violence against women and women in decision making-other governments' commitments were far more innovative and serious than Australia's.

Outcomes of the Conference

The Declaration calls on nations to speed up actions agreed in Nairobi and set out in the Forward Looking Strategies to the Year 2000. Dr Lawrence, in presenting Australia's national commitments to women, also urged that all countries accelerate action for change before the end of the century.

Consensus

An 'atmosphere of achievement' was reported from the outset of the Conference and consensus reached, through negotiation and careful wording, on a number of contentious issues. Whilst avoiding a footnote in the health section which could have made the Platform on women's rights subject to religious and cultural beliefs, these were recognised in paragraph 9:

While the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Agreement that women should have control of their lives in regard to sexual rights, and the reaffirmation of women's reproductive rights, was described by Betty Friedan as 'a minor miracle'(9) The rights of the girl child proved another difficult area, with some delegates fearing the loss of parental control in areas such as contraception, but an achievement of the Conference in this area was described as 'the unbracketing of the lives of girls and women'.(10) Strong consensus was displayed on action to achieve progress in the education of girls and to eliminate all forms of discrimination in access to education. The urging of equal inheritance rights for girl children received strong support.

The Conference's denunciation of violence in all its forms, the call for a special rapporteur on violence to address the use of women in international prostitution and trafficking networks, the recognition and condemnation of rape used as a weapon of war, and the protests at the nuclear tests conducted by France and China were regarded as some of the other successes of the Conference.

Unfulfilled Expectations of the Conference

Media reports on the Conference have tended to focus on the negatives. In the lead up to the Conference the focus was on the problems of the change of the NGO venue, the reported plans of the Chinese government to ban access to the Forum for groups including lesbians, Tibetans, Amnesty International members and human rights activists, and the threatened boycotting of the Conference by other groups. When the Conference was underway reports more often concerned the actions of the security guards and officials than Conference activities and ideas. Newspaper cartoons on the Conference often featured unflattering stereotyped depictions of feminists.

Over 50 countries entered reservations or interpretive language to the final document (for example on matters such as abortion). This was about the same number as for the Population and Development Conference in Cairo in 1994 (and many of the same countries and the same areas were concerned).

Approximately half of the delegations did not bring forward commitments to the Conference. Although the proposal was endorsed by the UN and many countries it was not supported by some developed countries including New Zealand, Norway, Canada and the European Union which blocked the idea of listing the commitments of each country as an annex to the Plan of Action. Nonetheless, as noted earlier, the Commitments initiative appeared both in the Declaration and was referred to in the Platform.

Some hopes or expectations that were not realised at the Conference included:

those of indigenous women who, despite strong representation at the NGO Forum, felt that their issues were nowhere addressed at the official Conference (the plight of the Saami people (Lapps) especially aroused sympathy and indignation at the NGO Forum)

those of developing nations' delegates, particularly, who sought a stronger stand on the areas of poverty, multilateral debt and structural adjustment and wanted countries tied to implementing measures in these areas

those who sought recognition of lesbian rights (not only was 'sexual orientation' dropped from the document, which was probably to be expected, but lesbians at the Conference experienced a high level of 'hate and ignorance' from some participants)(11)

disabled women who, although pleased that the Conference recognised that disability should be included as one of the barriers faced by women, found in practice that the Conference had not addressed issues of access for them

Commitments of Individual Nations

The majority of commitments made by delegations on behalf of their countries concerned balancing work and family responsibilities, health, education, new mechanisms and targets, or positive action for increasing women's participation, for example in political office. Some governments announced initiatives and committed resources to combat violence against women. The USA announced a 6-year, $1.6 billion anti-violence program. Japan committed further resources to aid women in development as well as pledges to improve the education, health and social participation of women. India pledged 6 percent of GDP (up from 2.5 percent) on education. Only one or two countries proposed action in response to armed conflict:(12) Austria pledged to offer asylum to victims of sex violence, for example in areas of former Yugoslavia. Austria also received extensive media coverage for its plan to legislate for the equal sharing of household tasks and child caring tasks between men and women in families. The United Kingdom announced commitments in international aid and out of school childcare. A number of countries which had not done so, including South Africa, announced their intention to ratify or accede to CEDAW.

Role of the Australian Delegation

Very positive comments have been made on the preparation, organisation and negotiating role played by the official Australian delegation. Daily briefings and regular meetings with NGO representatives maintained the good relationships which had been established in Australia through regular consultations and the work of the Australian Council for Women. Australia also played a positive and leading role in its Asia and Pacific regional meetings. Because Australia was not seen as part of a 'bloc' it was asked to act as negotiator or 'honest broker' on a number of occasions.(13) In the Preliminary Sessions, and at the Conference Australia assisted with sensitive wording which enabled the achievement of consensus. One news report quoted delegates from the United States, the European Union, Iran and the Vatican as praising members of the Australian delegation who succeeded, after 36 hours of debate over whether the media should promote as role models for young girls 'caring mothers and nurturers of happy families' or women as 'professionals and managers', in proposing acceptable wording. Agreement was reached on Australia's suggestion of 'including but not limited to their experience in balancing work and family responsibilities, as mothers, as professionals and entrepreneurs'.(14) Australia was able, through its official delegation, to support and protect protesting Tibetan women facing official harassment. On some issues, especially for example the transport of toxic waste, and land mines, the NGOs urged the delegation to take a stronger line, but some of these issues were to be dealt with in other UN forums.

Conclusion

The Beijing Conference has been described as the largest gathering of women in history. Delegates and participants came away feeling that much was achieved although of course there was recognition that there is still a long way to go. They were enthusiastic about the progress since Mexico City in terms of the consensus and good will achieved, the opportunity to share ideas, problems and solutions and the spirit of co-operation. While earlier Conferences had concentrated more on defining the problems and their causes, the focus of the Bejing Conference was on actions and strategies. Gertrude Mongella, Secretary-General of the Conference, said in a closing speech

'The eyes of the world are upon us. The world will hold us accountable for the implementation of the good intentions and decisions arrived at in Beijing.'(15)

Endnotes

  1. The idea is credited to Annie McLean, then of the Office of the Status of Women.

  2. OSW Infosheet No 9.

  3. Canberra Times 19 June 1995.

  4. ABC, Women Out Loud, 8 July 1995.

  5. OSW, Infosheet No 8, June 1995.

  6. China Today, March 1995.

  7. Australian Council for Women, Media Release, 6 February 1995 and Report to the Australian

    Government from the Australian Council for Women, February 1995.

  8. Distaff Associates, Purple Postcards, Final Report On Concerns and Solutions Offered to Australian Council for Women, 29 April 1994.

  9. ABC Radio National, Jackie May, Daybreak, 13 May 1995

  10. ABC Women Out Loud, interview with Kathleen Townsend, 16 September 1995

  11. ABC Women Out Loud, 16 September 1995

  12. ibid.

  13. Kathleen Townsend, Deputy leader of the Australian delegation, interviewed on ABC, Women Out Loud, 16 September 1995

  14. Age, 12 September 1995

  15. ibid.

Appendix 1

The Government Delegation

 

Australia's delegation was led by the Minister, Dr Carmen Lawrence. Delegates, in protocol order, were:

  • Dr Carmen Lawrence, Head of Delegation, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women and Minister for Health
  • Ms Kathleen Townsend, Alternate Head of Delegation, Executive Director, Office of the Status of Women, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet
  • Ms Ros McGovern, Principal Adviser, International and Legal Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Commissioner Chris Williams, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission
  • Ms Anna Kamarul, Assistant Secretary, Women's Policy, Income Support and Participation Branch, Department of Employment, Education and Training
  • Ms Barbara Deegan, Australia's Special Labour Adviser to the ILO (Department of Industrial Relations)
  • Dr Helen Ware, Assistant Director, Sectoral Policy Review Branch, Australian Agency for International Development (AUSAID)
  • Dr Margaret Dean, Medical Adviser, Public Health, Department of Human Services and Health
  • Dr Elizabeth Brouwer, Director, Gender Education and Social Development Section, Australian Agency for International Development (AUSAID)
  • Ms Deborah Nance, Principal Counsel, Human Rights Branch, Attorney-General's Department
  • Group Captain Schroeder, Military Attache, Department of Defence, based at the Australian Embassy in Beijing
  • Ms Jeannie Cameron, Assistant Director, International and Legal Section, Office of the Status of Women
  • Ms Shirley Lithgow, Adviser, Human Rights and Indigenous Issues Section, International Organisations Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Ms Pam Brown, Acting Director, Social Justice Coordination Section, Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs
  • Ms K Wong, Third Secretary at the Australian Mission to the UN based in New York

Women parliamentarians included as advisers to the official government delegation were:

  • Mrs Judi Moylan, Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader of the Opposition on Women's Affairs
  • Senator Meg Lees, Deputy Leader of the Australian Democrats (Leader of the Australian Democrats, Senator Cheryl Kernot, had originally planned to attend)
  • Senator the Hon. Margaret Reynolds, Chair of the ALP Women's Caucus Committee
  • Senator Sue West, Chair, Senate Community Affairs Committee
  • Ms Reba Meagher, NSW, Member for Cabramatta, NSW Parliament.

Other advisers were: :

  • Ms Sandra Yates, Chair, Australian Council for Women.
  • Dr Tricia Szirom, National President, Young Women's Christian Association
  • Ms Irene Pneumatikos, National President, Australian Association of Non-English Speaking Background Women of Australia
  • Ms Janet Hunt, Executive Director, Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA)
  • Ms Joan Lemaire, Women's Office, NSW Teachers Federation
  • Ms Brenda Conroy, Media Officer to Dr Lawrence.


 

Appendix 2

Objectives and Themes of the UN Commission on the Status of Women

Equality

1993 Increased awareness by women of their rights, including legal literacy.

1994 Equal pay for work of equal value, including methodologies for measurement,
        &nbsppay inequities and work in the information sector.

1995 Equality in economic decision-making.

Development

1993 Women in extreme poverty; integration of women's concerns in national planning.

1994 Women in urban areas, nutrition and health factors for women in development,
        &nbspincluding migration, drug consumption and AIDS.

1995 Promotion of literacy, education and training, including technological skills.

Peace

1993 Women and the peace process.

1994 Measures to eradicate violence against women in the family and in society.

1995 Women in international decision-making.


 
 

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